Doodle Penance: "manga fleas"

I'm in a big hurry tonight, so although this week's "Doodle Penance" derives from a search for "manga fleas," I've taken a bit of a shortcut. Figuring that Mike would also be drawing at least one Manga Flea, I have only drawn one Manga Flea myself.

I really don't like drawing in a manga style, and I am not even going to pretend that this is an approximation of any real manga styles. It's really not my bag. Also, I am not much of a caricaturist, so I can't make any claims that this looks like the original.

Mike, I leave it to you to to display and explain your own doodle, per our usual practice.

—Isaac, that could be manga, maybe: it's got huge eyes, spiky hair, and Hello Kittys stuck all over it. It's manga enough.

Me, I decided to go with the bloodsucking variety of flea (though yon bass player showed up on the Google Image search along with the parasite, unsurprisingly). Here's my manga flea:

I had had grandiose ideas about drawing a whole slew of manga fleas in a variety of styles, since I own manga from such diverse artists as Osamu Tezuka, Goseki Kojima, Hajime Ueda, Keiji Nakazawa, and others, but since Isaac told me he had tossed out his doodle really quickly I figured why bother. Now I see that his quick doodle is a lot more elaborate than mine. But mine is at least based on an image from a genuine manga-ka, the great Rumiko Takahashi, because this is the image I flipped to at random when I opened the first book from my big stack of manga, a Japanese original of volume 34 of Urusei Yatsura:
So okay. There's a little genuine manga drawing for you. And since Lum there (cowering in the lower left-hand corner) has cat ears, maybe she has reason to watch out for manga fleas. Mrrrow.

The Herald of Randolph, Vermont announces Littlejohn single panel comics to be published weekly.
The Herald of Randolph, Vermont

Blurry Vision

Last night Spencer was working re-caulking some areas in our shower. Well, actually, he never made it to the re-caulking part because as he was trying to get the caulk to come out, it squirted every which way... and one of those ways was straight into his right eye. He flushed it with water for 15 minutes, and then, per the recommendation of our nurses' hotline with the insurance company, went to the emergency room. They irrigated his eye with a full bag of saline solution (ouch!), gave him a few prescriptions for eye drops and eye cream, told him to not use his eyes for 24 hours (what?!) and sent him on his way.

His eye was quite red and felt scratchy. Spence said that he felt like there was this white film over it and that he couldn't quite see clearly.

If you've been to the ER, you know that you do a lot of.... waiting. I thought about how so often our lives are like that... like walking around with blurry vision. We want so badly to see clearly... to understand, to be able to make sense of life's disappointments, hurts, and even catastrophes. Sometimes it's our circumstances that cause the blurry vision, sometimes it's our response to them. Most often, though, I think it's our humanness... the fact that we just don't see the full picture. And if you're like me... you want to. At least, I think I do.

I was reminded of the oh-so-familiar passage that we, as I am sure some of you, had read at your weddings. It comes from 1 Corinthians 13, and while most often this passage is read because of its description of love, this is the part that stuck out to me:

9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:9-12

I know that now I see just a poor reflection... I have blurry vision. Things in life don't always make sense... reasons are often unclear, or unknown. I don't understand how and why God works the way He does sometimes. I only know part of the story. Some days that frustrates me, because with Isaac, the part I know is the part that hurts. I want so deeply to understand why Isaac couldn't be here with us longer; I want so deeply to know why it had to be my son. And sometimes the "whys" cause my vision to be blurry. In the midst of all of my blurry vision though, there is the One whose vision is not only perfectly clear, but more vast and wonderful than I could ever fathom... even when it hurts like crazy.

What a promise in verses 12 and 13... that one day I will know in full. One day I will meet Him, and Isaac, face to face... on no longer will my vision be blurry. It will be crystal clear.

Lastly, if you haven't checked out the Sponbergs' blog, you should. Nicol Sponberg used to sing in Selah, and is working on releasing a solo album this summer. She and her husband, Greg, lost their second child, Luke, to SIDS on May 27th last year. She has written a song in honor of Luke that will be on her solo album. Click here to get to the Sonbergs' to view the video and listen to this absolutely beautiful song.

A Link to Click

Nothing major to report, but here's my review of Beth Ann Fennelly's most recent book, Unmentionables. It's a good book. If the review gets you interested, here's a link to a place where you can buy the book itself.

Designing an Unpleasant Character: Charles

Over the weekend, when I was working out a design for the "Charles" t-shirts, my first sketch wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. I didn't realize it until I'd inked Charles, but he looked a little too genial, not quite so repellent, as the original Charles whose body language and "default facial expression" made our narrator so uneasy.

Here's my original sketch.

He looks like a pretty homely fellow, but not totally unpleasant. You could imagine that once you got to know him, he'd even be fun to go get pizza and beer with. After a little consultation with a reader, I was able to come up with a second version.

I think you'll agree that this second version seems a lot less pleasant. You'd hardly even want to follow this guy into an elevator. Over the past few days, as I open my notebook, I've been really curious about what makes for this version of Charles seem so much nastier (and truer to the original concept). The basic design is essentially the same, except for the addition of nostrils, and the facial expression isn't very different either.

Setting them side-by-side, I think the clearest difference that emerges is how he's holding his mouth. After that, though, is a subtle matter of his face's shape. The second Charles's face bulges lower than his cheeks. He's jowly. This seems to imply that his face has settled into that expression over years of smirking. The first Charles looks ten years younger, and his higher cheeks suggest that he might smile under different circumstances. (In fact, he looks more like he's smiling.)

Overlapping the two images brings out a few other contrasts:

1. Second Charles (in green) has different body language: his shoulders are much more hunched up, or he's slouching more. Again, that connotes more gravity or more resignation.

2. Second Charles is less symmetrical. His hair is lumpy and off-center; his mouth is held over to one side.

3. Second Charles's eyes are smaller and closer together.

4. The gap between eye and eyebrow is greater on Second Charles, so his facial expression is more extreme. There's no chance that he's playing around here: that's real scorn, slight regard, and contempt.

There was really no question which of these two deserved to be colored and presented on merchandise. Here's to constructive criticism and revision!

Our weekend in (a few) pictures, and some updates

This past weekend Spencer and I headed out to the eastern shore to spend time with family. My mom and stepdad have a home there, and Spencer's mom and stepdad live about 35 minutes from them a few towns over. It was nice to get away for a few days, enjoy the sunshine, play a few rounds of golf, and enjoy being together. Here are a few pictures...

Spence and I on my mom's back porch...

Here are Spence and I on a boat ride prior to having dinner...
Not the greatest picture as I was holding the camera :)

We arrived back home to see that Isaac's rose bush (given to us by my dad and stepmom last September) had grown seemingly overnight, and had so many blooms!! I cut a few off and stuck them in a vase. For several of the others, I pulled of the petals and stuck them in a clear bowl. They smell so wonderful.

While we were away, I was working on my Beth Moore Esther study for this week. We're in week 3, at the part in Esther where Haman persuades King Xerxes to issue a decree to kill all of the Jews about 11 months later. Part of the commentary in the study surrounding this event asked us if we could imagine what it would be like to know the date you and your loved ones were going to die? To have that impending catastrophe looming in front of you? And though I feel like the question was meant to be, for the most part, rhetorical, a part of me just wanted to shout out, "YES!!! I KNOW!!"

I know what it was like to have October 7 marked on the calendar. I know what it was like to be living with impending catastrophe (barring God's intervention) in front of me... not for 11 months, but for 5 1/2.

We were asked to reflect on what it "would be" like right after hearing the news, a few months into it, and then shortly before the time was "up." I didn't have to search to deeply to remember what it was like to have my head spinning on April 21, 2008 and then again in mid-June. I didn't have to search back too far to remember what it was like living in the tension of knowing what was likely, and yet hoping and praying for Isaac to live. And I didn't have to think too hard at all to remember what it was like when I turned the calendar to October of 2008... or on the night of October 6 when Spence and I went up to bed and I knew it was the last time we would say goodnight to him.

To be honest, remembering all that just hurt like crazy. Yet somehow, God used it to remind me of His faithfulness through it all... that even though He didn't allow Isaac to live long here, He did allow him to be born alive; and ultimately, Isaac is alive and well in the presence of our Creator. As I often say to Spencer, though, I just wish he could have spent more time here with us first.

As for updates...

Kirsten's mom is doing okay and making small steps of progress. The doctors determined that she did not in fact have a heart attack, but they still aren't sure (as of the last I heard) what exactly happened. Her mom is having some unpleasant side effects from some of the medications she's being given. Kirsten is up with her mom, as is her oldest brother. They've worked out a schedule for someone to be with her at all times. I know that Kirsten is just very drained from all of this, and caring for her 3 and 1 year olds on top of it. Would you please continue to pray for Barb, but also please pray for Kirsten as she is trying to care for both her mom and her kids right now?

The golf tournament is trucking along!! We have several holes sponsored, and registrations are starting to come in. We're really excited about being able to remember Isaac and bring honor to God through his life and story. If this happens to be the first time you're hearing about the golf tournament, click here to head to the tournament website and learn more. We would love it if you would pray for this tournament... for good weather, for the details to come together, for people's hearts and lives to be touched, and for God to receive all the glory.

...and what She found there by Cee-Cee Swalling

Unlike Isaac, I have never taught a course in comics-making, though I have occasionally included comics projects as an option within a creative-writing unit in more general literature classes. Well, I gotta kvell: a student who produced a short autobiographical piece for my introductory literature course back in fall 2006 recently completed her BA in Literature with a creative-writing senior capstone thesis, and her medium was the minicomic. So here are a few panels from ...and what She found there, the debut work in comics of Cee-Cee Swalling.

At first, Cee-Cee had thought about adapting Alice in Wonderland into comics. Cee-Cee was in my comics class back in fall 2007 when guest speaker Paul Karasik gave a terrific lecture on various literary adaptations into comics, which included some discussion of the classic MAD adaptation/parody of Alice, and I know Cee-Cee had explored some other prior comics adaptations of Alice as well. Ultimately, though, she chose a different tack: autobiographical material filtered through the language and images of Lewis Carroll's two Alice books.

The current edition of ...and what She found there includes four stories, three of which are based on episodes from Cee-Cee's life, from childhood to summer 2008, and a fourth of which abandons autobio but keeps the conceit of using Carroll's work to reflect contemporary American concerns. Her adaptive methods vary from story to story. Thus, the opening story uses the exact language of the poem of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee to narrate a scene from Cee-Cee's childhood squabbles with her little brother:

The story takes a surprising but effective turn with the sudden arrival of the "monstrous crow" from the poem, which takes on a very different form in the comic as the symbol of a family health crisis. The new context that Cee-Cee brings to the poem adds a surprising depth to it without dismantling the poem's playful tale of youthful quarreling.

The second story, adapting the great poem "Jabberwocky," is not drawn directly from Cee-Cee's life. Instead, it adapts the poem by splitting its text between two parallel timeframes: a quasi-medieval portrayal of a young knight who confronts the literal Jabberwock monster alongside a contemporary depiction of a College Democrat who casts a vote against the metaphorical Jabberwock of the McCain-Palin ticket. Here's the big battle scene in the voting booth and in the tulgey wood:

(There's a full-body portrait of the Jabberwock on the previous page of this story.)

The fourth and final story, "Off with her head!", offers still a third kind of adaptation—more of a riff on a theme than a direct translation of Carroll's plots or language. Here, Cee-Cee examines how both she and her mother seemed at times to exemplify the behaviors of the imperious queen of Carroll's books, even as Cee-Cee herself sought release in the fantasy worlds of reading and the imagination. She writes in her own voice, though with numerous visual echoes of the Alice books. Her method in this story seems closer to that of Alison Bechdel in Fun Home: allusive, intertextual, and reflective about the role of reading and referentiality in coming to understand oneself:

All in all, I think it's work that Cee-Cee should be proud of, and I am proud to have followed this project from its earliest stages. She's still expanding it, I'm told, and with any luck she'll have copies to hawk from a corner of the Satisfactory Comics table at MoCCA in a couple weeks' time. In the meantime, or if you can't make it to MoCCA, by all means visit her blog at, where you can read the first versions of several of these stories and some other comics work, as well.

the hopeful gardener

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” (John 15:1)

I have been thinking about this image from the gospel of John as I have prepared my own garden for planting this Spring. For twenty five years I have attempted to coax a harvest out of the stubborn clay soil in our backyard. The compost and manure we added over the years helped to enrich the soil but the annual harvest was always disappointing. So this year I decided to dig, build, and create raised beds for our vegetable garden.

This has turned out to be a very labor intensive project. First step was to remove the sod from an area measuring four by twelve feet. This is accomplished by forcing a spade into the dry, resistant, and stubborn clay dirt and removing 12” by 12” squares. These forlorn looking chunks are placed beside what will become the planting bed. Step two is to use a garden fork to loosen the dirt and break up the clods that are in the 4’ by 12’ bed. Then I place around the bed the frame that I have constructed from 2” by 8” lumber. Now it is time to return the sod I had earlier dug out by placing them grass side down in the bed so that the grass and sod will decompose in the earth. This is followed by using the garden fork to break up the sod as much as possible. Then a 1” layer of compost is laid down and followed by a 4 to 5 inch layer of good top soil. Finally, the soil is ready for the seeds and seedlings to be planted in the three raised garden beds we built this week. Yes, I have repeated this process three times. This brings us back to the Apostle John’s image of God as the gardener. How persistent and patient God must be with us as he prepares us for the seed of his gracious and compassionate Word. I know that the soil of my heart and mind can be as dry and unyielding as the clay in our yard. Yet God continues to work in my life and yours….digging out that which prohibits us from growth, breaking down our resistance, adding those ingredients that nourish and sustain us through all the seasons of life. Gardening reminds me that spiritual growth is a process. A process that takes time and preparation and patience.
Now the seeds and seedlings have been placed lovingly and hopefully in their new beds; not to sleep but to awaken and grow. They are in a place where they will receive 10 to 12 hours of sun a day, when it is not to cloudy. So…if I remember to water every day…and the rabbits don’t eat everything….and the weeds don’t get ahead of me………..
Spirit of the Living God, be the Gardener of my soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still-experiencing a winter of the soul. But now, in the strong name of Jesus Christ, I dare to ask:
Clear away the dead growth of the past. Break up the hard clods of custom and routine. Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge. Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word. Cultivate and water and tend my heart. Until new life buds and opens and flowers. Amen!
(from Prayers of the Heart by Richard J. Foster)

Doodle Penance Postscript: More than one way to skin a rat

In yesterday's Doodle Penance, I noted that would-be imitators of Chris Ware's cartoon wolf might need to scalp a famous cartoon rodent. I did not name that rodent, but I thought it might be interesting to note some other cartoon rodents, questionably famous, that bear a resemblance to my example.

First, there is the astonishing appearance of these giant rats in Osamu Tezuka's early manga Metropolis (inspiration for the 2001 anime):

They're monstrous, all right, but no mistaking their ultimate source, as their scientific name reveals:

Chances are that Tezuka's work here was itself an unrecognized source of inspiration for me in my doodle, given the fate of the giant rat in these panels:

There's even a final panel where the head dangles ready for further scalping:

It's a pretty remarkable ripoff of M.M., but perhaps less so than Foxy, the animated character from the first Merrie Melodies cartoons who resembles M.M. in almost every detail apart from the bushiness of his tail and the pointy tips on his round ears. If you haven't yet laid eyes on Foxy, you should really click on that link. Seeing is believing, though it's hard to believe that Disney was able to tolerate the rival character.

My last example of a seemingly-scalped cartoon rodent is good old Mickey Death, the skull-headed curmudgeon whose adventures were chronicled by Eric Knisley and Kevin Dixon.* I first encountered Mickey Death in a free paper I picked up somewhere in the Triangle (either Durham, N.C., or Chapel Hill, I forget which) back in the early '90s. You can read about M.D.'s exploits here, or try to snag a print copy of the collection Mickey Death and the Winds of Impotence from here (it's cheap as free)—or perhaps you could do as I did and buy a copy direct from co-creator Eric Knisley, should you be lucky enough to find him at a con.

*Click here for a Boing-Boing roundup of images of skull-headed Mickey clones, where a nice drawing of Mickey Death is the second of eight such images (so far).

Doodle Penance: "how to draw ware wolf"

This week's "Doodle Penance" is the product of a search for a fairly simple bit of information: "How to draw ware wolf."

I think I know what this Googler was looking for, and as usual I'm surprised we haven't talked about it yet. I mean, Doodle Penance has featured information about lycanthropy before, but we've never mentioned the most important connection between contemporary cartooning and the children of the night.

I refer, of course, to the fact that Chris Ware, author of ACME Novelty Library among other fine cartoon publications, undergoes an eerie transformation under the light of the full moon. Here's a little bit from his sketchbooks that describes the process:

I bet you didn't realize that several panels in "The Graveyard of Forking Paths" were swiped from Chris Ware, did you?

Mike? What have you got this week?

—Well, it so happens that Chris Ware has already drawn a wolf in his characteristic circular style, as seen in his Fairy Tale Road Rage contribution to Little Lit (click here to see it), so I thought I'd simply show how to draw that. That Ware wolf looks more or less like this:
Now, you can tell at a glance that most of this image is easily reproduced using the Ed Emberley inventory method. Almost every element can be found among the simple shapes below:

From left to right, that gives you the basic shape of the skull; the oval nose with its small circular highlight; the "therefore" symbol (three dots) for the wolf whiskers; the squashed C (or "Pogo nose") for the snout; the medium circle for the eye; and the leafless black tulip for the pupil.

However, these simple shapes will not suffice for the most complicated part of the Ware wolf: the black cap of the fur, ears, and cheek. Frankly, that shape is too hard to draw unless you are actually Chris Ware himself. Fortunately, there is a work-around. Simply capture a famous cartoon rodent and scalp him, then pluck off the ears to leave the roots of the ears to serve as convenient wolfish tufts, thus:

You can simply discard the remainder of the rodent in a convenient receptacle:
This method works well to provide the necessary impossible-to-draw shape, but it has its own "drawbacks" (if you'll, heh heh, pardon the pun!). As with any tissue graft, there is the risk of rejection by the host, so you'll need to administer a strict regimen of immunosuppressant drugs to avoid afflicting your drawing with the hellish outcome of a scalp-rejection:

And that's how to draw Ware wolf!

T-Shirts with Charles (the "Silent Critic")

These are the last t-shirts I intend to design this weekend. I've received a couple of requests for a shirt featuring Charles, who appears in Tales from the Classroom, in the story "The Silent Critic." You can read that story in its entirety if you follow the link there.

Here are a couple of classic Charles utterances, which I think you'll agree are worthy to adorn your torso:

This shirt is temporarily offline, until I jigger a couple of things in its design.

"I really admire your facility with administrative processes," he says.

Also, the more multi-purpose backhanded compliment, "I can see that you put a lot of effort into some of this." That's about the best he can muster.

Enjoy the shirts, wear them in good health, and please let me know if you have any other requests.

New T-Shirt Designs; T-Shirt Sale

It looks like Zazzle is having a Memorial Day weekend sale. All their t-shirts are 10% off.

In honor of the sale, I've designed a couple of other t-shirts, and I'll try to bring another couple online before the end of the weekend.

Again, these are available in lots of sizes and colors.

When you check out, you have to type MEMORIALSALE in the space for a discount / sale code.

Don't worry, not every post this month will be about the way we're selling out. But I figure as long as we're going to have a Zazzle store, it might as well have a few different things in it.

Our Contribution to "Covered"

If you're clicking over to our blog from the "Covered" project, I hope you'll stick around to check out our big summer back-issue sale and maybe some of our ridiculous "Doodle Penance" posts.

(And if you haven't heard of "Covered," I highly recommend it as a cool place to see people manipulating and laying claim to the powerful imagery of other people's comics covers.)

You might be curious to know how we chose our contribution, and why our image looks so little like the original Walt Simonson cover for Batman #366. We actually worked up two submissions for "Covered," and the one they ran was our version of the cover of the first comic book Mike ever bought.

The way we did these was typically peculiar and unnecessarily difficult.

The main thing is that each of us was, sort of like Pierre Menard, duplicating an image he had never really seen. First, we both picked covers that the other guy hadn't seen. Mike drew a set of pencils from the original cover of Batman #366...

(All of the images in this post will enlarge if you click on them.)

... and I then inked his pencils without consulting the original image:

... and then, still without consulting the original, I colored my version digitally:

I was trying to stick pretty close to the flat colors of the Superfriends cartoon there. I wanted to stay pretty cartoony in my inks as well, figuring that would be a good way to "own" the image and make it look more like our work than the original.

Have a look at the original, by comparison:

Simonson's image has a little more kinetic energy in it—a subtle change in the position of Batman's right leg makes a lot of difference in the balance of his figure, I think—and my Joker is a little bit chunky. And of course I didn't quite figure out the light and shadow on that weird building. But I think our version gains in legibility what it loses in energy.

(Mike would like me to point out, here, that the cover of Batman #366 is unique in the many-decades-long run of Batman in having a never-repeated logo for the book's title, integrated into the drawing almost in the manner of one of Will Eisner's Spirit titles. Mike has also heard that this cover existed before the story it illustrates—that the drawing by Walt Simonson was so cool that the editor ordered a story created to back it up.)

Our other cover-of-a-cover, which you'll see only here on the blog, started with drawings of Jack Kirby's Forever People #6. That's not the first comic I ever owned—my childhood copy was part of a big pile of Fourth-World comics given to me by one of my dad's friends when I was about six years old. But out of that Kirby-at-DC stash that had such a powerful effect on me as a kid, I thought this one had one of the coolest covers.

I started with a quick thumbnail, to see whether the image would work in my simplified style:

Then I did a set of pencils in my notebook and sent them over to Mike, who had never seen the original image:

(Already I am losing some of the energy and drama in the thumbnail.)

Then Mike did an admirable job inking my simple scribbles:

... and then he put some colors on them:

What's strange—and I still can't really believe we can say this—is that the original Jack Kirby cover of Forever People #6 seems more subdued.

I'm not sure how successful either of these "covers" is—I mean, I don't think either of us should consider quitting his day job in an effort to unseat James Jean or whoever—but I have to say it was a ton of fun to put some time and effort into aping Simonson and Kirby. I won't say it has been a long time since I last copied drawings by Kirby, but this is probably the most careful I've been about it, and as an exercise I certainly recommend it.