Current Work

Here it is! The full color cover for the Kickstarter edition of STARSTRUCK: Old Proldiers Never Die. To read more about the cover and recent updates, be sure to check the Kickstarter page.

Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.45.38 PM

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Really Big Doings

Friends, Romans, Countrymen – Lend me your electrons!
Life is full of goodness and I have a lot of news to share:

• THE NEW WEB SITE!
It is remarkable how much work has snowballed during these last 35 years. Curating this curious compendium of work for a cohesive web site presented constant surprises and challenges, but was really great fun. I hope you’ll enjoy perusing them, and that you’ll let me know which pieces you like most, what is missing (and if you have pieces from the distant past that I lack a proper scan of):

www.leemoyer.com

For those who have kindly been following me on WordPress, please know I will gradually be switching my writings over to my new journal on the Zenfolio site: http://www.leemoyer.com/blog

I will keep cross-posting for a while longer and will let you know when I post my last entry here!

• 2014 LITERARY PIN-UP CALENDAR FOR CLARION WRITER’S WORKSHOP
2013’s calendar featured collaborations with modern masters Ray Bradbury, Charlaine Harris, George RR Martin, Jim Butcher, Peter Beagle, and Sir Terry Pratchett, and benefitted author Patrick Rothfuss’ charity Worldbuilders. This next year’s features the Calendar Project’s first authorial return engagement as Neil Gaiman once again graces its pages. Hooray!

I thrilled to be working with Clarion and the award-winning authors they invited to be in this coming year’s calendar.

Their IndieGoGo campaign should be lighting up the internets this very week. We’ll be sending the details to everyone on our mailing list of course, but more important than anything I can do is you spreading the good word.

IndieArt2• 120 SMALL GODS! SO FAR!
I have been drawing Small Gods for one third of a year so far. The story of the project’s origins is here:

https://leemoyer.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/1035/

It has been wonderful to have people approach me in person, on Facebook, or on Twitter with stories and ideas for Small Gods.
I look forward to the next hundred, and hope you’ll join me here:

www.leemoyer.com/smallgods

Also, people can now purchase prints of Small Gods directly from the website. Progress!

• STARSTRUCK
Earlier this year Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund Harry Palmer: Starstruck.
I am pleased to announce that in addition to the cover (below), I will again be painting the entirety of this astonishing work.
Even as I write, new pages are being created and Harry’s story promises to be even more beautiful than the previous.

HPalmer3• ARISIA 2015 HONORS
I was even more pleased to accept the Artist Guest of Honor invitation from Boston’s Arisia when I learned that the Author Guest of Honor is none other than the dynamic and delightful Nora Jemisin. It was an honor to draw a pin-up of one of her fascinating characters for my 2013 Literary Pin-up Calendar. I only hope the piece is as elegant and challenging as its source material.

JemisinPinup• ICELAND & UK
In a weeks time I will be heading out for the UK via Iceland for the World Fantasy Convention. I am very much looking forward to the new friends and old I will see, including authors Kim Newman (whose Diogenes Club books I have been lucky enough to illustrate) and Andri Snær Magnason whose remarkable book LoveStar was runner-up for the Philip K. Dick Award last year. We are especially excited to meet up with The Indelicates, one of our favorite bands – as delightfully subversive and compelling as one could wish!

• 13th AGE
My game with Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet and Aaron McConnell 13th Age is out (to rave reviews) and available from Pelgrane Press.
I am working on the artwork for its follow-on book 13 True Ways (the wilier among you might notice a couple sneak previews of that art in the vasty Games section my new website):

www.leemoyer.com/13thAge

• DOOM in REVIEW
The rescue of my game ‘The Doom That Came to Atlantic City’ by Cryptozoic was a wonderful thing to be able to announce last month.
I just found this charming review of it from GenCon (where rules designer Keith Baker was present for play tests):

Edit: Upon posting this entry I was informed I have reached my 50th post on my journal! A milestone I didn’t even realize I was making.

Starstruck and Its Role in My Salvation

I just finished reading Michael Kaluta’s wonderful introduction to The Lost Art of Heinrich Kley. It’s called “Heinrich Kley and His Role in My Salvation”.

This piece is, at the risk of plagiarism (please to call it “homage”) is: “Starstruck and Its Role in My Salvation“.

StarstruckWraparoundCover7I was lucky to meet Michael Kaluta before I was introduced to Starstruck.  Twice in fact.
The first time was at the apartment of artist David Mattingly in the long shadows of the World Trade Center. I had been working for a painter in New Jersey, and the occasion was one of the City’s monthly gatherings of those artists of the fantastic. I’d never been to the City before, much less to a party of real artists! I liked Michael and Charles Vess (his then-apartment-mate) on sight, but I would not get to know them for a couple years.

The second meeting was much more surprising as it was nowhere near New York – it was in a run-down building in a slightly seedy neighborhood north of the FBI building in downtown DC. Broadcast Arts was the name of the company, and it had been making quiet inroads into pop culture and media for some years (it would shortly thereafter move to New York later to become famous for its brilliant work on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse). It was close to my own modest digs in Arlington and, as I would shortly learn, a simple subway ride from Kaluta’s homestead in that same suburb. He had come to town to be the lead artist on DJ Webster’s video for the Alan Parsons Project’s million-selling smash hit “Don’t Answer Me“.

Here’s one of our first collaborations – Michael’s pencils and my inks for the heavy’s car in the video:

Muscles' Car

And here’s our hero and heroine – Nick and Sugar:

Nick & SugarI was out of my depth, but that didn’t seem to bother Michael. He was filled with colorful tales, mad talent, and issues of The Shadow #1 he’d drawn (I have mine near to hand even now). Our small but daring cohort finished the video in a couple weeks, and I didn’t see Michael again until I next visited the City.

By that time I had seen Starstruck. Specifically, Marvel Graphic Novel #13. I mention this to suggest the naivete of numbering Graphic Novels, and because Starstruck has assumed more forms than most shapeshifters in comic history – from play, to flashback mini-comics, to radio play, to…. Well, it’s complicated. (For more details, I recommend this Chronology.)

Starstruck was like nothing I’d seen (and I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…).
Weirdly, it may still be ahead of its time.

BA month later, the generous Jim Edwards-Hewitt, gifted me with the first issue of the Epic miniseries that followed the events of the Graphic Novel. Upon reading it, I sent Michael a note offering my assistance should it be desired. Happily for me, that note (and its poorly drawn portrait of Brucilla “the Muscle”) is lost to history. Sadly, Starstruck lasted a mere 6 issues at Epic, and by the time my note reached him, Michael and Elaine were bidding it a sad farewell. But not before they’d given Harry Palmer his own major storyline – with pieces that presaged some of the reality we now live in (Google goggles anyone?):

StarstruckMarvelCovI met writer Elaine Lee about that time. She’d been a successful actress and off-Broadway playwright. Smart, pretty, and still possessed of a Southern accent that in no way diminished her obvious braininess.

She was also pregnant – VERY pregnant. She was a wee slip of a thing, and her unborn child? A behemoth waiting to be born. Suffice it to say, she made an impression.  I, in my turn, also made an impression. Because even 4 years into my professional “career”, I looked all of 14 years old. No, really.

Here’s the tape case I made for the audio recording of her play The Contamination of the Kokomo Lounge:

Kokomo LoungeAnd here’s the card I made for Elaine shortly thereafter. It’s as filled with joyous Starstruckery as I could manage:

It'sABoyHer son Brennan is now an adult with mad skills and a resume to match. Like his mother, he is an actor and a writer. His web comic is Strong Female Protagonist and he is a member of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. And I, in the meantime, have managed to add the appearance (if not the maturity) of at least a couple decades.

It was my honor to work with Michael on assorted gigs through the 80s and 90s (The Abyss adaptation for Dark Horse, a couple SF covers for Byron Priess, et al.) even as I was visiting the City to engage in my long-running habit of dating NYU girls. (I sometimes suspect that Michael put up with my boisterous self because my coterie improved the scenery.) Happily, I got to spend time with Charlie, Elaine, Augusta and others during these pleasurable jaunts. Such a blessing for a young and untrained artist!

By the time Elaine and Michael were given a chance to revisit Starstruck in 1990, they had sufficient faith in my knowledge and passion for their project to entrust the “About Last Issue” blurbs to me. But rather than continuing the tale forward in time and space, they did something far more interesting: they expanded the story – literally adding frames, words and sometimes whole sequences, between the originals. This was reading between the lines in a very real sense! And I relished the opportunity to see the story unfold, to try and ferret out the details and relationships that each unreliable narrator were showing, telling, hiding or lying about. It was a joy! But short lived.

This time it was Michael’s workload that shut things down, not publisher Dark Horse. And so, many pages of Elaine’s expanded and continued story went unread. Oh sure, I had some of Michael’s xeroxed pencils from the unpublished Issue 5, but that was hardly sufficient….

StarstruckEUCovLittle did I suspect that Starstruck would be my entree to anything so strange as a career in games…. but by 1990 my interest in roleplaying games had come a long way. What had started with D&D and Boot Hill, had grown through Call of Cthulhu and culminated in a decade of running Lawyers, Guns and Money. And table-top divertissement (no matter how involving or therapeutic) didn’t tell the whole story –  I had stumbled into the early live role-playing games that have come to be called LARPs.

I ran (and helped run) a few of these myself. One of these was notable because it involved Starstruck characters, and was staged down the block from Michael’s boyhood home. Elaine was invited to reprise her stage role of Galatia 9, but sadly money did not allow. The players were remarkable, and many things that could never occur in the real series happened with aplomb – The Bajar Shilling was revalued when Ronnie Lee Ellis married Dwannyun (or was it “Dumb-Onion”?) Grivaar, and the Girl Guides made out like… well, Girl Guides. Norris Rex created a new art form of “running real fast”, and Krystals were used to render the veil of the time/space continuum by none other than the displaced Hong Kong Cavaliers.

Here’s the cover I made for the game book – using what was (in 1986) the very latest in computer graphics: MacPaint. “If only computers would advance to a point where they were more useful than an Etch-a-Sketch! Oh, what I would do then!”

Macpaint1Here’s one of the labels I made for the hooch on the Vale of Tiers:

DDC LabelThen, early one morning, I got a call from Lawrence Schick (a dab hand in gaming and someone I knew from LARPs). It was 9 am and I had, as was my habit, hit the silk not 3 hours earlier. But he wasn’t calling to ask me about games, he was calling to ask if I was the same Lee Moyer who had been writing introductions to Starstruck. Even in my sleep deprived condition, that was a question I could answer.

I went to work on a project for Lawrence’s employers Magnet Interactive called Bluestar. And while that grotesquery was no Starstruck, I produced sufficient examples of Erotica Ann’s costume to put the kibosh on those outfits that Bluestar’s designers had in mind for the macho captain’s female underlings. Most every trace of this Gods-awful abomination has been eliminated from the internet, but for all that it was, in the words of our colleague Paul Murphy “The Worst thing EVER” it made a huge difference in my life – introducing me to people who are still friends, allowing me to work with my dear friends Keith Baker and Heather Lam.

Keith and I would work on all manner of game projects over the next decades, and I have hopes for the new year. But who can know?

When Lawrence went to AOL (It was a big deal then people. No, really), Keith, Heather and I were all involved in a Massively Multiplayer Starstruck pitch to AOL:

Cover

This proved a labor-intensive dead end, but it brought Elaine to my abode Arlington where I got to spend time with her and get to know her much better.

Many years passed and after I’d helped start a game company and been in-house as an Art Director for Electronic Arts, I found myself in Portland, Oregon.

During a particularly disagreeable freelance gig with one major corporation or another, it occurred to me that I’d really rather work with people of Integrity. So I asked Michael to send me out some of the black and white pages he’d created for the Dark Horse run and that had never been painted. His choices were… ambitious. This page’s Beastie WPA mural being only one example. Later, of course, we’d add a panel and dialog, but one piece at a time…:

7The results were strong enough that Michael sent them out to his nearest and dearest. And that’s how I got the nod from Dave Stevens to paint his drawing of Spiderman (I had no idea that Dave was dying at the time, but it was an honor to work with him). One thing leads to another, but what that other will be is seldom obvious:

©Moyer_Hedge-SpidermanIIHSeveral years on, I got THE CALL.

Starstruck was on – this time, from IDW. Michael would be making the pages 17% taller (sometimes by adding new panels, sometimes by adding extra height to existing panels) and I would be painting the lot.

Here is the cover for Issue 1 as it developed:

2-RecoveredHaving tried to buy Starstruck art from him for years, you could have knocked me over with a feather when Michael gave me the ink piece you see top center!

Here’s the cover to Issue 8. Michael’s grasp of war machinery, detail, and spacial relations is non-pariel (and somewhat tricky to paint!):

8fdfCompareHere are a few panels from among the thousand or so Befores and Afters:

hghg10One of the unexpected aspects of this remastered expansion of the expanded tale was the need to relocate word balloons and caption boxes (like those in the Baron’s “throne” room above), as well as create new word balloons and sound effects. There was no budget for Todd Klein or John Workman to reprise their work, so it was my bailiwick (see: out of my depth, above). If there is any better lesson in type placement and flow, in TYPE generally, I’ve certainly never encountered it. In a few cases (like the one below) I had to turn to local expert (and legendary X-Men letterer) Tom Orzechowski for the most elegant and subtle solution:

18But other times, the answers spoke for themselves (much like the garrulous Brucilla) and the resultant cascade of verbiage flowed between panels. Hey kids! See how many changes you can spot – even after Michael made the panel taller!

Progress1Sometimes I spent days working on important, if intentionally incomplete, UI. (See: Mary Medea and Ambrosia Vitrona Khrome, below):

StarStruck Glossary 1And when that first HUGE 1/3 of the total Starstruck experience was collected by IDW, there were… gaps. {Gasp!}

Places where the story’s double-page art spreads needed to be properly set up and where the narrative (never seen in a single volume before) wanted reminders and costume changes.

In one case, it was all about conversing with Elaine and stealing from Michael (left), and in another, I had the honor of painting and lettering an all-new spread from Michael with all-new words from Elaine (right):

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 1.30.41 AMIt took a very long day to paint this next page, and half that time was in making the background and the type work. By making the adjustments I did, it became possible to open up the Shakespeare quote (upper right), and more importantly, to include the object of greatest interest to the scheming parties involved: that anomaly of the Neutral Zone, the Mirror (in the lower right of the background panel). The change to Ronnie Lee’s monitor (upper left) is based on a set that Michael used later. Broadening her shoulder also seemed a good idea:

Compare1All of which brings me to Starstruck Today.
Because there is a Starstruck today!

Thanks to the miracle of Kickstarter, Starstruck is coming back.

And while I made the hard decision to leave the painting of my favorite story (to date) in the hands of some other lucky painter, I am lending my experience with Kickstarter and doing what any fan of the series will be doing: backing it. And in my case, backing it at a high level – there’s simply no way I’ll be missing the chance to get Michael to draw me a Starstruck scene he’s never (to my knowledge anyway) even attempted. Who knows what it will look like in the end? Is it wrong for me to hope for another WPA Mural? Turnabout is fair play after all.  ;)

One of my prized possessions for the past 2 decades has been the poster for the original run of the play. It’s hung on the walls of many different homes, and now graces my den. But cooler still is the gun that Michael, Charlie, and company made for Kalif Bajar in the original stage play. It lives in my wunderkabinett – with the aluminum Cootie, Danger Mouse, Tsunami Bear, the Maltese Falcon, Felix the Cat and other dear friends.

How excited am I for this Kickstarter? Excited enough that I have donated Kalif’s pistol as a backer reward!:

GiftsIt is more important to me to have Harry Palmer’s story, with all it’s grit, hilarity, and heartbreak finally told properly. I painted the cover of the book (below), some pieces for the Kickstarter, as well as some Kickstarter exclusives (go check them out here!).

d25cb098315e8864cf117ac56adc07b7_largeHarry’s story is my favorite. And I hope it will be yours as well!

And it’s not just me that’s hoping for the best. Check out the words of Geof Darrow and Rick Berry in the Kickstarter film. Or check out the first big IDW compendium and read Mike Carey‘s thoughts therein.

Explorations of the East

This is the first year in a decade that I haven’t gone to the almighty San Diego Comic Con. But it was a worthy sacrifice as Readercon was a fantastic experience and a top notch convention.* And let’s face it, I’m not even a small fish amid the whirl of SanDiego (more like a small but stubborn barnacle). But to be the only artist invited to a convention of great authors, editors and readers? Priceless.

Flying into Newark, we had the extremely exotic experience of being the only people seated in the entire row of seats. This meant that as the plane descended we were able to quickly move across the isle to be on the side of the plane with the view of New York City. This was Venetia’s first view of NYC, and my first sight of the new World Trade Center building. From the air it looks suspiciously like a Transformer. Which is a rather brilliant defense strategy and we are very happy that the Transformers are so clearly on our side.

Untransformed Transformer

We spent a few days in New Jersey with Jim and Rhymer where a rare gathering of distant friends and family occurred, and where all food comes from diners. Fritz kindly gave us a ride north into NYC to stay with the gracious (and very talented) Michael Kaluta. His apartment in the upper east side is filled to the brim with art, books, and all sorts of fun objects like fighter pilot masks from different eras (and a few historical gas masks.) Venetia felt quite at home among the books, but the best book of all was the one that Michael gave her: “Venetia” by Georgette Heyer. Within the space of just two weeks she discovered that she is the star of two stories! (More on the second story later.)

We headed uptown for lunch at a delicious Thai restaurant with man about town Jack Lechner, but first stopped at the Nicholas Roerich Museum. It is a small but elegant three-story apartment, each room filled with art. Venetia was enthralled and after lunch, we returned again (this time with Jack) to marvel at the colors and vibrancy of the art, which is sadly lost in reproduction. His works are mostly done on canvas in egg-tempera and come from the mountains of Tibet and India where Roerich painted them.

Jack aided our explorations of the Upper West by bringing us to the cathedral of Saint John’s the Unfinished. While properly imposing on the outside, it was even more stunning within, both in the grandeur of its high arches and stained glass windows and the fantastic detail of the individual alcoves. One of the greatest things about a mighty cathedral is that there’s no need for sameness. It’s bigger than any one builder and it’s only mete that the styles reflect the mass of humanity within and without.

Upon leaving the cathedral, we hopped on the subway and headed down to the Village for our dinner engagement. We were a little early so we walked down Christopher Street and wended our way to the fountain in the middle of Washington Square where Venetia cooled her feet. Dinner was sushi with Lindsay Ribar a colleague of Venetia’s whose first book The Art of Wishing is about to be published. Though not at all a business dinner, everyone at the table enjoyed their jobs enough to talk primarily of business-related topics, which in our line of work means books and art and the publishing world.

After our dinner on 3rd Street and we walked along through the canyons of Tisch and NYU a while before coming to Broadway. It was a hot night, but our guest quarters were only 80 blocks north and Venetia needed to see the city. It was a surprising walk for us both, Broadway has changed in extraordinary ways since I was last in New York. We passed an aluminum Andy Warhol north of Union Square and enjoyed the generous space given to pedestrians now that the street is no longer a traffic-jammed diagonal thoroughfare, but a curious one-way side-street. Times Square proved that even such a good idea could make for a splitting headache. Having crossed it once, Venetia is of the opinion that it would be worth going out of her way to avoid in the future. It is loud, full of flashing lights and tight crowds of people; altogether a stifling and dizzying experience. We noted the bleachers set about at intervals, wondering if they indicated particular events that required crowd seating but at the time of our visit, they seemed to hold nothing more than tired tourists taking a moment to sit down and gawk at one another. 80 blocks later we arrived at Michael’s aerie once more, pleasantly exhausted, filled with frozen yogurt and ready to fall immediately asleep after making quick plans for the morning.

Saturday was all about visiting with as many people as we could manage; beginning with the talented Tina Segovia and ending with a lovely dinner with Starstruck creator Elaine Lee and her brilliantly talented sons, Brennan and Griffin. Kickstarter and Starstruck were both discussed at some length. After dinner we went for a walk through Central Park with Tara Torre, a childhood friend of Venetia’s. We only walked through half of the park, not quite the same scope as the grand walking tour of New York the night before, but delightful nonetheless. Here, Venetia took here rightful place in Gotham’s Wonderland.

On Sunday, after a brief teaser of Sherlock and breakfast with the delightful Selena, we left the city. On our way out, we randomly stopped at a burger and milkshake joint for the best milkshake Venetia has had thus far. (We mentioned this to another New Yorker friend who immediately identified the name of the restaurant when we told her the location, so clearly we are not alone in this assertion of deliciousness.) Despite the wonderful start to the day, heading to Newark for our car rental we found what turned out to be the car rental from hell, though we were told at the counter that we should have expected nothing less at that price. Needless to say, this answer was not at all satisfactory and we were not happy with the deception of the Alamo car rental at Newark airport. In short: AVOID.

The ride up the Hudson was beautiful and green and we stopped frequently at the turnouts to admire the view of the city and river. We were additionally treated to a new view of the World Trade Center building and realized that it is not a transformer as we had previously believed, but in fact is the mounting space for a great, lidless eye, ever watching… Too soon? For dinner we had planned to stop at Mohonk Mountain House but after a remarkable trip to our nation’s great wonders in Glacier and Yellowstone, I forgot that the rich don’t much care for itinerant artists. We were turned away in the most snobbish and class-tastic fashion. So we stopped briefly in New Paltz and carried on.

We found our hosts, Stephen and Vicki Hickman, on their back porch enjoying a cool evening. They prepared us a delicious meal of chicken and corn on the cob. While I haven’t painted in Steve’s studio for years (not since we both lived in the Virginia suburbs), we stayed up well into the night discussing art and books and PG Wodehouse, and our curious industry.

View from the porch.

The next day was our excursion into Woodstock with Elaine Lee and her partner in crime Richmond Johnston – bagpiper extraordinaire. I’d been speaking with Richmond on and off for years, but this was my first chance to meet him. Woodstock did not live up to any possible expectations; we found it quaint, in its pipe and patchouli way. Upon our return, Steve took us on a tour of Red Hook, including a stop at the local ice cream shop where we split a giant milkshake. Venetia finished her namesake’s book while Steve and I got deep into the process of designing him a proper art book. Sobering to think that his last small folio is 2 decades old, and his new work is seldom seen (save for lucky collectors and those who commission his work). It was a long and productive night that included masses of show and tell (the sketches for upcoming paintings are simply spectacular). We left happily the next day, in possession of our own Stephen Hickman painting!

Before we left, we were given the helpful reminder that the Norman Rockwell Museum was in the area. After a tour of the New Barrington estate of Ethan Ham and his wife Janet (where V enjoyed some baby-toe-nibbling) we made the necessary detour to find the museum. The work is amazing. And Rockwell’s ambition was matched again and again by his results. We spent a good two hours admiring the Rockwells. And commenting on the heroification we observed in the descriptions of the paintings, the hagiography of Rockwell’s life, and the attitude of the hovering museum attendants. When so much truth can be found, when so much great work can be displayed, when so much actual scholarship exists, why dissemble? Why try to make a myth from a man? Who does it serve? I found it backward, unseemly and utterly unnecessary.

We were also surprised, but extremely gratified, to discover that the special exhibit this month was of Howard Pyle’s best paintings. While I had been a little sad to only have 2 weeks on the east coast, it was as though fate knew I couldn’t get to Delaware to see these old friends. And they had brought all the big guns: Stranded, The Flying Dutchman… glorious.

Interestingly, Rockwell’s entire studio had been transported to the grounds of the museum, which at first deceived us into thinking that he had actually painted in such a idyllic local. Too bad for him he didn’t. Too bad for context.

From the Rockwell Museum we headed into Belchertown, an apt name for the location of Jacob Lefton’s smithy. We received the grand tour of the forge and then of the charming town of Amherst, which of course included the local ice cream parlor. Travel in summer is difficult, and ice cream, it’s greatest reward.

As we settled in for the night at Jacob’s, various friends and roommates joined us for a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity, at which I eventually ruthlessly triumphed. In the morning we journeyed out by foot for fresh blueberries and cream-topped honey yogurt for breakfast. Given the lateness of the day by the time we left, we decided to drive straight to Boston, or more precisely, to the town of Melrose north of Boston. We had a wonderful family dinner with my old friends and hosts Scott and Rachel and their extended family. Scott débuted his new ice cream flavor: spicy apricot. There was much rejoicing.

The next day was our excursion into Boston proper. We took the T out to Davis Square and then walked via Harvard Square back to Cambridge out to the river which was teaming with beautiful boats. The extent to which there are less-that-perfect neighborhoods within blocks of MIT startled me. I would have thought that Boston’s horrific traffic might have led to more gentrification. Later, we met up with the lovely and formidable Sara and helped her make some fantastic dress choices at The Garment District. After another delicious home-cooked meal of steak tips, we ran off to Readercon for my first panel, a discussion of the visual media in relation to creating. Can one ever truly create without the undo influence of film? It seems that the panelists (including Elizabeth Hand and Caitlin Kiernan) could have joined me on the PR team for Blade Runner, should that need ever arise (Ridley, call us). Elizabeth’s points about the Sublime tallied well with my own, and with my recent trips to see the sublimity of the NW. At the end of the panel we joined Caitlin and other worthies for a rousing discussion of movies and literature in Caitlin’s room. Ed Wood was a particular point of admiration and disdain. Unsurprisingly, Caitlin and I were on the admiration side. Upon our return home we got a tour of Scott’s basement workshop, filled with even more exotic metals and ancient mechanical contraptions than the last time I’d stayed.

Friday, we enjoyed a leisurely morning before the whirlwind of the convention – I somehow ended up on a total of eight panels over the course of the weekend. After sharing the final kaffeklatch of the evening with the redoubtable Kyle Cassidy, we headed down to mingle with fellow attendees and happened to run into pretty much every person we needed or wanted to talk to, including Ty Franck to discuss a secret project and Michael Swanwick to get a book signed for Jacob. Michael was at first suspicious to see the book under Venetia’s arm, thinking it an unauthorized trade paperback edition but she quickly explained that it was an ARC, the very ARC in fact that I had read through in order to create the cover for Michael’s “Best Of.” Jacob was the current owner of the book, however, and he had insisted that Venetia borrow it for the weekend when he heard she had not read any Michael Swanwick. In return for the introduction to such an amazing body of work, Venetia got Michael’s signature in the book for Jacob. A happy ending to a happy story about a compendium of wildly impressive and not-always-happy stories. I love it when a plan comes together.

On the left, the renowned Boris paints a bull’s backside.
On the right, I paint a cover showing and hinting at the book’s actual contents.

My favorite panel of the convention was the “Book Covers Gone Wrong” with panelists Liz Gorinsky, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Daniel Abraham, Jacob Weisman, and Katherine MacLean. I led a lively discussion of bad book covers and the resulting sounds of the crowd’s appreciation managed to drown out any competing laughter from the neighboring “Bad Prose” battle. Victory!

The majority of my time at Readercon was spent on the multi-day panel: A Story from Scratch. The plan was for Elizabeth Bear and Michael Swanwick to create a story based on characters from the audience and props from the guests of honor. Kyle Cassidy would document the scenes from the book, and then I would create the book cover. Due to her lovely cheongsam, Venetia was chosen as the hero of the story – the proprietor of an Asian restaurant. After proposing to Eileen, the woman who would be her wife for the story, and, menaced by the evil Bracken and Tom Purdom (but really, they were both wonderful), she spent much of the subsequent panels in photoshoots with Kyle. I sat and sketched in the panel room as the story evolved, and Saturday afternoon I worked more closely with Kyle, directing a few shoots so that I’d have the grist for my cover. Much to my surprise, Bracken’s extraordinary tattoos supplanted the cheongsam as my background, and allowed me to show that he and Tom were the same person, decades apart. And really, could there anything more fun than tattooing Tom? Later Saturday, I began working on the cover in front of the panel audience. It took longer than the time allotted for the room, of course, but all was completed, including my choice of title, by the appointed hour on Sunday when Michael and Elizabeth read the story aloud while Kyle showed his photos. While the story itself is not yet available on the interwebs, here is the first viewing of the cover. When I asked the authors what they wanted me to call it, Michael told me I could call it whatsoever I desired. But that he and Bear would have veto rights. They didn’t veto it.

The panel finally ended on Sunday and after one last rowdy lunch with friends, we departed. We stopped to pick up the newly framed Steve Hickman painting and then headed out to a remarkable gallery opening of fantastic glass and electricity.

Monday was our last day in Boston and we spent it lounging about on couches in front of the electric fans (though we roused ourselves to head into Boston proper for a delicious Thai luncheon with the delightful Lindsay and Alex, creators of Baman Piderman.) Tuesday we drove back to Newark, stopping briefly in New York City for more Thai (our traveling food of choice) and the company of Allison Taylor, whose own Apple Core Theater Company I once had the pleasure of branding.

And thus we returned to Portland, to dive back in to the exciting new projects (soon to be announced) awaiting our homecoming.

* We were very pleased to read on Aug. 5th that the Readercon board resigned and the Readercon committee, many of whom we met and interacted with at the convention, had issued a public apology. We enjoyed Readercon as a convention a great deal and hope that it will not be ruined by the disrespect shown by its former governing board.

Nothing Exceeds Like Success

Rambling shambolic thoughts.
You know. The usual….

The recent death of Robin Gibb has led me to consider the Bee Gees (they were the Brothers Gibb to you youngsters in our audience), Patrick Nagel, and… Papyrus.

What do these three have in common? Why, mad skills, catastrophic success, and my impressionable youth, of course.

The Bee Gees were boy singing stars starting in 1960:

I didn’t know that until Robin’s death, but it makes perfect sense.

I did know the older Bee Gees of 1967 who were quite successful in Australia and England.
On this ancient LP, Side A found geeky, adenoidal brother Robin singing his heart out on what are to me curiously American themes: Massachusetts and New York Mining Disaster 1941.

If I could explain what I love so much about Robin’s voice, I would be a professional rock critic. Suffice it to say I, like most people, found Robin more Tiny Tim than Tom Jones, and I found him all the more captivating for it – whether singing lead or harmonizing with his siblings.

If they’d stopped at Side A, most of us would never have heard Robin at all. Side B would change that forever.

Success flowed when Barry took his voice higher than Robin’s (a notion so absurd that it forms Disco Inferno version of a Robert Johnson Crossroads mythology, with Robert Stigwood filling in for Lucifer). Barry’s gaudier falsetto was the soundtrack of 1979, and the tall handsome hirsute brother more or less took over his band of brothers. And other bands as well: The Rolling Stone’s Emotional Rescue anyone? Hell, they were tapped to play The Beatles on film – they were bigger than Jesus’ body double!

If Arthur Fonzarelli had never “jumped the shark”, the Bee Gees’ “Sgt. Pepper” might have become a catch phrase for “so-big-it-MUST-fail” today. Their success was a musical and cultural Tsunami, and when the waves receded, no one wanted to be seen with them. And their Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack would be featured at numberless yard sales for years to come. Ah, success!

Patrick Nagel died many years ago now and left a comparatively small body of work. But what a body!

His freelance career began in 1971, but it was 1976 that brought him his most important client – Playboy Magazine.

His work and the work of his numberless naked imitators still adorns unfashionable beauty salons and dress shops from Hoboken to Oxnard. And why? Because he was damned good. He had a simple stylized approach of strong design, tapered lines, and an addiction to Payne’s Grey that was instantly identifiable – a brand.  And that brand meant sex and sophistication. As with Side A of the Bee Gees, I’m a big fan, and as with Side B admitting this on the permanent record that is the internet may not be such a good idea.

I sometimes wonder, if Nagel hadn’t come along at the same time as cheap backlit mini-mall signage and fading mass-market decorative poster art, would he be remembered today? If he was remembered, would it be with fondness? Or will these constant reminders of outmoded style be like the poor: always with us.

Has this sort of backlash happened with other artists and illustrators of the past? My guess is no – not to the extent the global media allows. Yes, Alma Tadema paintings were considered completely passe and going for peanuts (Candid Camera’s Alan Funt held the mass of them at one point), but except for an especially garish slice of hell in Nevada called the Peppermill, few people today even know his work. And those that know it through the nightmare looking-glass probably think the imperfectly painted and endlessly repeated Alma Tadema paintings (probably painted en masse by an entire Chinese village) are simply part of their Fear and Loathing in Reno hallucination. I think few artists have had a big enough platform to become so thoroughly declassé to the public.

I wonder what Nagel would be painting today if he had lived long enough to see Lady Gaga And Katie Perry. Would he be a retro relic? Forever trapped by his ancient style? Or would he have grown and changed? Too bad we’ll never know….

Papyrus

“But why not Comic Sans?” I hear you cry. “Why Papyrus?”
And the easy answer is that Comic Sans is the Rob Liefeld of fonts, while Papyrus is an astonishingly good and beautiful one (Michael Kaluta? Dave Stevens? No, Neal Adams. Definitely Neal).

I have strong feelings on this subject because back in the Letraset days, I bought sheets of the stuff (the scan above was taken tonight from the old Letraset sheets that I still own) and their cost was pretty dear to a starving artist like me. My friend Dawn Wilson had been the first person I’d seen to use it and it had all the hallmarks of her work ~ elegance, grace, sophistication. I remember our early business cards and program covers. Turns out they were fifteen years ahead of their time and that eventually the world would learn that Papyrus had a million and one household uses. These days as I travel the world, I am saddened by Papyrus’ overuse even as I wonder whether it’s creators feel similarly. I hope they love their creation still, even as everyone I know rolls their eyes over it.

This year is a year of long-gestating projects. Of doing the things I’ve wanted to do for decades in some cases. Doom and 13th Age and Literary Pin-Ups to name but three.  I will never have the astonishingly epochal successes of the Brothers Gibb, or Patrick Nagel, their appreciation and their opprobrium, but I wish I could have spoken to the talented super-successes of my lifetime; they deserved their success as I hope to deserve my own.

And I’m going to keep using Papyrus, just to show ’em.

The Elements of Illustration*

I critique hundreds of pieces every year. Not because I’m a Creative Director (although I have been), but because I (like you) am a consumer of art – of illustration, painting, comics, games, et alia. And the act of critique is one of the most helpful for enlarging one’s own understanding and formalizing concepts that might otherwise float away….

While the following list is by no means scientific (many of the elements listed below overlay others, and many great paintings use only a few) I made it for my own reference and I hope that you may find it useful food for thought. Please print it out and put it by your drafting table or computer if it’ll help.

Focus
Where do you want your viewer’s eye to go? What’s the heart of the piece, the crux of the biscuit?

Narrative
Is there a story here? A big idea? A paradigm, a parody, a pastiche? Has the sword been nicked in battle, has the dog been fed, has the sweater been patched? Norman Rockwell began his pictures thinking of a soldier under a light post and ran scenarios in his mind (often switching “lead” characters) until he found a painting.

A stunning piece from Swedish artist Anders Zorn

Composition and Design
Create a visual hierarchy – A path for the viewer to follow? Something fractal? Separate elements intended for book cover, spine and back cover? Consider the surface you’re working on, its aspect ratio and how that effects the harmonies and tensions of your piece. When working in a tall oval, or a wide ceiling, or a strange milled form, that’s pretty obvious. But it is just as important within a normal rectangle.

Palette
There are many good ones that great painters have applied over the years. Use one of theirs or make your own!

Value
Can your piece be reduced to black and white and still read correctly?
Sometimes good pieces work their value in terms of warm and cool colors, but most need strong tonal variety to read well.

A little-known satyric illustration by Kewpie Doll creator Rose O’Neill


Mass
Think Rodin, JC Leyendecker or Rose O’Neill.

Texture
It makes things and people seem real.

Symbolism
Personal, classical, mystical or cultural – words, numbers, objects, beings. There’s no shortage of sources or end to interpretation. While there was an entire movement of Symbolists (only some of whom were painters),  Michael Kaluta and Brian Despain are excellent modern examplars.

Synecdoche  (Micro defining Macro)
A small area of tight or implied detail will help define vast shapes – like the windows in a colossal building or the wrinkles on an elephant. One needs only a few wee bits to represent a larger whole.

Ornament
Whether it’s Mary Engelbreit‘s checkerboards, or Stephen Hickman‘s ornate orientalism, Ornament matters. Sometimes it’s a sort of texture, other times the whole raison d’etre.

Juxtaposition
Comparisons and contrasts of size, scope, meaning, characters… in our world of Zoroastrian black and white contrasts, this is often too-easy. Use discretion and variety

3 of Glen Orbik’s spectacular pulp covers

Stylization
Sometimes it’s fetishism for a type of brush-stroke or color scheme, sometimes caricature or anatomy. For example, the best pin-ups (by Gil Elvgren, Aly Fell, Glen Orbik, et alia) have similarly stylized elements, some of which might surprise you.
If you’re working on a pin-up, just crack their code and you’re off to the races.

Character
Have the characters lived real lives? Are they real beings with hopes and fears? Body language, gesture and costume are crucial here.

Tension
Gesture is important, but so is the feeling of tension. Sometimes it’s the most important part of a piece. Drama, high stakes, suspense. If you can enlist the viewer’s sympathy support or curiosity, you win.

Line
It’s quite obvious in the works of Franklin Booth, Aubrey Beardsley, and Mike Mignola – but don’t underestimate its importance for Drew Struzan, Arthur Rackham or John Jude Palencar.

Research/Reference
I know precious few people who draw brilliantly out of their heads, but those heads have absorbed the lessons their eyes have shown them for many years. Most of us have been nowhere near as observant, and while we may remember and be able to imagine many things, there are usually areas where we fall down. Bolster yourself and your work with reference. Don’t stick slavishly to it, but make it do your bidding.

Vignette
The play of shape (whether silhouette or fully rendered form) against a white, colour, or fully realized background is so important for keeping a viewer interested. It can be akin what designers call negative space.

Perspective
Each point in perspective applies to a single dimension (in 2 point perspective the points are nearly always width and depth). Get perspective right and you’ll be halfway home. Also, the more you keep you POV away from a normal grid as seen from a height of 6 feet, the more dynamic your piece is likely to be.

FUN!
A certain joie de vivre is key. It doesn’t matter if you paint supplely or with technical perfection – If you don’t bring some fun and adventure to your work, viewers can tell. They won’t always know what’s wrong, but they’ll get that something is…

To which list the delightful Kurt Huggins suggested:

Process: This is your way of managing and editing all of these different elements. Each step of your process should be about solidifying one more element of the image, building up to a final piece. There are many processes, and many ways to finish, but I think most processes start with idea or composition.

*And while I find that this list applies to my own artwork, I also find that much of it applies to my writing, sculpture, et al. Your mileage may vary.

© 2008 Lee Moyer.