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Now Available: The Brutal Blade of Bruno the Bandit Vol. 8!

 Long overdue, but worth the wait, The Brutal Blade of Bruno the Bandit Vol. 8 is now available!  Gaze in wonder at the cover by Clint "...

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

New Work Published: Other Town by Ray Wennerstroem

 I kind of missed the boat on the publication date on this one by a couple of months, but this is another novel I have illustrated (including the cover).  "Welcome to...Other Town" by Ray Wennerstroem is a YA novel in the style of Clive Barker's "Thief of Always" or Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree".  From it's Amazon description:

"When Georgie Robinson falls off his bike and gets lost in the woods, a strange adventure awaits.

Wandering through the forest, Georgie discovers an abandoned town that is not abandoned at all, but is filled with folks that are strange, wonderful, and frightening. While his dad and best friend, Pete, are searching for him, Georgie sees a Furliz, meets the Picklock Clan, and is guided through a strange town by a peculiar mayor with jellyfish skin and a very big hat.

But when a sinister plot is exposed, will Georgie find the help he needs before it's too late?"

Aside from the cover, I've provided several interior illustrations for this project.  This one was a bit experimental for me.  Around the time I started on this, AI art was just beginning to hit big, with several tools becoming available to the public.  I decided to play around with the tools and see if I could make an ethical use of AI generated images.  So for some of the images in this book, I fed prompts into a couple of AI tools and had them generate images that I used to help nail the composition and perspective of the finished images I would eventually create.  I printed out the generated compositions and traced over them on my light table, adding and changing details as I thought necessary, then scanned them back into my computer and digitally inked them on my tablet.  I wouldn't say this is my best work (although there is one image in the book I am especially fond of), but it was an interesting change to my process that opened up some new possibilities.

For anyone who has strong opinions on AI art, I'd love to know what you think of this use of the tool.  Was it ethical?  Is this a fair use of computer generated imagery, or just higher level cheating?  Feel free to drop a comment and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Good Reading!

In an attempt to tidy up this site, I'm moving my Reading List stuff out of here.  I'm still doing the reading, but I don't feel it's relevant to this site any longer.  If I want to review something relevant, I may post it here, but otherwise, anyone interested in finding out what I'm reading or what I think of it can follow me on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/aimcomics.  I've updated quite a few books there that I've finished, and posted my reviews on a fair number of them as well.  

Thursday, April 6, 2023

New Work Published: Traveling Through the Eye of Cygnus X-1

 Out now from author Mark Eden, "Traveling Through the Eye of Cygnus X-1" is a science fiction novel set " just 70 years after the great war of 2112, a large federation starship called the S.F.P. Hadron sits in dry dock about 390 light years away from Earth, just inside the constellation Taurus on a planet called Magadon."  

I didn't design the cover for this one, but I have provided several interior illustrations for it, one of which is below.

From the book's Amazon description: 

"The Solar Federation of Planets has a traitor in its ranks and the small crew of an excavation starship are tasked with uncovering the traitors evil plot, warn the general, and survive traveling through the black hole of Cygnus-X1. The information they discover can possibly have huge ramifications for the planet Magadon along with the entire galaxy, so they will need to depend on the experience of their young Captain Jeffrey Scott.

The date is June 4th, 2182, just 70 years after the great war of 2112, a large federation starship called the S.F.P. Hadron sits in dry dock about 390 light years away from Earth, just inside the constellation Taurus on a planet called Magadon. The planet Magadon can be found among the eight hundred stars that make up the Pleiades star system situated inside the Milky Way galaxy. The Hadron is preparing for a journey in search of a young planet called Vilium that exists in the Triangulum galaxy. Captain Jeffrey Scott and his small crew aboard the Hadron have been specifically trained to excavate the cucial elements and minerals needed for creating a clean source of energy for the planet Magadon and its two inhabited outer moons, but their mission took them in an entirely different direction. The Captain and his crew found themselves in a tangled web of deceit, murder, and even love. It was up to the crew of the Hadron and the intelligent beings they pick up along the way to help strengthen the federation and to keep the malevolent creatures at bay."

 Eagle-eyed fans may be asking, and the answer is, yes, this book is inspired by the work of Rush.  I've managed to work a few visual references to the band's work into the illustrations, so keep an eye out for that.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable project for me, not just because I get to work on something related to my favorite musicians, but also because the concepts that Mark came up with were completely fun to illustrate.  I got to work in a lot of the kind of detail I enjoy using to make the illustrations interesting, and had a fair amount of creative freedom to design the characters and sets.  I also got to challenge myself a little bit with perspective and composition.  As I say, it was a fun project start to finish.

 Check out the book on Amazon, and let me know what you think! 

Friday, March 31, 2023

The Reading List: Hugo Award Winner "The Demolished Man" by Alfred Bester


The first Hugo awards, the preeminent science fiction literature award, were given out in 1953, with seemingly little vision of how big they would eventually come to be.  With an odd lack of prescience, given the genre they celebrate, there were no rules laid down for the awards in subsequent years, and in fact the 1954 Worldcon skipped them altogether.
Nevertheless, in the intervening years, the Hugos have become a high water mark for science fiction.  While the winners for best novel reveal a few authors that have hardly become household names for all but the most ardent science fiction readers, generally the list of winners reads like a literary pantheon of the genre, and for good reason.  The works that have won this award have influenced not only the development of the genre, but in many cases affected the courses of literature, science and culture.  From its pulp beginnings, science fiction quickly grew into a literary exploration of our ideas of possible futures, of problem solving, and of our relationships with technology and with our own and other species.

The first Hugo award was presented to Alfred Bester for his novel "The Demolished Man".  Referring to the judicial punishment of "demolition", the destruction of memory and personality in response to major crimes, the book is an exploration of psychology couched in a police procedural.  
The novel comes ahead of a long line of imitators that continue to this day to mostly fail at recapturing its formula.  It betrays a certain influence from the noir fiction of the 40s in its use of detective tropes, but it largely remains its own thing due to its use of fantastic ideas such as "peepers", ESP talented people who are able to read minds and thereby prevent or solve crimes, and the aforementioned demolition.  
In its use of these ideas and its integration of crime fiction with science fiction, "Demolished Man" at times seemed like an early indicator of the work of Philip K. Dick, particularly works like "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and "Minority Report"; it is high concept work with a gritty, street-level perspective on the world in which the story exits.  Like any older work of science fiction, it has to be taken in the context of its time to avoid direct comparisons with later works that play with similar ideas.  With that in mind, it functions well as a futuristic crime novel that successfully provokes thought about the possibilities and dangers of the world it posits.
At heart, though, it is the psychology of the characters, especially the protagonist Ben Reich, that drives the story, and in that it gives the story a timeless appeal.  The same set of characters could work in almost any setting, even without the benefit of the futuristic trappings.  The story could have been told equally well by James M. Cain or John D. McDonald as a straightforward murder mystery with a few simple adjustments, and I think it may be that universality that made it deserving of the Best Novel award that year.  It is a story that appeals and intrigues even out of its context because it is about the minds of its characters, and that psychology remains unchanged regardless of time and place.

Apropos of nothing, the one line that sticks out to me most from the novel, one that I have copied into my digital commonplace book is the following:  "Make your enemies by choice, not by accident."

"The Demolished Man" is available to buy from Amazon, or you can read it for free at Archive.org

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Reading List: Stoker Award 1987 - Misery by Stephen King

 The Bram Stoker Award is presented by the Horror Writers Association for superior achievement in horror writing.  It was first presented in 1987, and in that inaugural year saw two books take the prize for best novel, Stephen King's "Misery" and Robert McCammon's "Swan Song" (more on the latter at a later date).  Since then, it sees to have reflected the very best that horror writing has to offer, and nearly everything King has written has managed to find its way onto the nominee list.

In the 1980's, Stephen King was arguably doing his best work.  Some of his most iconic works, from "Firestarter" to "Cujo", "Pet Semetary", "It" and "The Dark Tower" originated in this decade, during which he prolifically proved his mastery of horror and dark fantasy.  However, towards the end of the decade there seemed to be another thematic thread rising in his work, and I would argue that it began with "Misery".  

One reason King's work has resonated so strongly with his fans is his handling of character.  In the horror genre at the time, there were few writers who gave their characters such depth and believability, where most authors seemed to prefer to focus on the lurid or the grotesque.  The terrible things that happen in King's novels have so much more impact because they happen to people, not just animated stick figures on the page.

Up until "Misery", the draw of King's work was definitely the monstrous; the vampires of "Salem's Lot", the ghosts of "The Shining", the devil dog of "Cujo", or any of his many deranged psychics.  With "Misery", King seemed to be exploring a new direction, setting aside his supernatural beginnings in favor of a quieter, more psychological kind of horror.  It was probably a gamble when his fanbase had bought in on the bloody promise of "Christine" and "Carrie", but it was clear that King wanted to explore new ground in his writing, and it was a gamble that paid off.

"Misery" has its share of the monstrous, but the thing that makes it work is that the monster is entirely human.  It is an exploration of solitude, toxic fandom, creativity (and, by extended metaphor, addiction) that takes horrible shape in the person of Annie Wilkes.  Behind her facade of adoration and support, she hides the face of the deadly consequences of the things we create.  The thing that looks like it is helping you is, in the end, going to kill you.  King lays out in very visceral imagery a picture of a writer who is bound by the persona he has created.  He is literally bound and hobbled by his own work.  Just as Paul Sheldon tries to escape from the restrictions that writing the chronicles of Misery Chastain has put him under, so Stephen King seemed to be trying to escape the limitations and tropes of his own work by creating a new monster that is so much more subtle, and so much more relatable, than the "famous monsters" cast he had played with up until now.

The proof of the value in this work, of course, lies not in the awards it won at the time, but in the way it has endured.  Beyond the book, beyond even the admittedly excellent movie, "Misery" has had an influence down the line to the present day.  It paved the way for many a psychopathic villain to follow and even, I would argue, set the tone for the recent trend towards "quiet horror" seen in the work of directors like Ari Aster and Ti West.  Only last Hallowe'en, I was treated to a new stage interpretation of the novel, done with some very creative set design and rendered with nearly as much impact as the original work.

Since "Misery", King has of course gone on to master this more literary form of horror with ensuing novels like "Dolores Claiborne", "The Dark Half" and  "Gerald's Game", and even woven the same kind of character development into more outright horror novels such as "Bag of Bones", "Dreamcatcher" and "Black House".  It is in part that depth that has kept his work from becoming stale and repetitive.  The supernatural elements in his work, when they are present, are often secondary to the character's arcs, and rightly so.  "Misery" changed a lot in King's work, for both the writer and for the reader, and overall (for this reader at least) for the better.

"Misery" is available at Amazon, or if you prefer, you can read it for free at archive.org.

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Value of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone



Over a year ago, I was approached by a creator, Osmar Ramos-Caballero, looking for an inker for his book, Las Bravas.   I was hesitant at first to take on the job.  I've always tried to maintain a kind of realism in my work, having cut my artistic teeth on the artists of Conan and Master of Kung-Fu, and followed up learning from the work of artists as varied as Frazetta, Vallejo, Wrightson, Bart Sears and Frank Cho.  The style of the pages he was offering me were very different from what I was used to and I wasn't sure if I could adapt to the work.

However, a job is a job, and to be honest, I needed the income at that time, so I took on the job and tried to do the best I could with it.

My first mistake was to try to adapt Osmar's work to my own style, layering a more realistic style of rendering over his simpler page designs, a style with lots of hatching, feathering and shading.  It didn't work, and I'm glad I didn't try to show him those pages.  

When it comes to inking, part of the challenge is always to try to respect the penciler's work while adding some of your own style.  Osmar's work has a more cartoonish, grafitti-inspired style, with lots of large closed shapes, very stylized forms, and a dramatic sense of action.  His pages are as much about design as they are about illustration; everything is not always technically perfect, but it always works.  Stylistically, it reminds me of the early comic work of Alejandro Jodorowsky.

So, stepping back, I decided to back off on my attempts on interpretation and give his original work more room to breathe.  I tried again, sticking more closely to his own sense of form and motion, and just allowing my use of line weights to bring out the depth of the panels.  This time it worked much better.  So much so, in fact, that Osmar asked me to follow up with lettering and coloring on this pages.  

Osmar colors his original pages in marker, so there's lots of visible brush stroke and somewhat muted colors in the pages.  However, I could see that he was aiming for the kind of vivid colors that you see in grafitti or in Meso-American art.  So I decided that this was again a case of "less is more" and went for mainly flat color with some simple cut-and-grad shading instead of risking overwhelming his art with unnecessary subtle shading.  And let me tell you that learning how to letter a comic in Spanish was no easy task.  Lettering in any form has never been my strong suit, and trying to do it with Spanish characters only made it more complicated for me.  Still, with the very handy lettering tools in Clip Studio Paint and the Komika font from Dafont, I was able to get the job done.

If I hadn't taken a chance on that first set of pages, I would not have had the successful collaboration with Osmar that I've had for the past year, and I would missed the chance to work on these very enjoyable pages.  Sometimes it's helpful to ignore that nagging little voice that tells you not to do something and take a chance on expanding your creative horizons; step outside your comfort zone and see what happens.

As of the date of this post, I've completed inking, color and lettering on three volumes of Las Bravas for Osmar, as well as dozens of pages of pinups and character portraits.  Volumes 1 & 2  are available on Amazon right now, while Volume 3 will be arriving shortly.  If you've got Kindle Unlimited, they're free to read.  If not, they're still reasonably priced.  They're in Spanish, of course, but they do a Spanish-English guide at the end that may be very helpful.  And besides, in any language, they're pretty to look at...if I do say so myself!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Reading List: World Fantasy Award 1975 - The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip


In Stephen King's memoir, "On Writing" he recounts a conversation with Amy Tan in which he asked her if there was a question she was never asked in Q&A sessions, and her response was "They never ask about the language."  

This line has stuck with me since I encountered it, and it has made me more mindful of my reading since then; I pay much more attention to the way an author uses language, and it is one of the criteria by which I determine the quality of an author or a work.

McKillip's book "The Forgotten Beasts of Eld" stood out to me like few others for its use of language.  Written in the language of high fantasy (think Tolkien and C.S. Lewis),  this story reads more like a poem than prose; her language has a lyrical idealism that is only found in the very best fantasy literature.  Witness this piece of "dialogue" from the novel:

"I thought of you with your hair silver as snow all through that cold, slow journey from Sirle.  I felt you troubled deep within me, and there was no other place in the world I would rather have been than in the cold night riding to you.  When you opened your gates to me, I was home."

I cannot imagine many recent authors I've read even attempting a passage like that with a straight face, but McKillip carries off the entire book in that manner.

Now, I'll make a confession...no surprise to anyone who knows me...I don't generally like fantasy fiction.  Oh, sure, I enjoy the Lord of the Rings as much as any reader, but when it comes to most modern fantasy, I tend to shy away from it.  For one thing, there's hardly such a thing as a fantasy "novel" any more.  There's fantasy sagas, epic series, cycles and chronicles aplenty, thousands of pages requiring a major commitment of time to read with no guarantee that the story will ever even be finished (yes, I'm looking at you GRRM).  On top of that, I can't seem to handle the names in fantasy novels; there's far too many hyphens and apostrophes in there for me to be comfortable with them.  When an author starts telling me the saga of L'erin-Medd'ezzath, archmage of Tir Cinealta, I'm out and heading for a stack of Donald Westlakes.

It's very refreshing, then, when I find an occasional and rare fantasy novel that engages me the way this one did.  "Forgotten Beasts" is not so much a read as it is an experience, like a fugue or a reverie.  It stimulates the imagination with visions of high fantasy and removes the reader from their personal context into the ficton of the novel.  It's characters are ideal figures, yet somehow still relatable, and still fantastic enough to inspire grand mental pictures of the kinds of world depicted by only the best fantasy artists.  

This is a book for not only those who love high fantasy, but also those who love good literature.  It is the kind of writing that much fantasy fiction aspires to be, and in achieving that transcends its genre in a way that echoes more popular authors whose work is considered more widely known.

"The Forgotten Beasts of Eld" is, of course, available to purchase on Amazon, or if you'd prefer to read it for free, there's several copies available to borrow at Archive.org.