Odd Jobs, 1987-2019
It’s a grab bag inside a grab bag! Here are a whole bunch of projects I did over a stretch of about thirty years. The only thing they all have in common is that they came out of my head and helped someone else achieve their goals.
Newfangled Contraption, 1987
Contraption was one of the many annual SF conventions held in the Midwest during the 80s. I went to a bunch of them in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois and they all found different ways to use “con” in their title. (Confusion, Inconjunction, Chicon, Conniption, Conjuctivitis, etc. I made the last two up, but I guarantee you they were on someone’s short list back then.)
Contraption was based in the Detroit Michigan area, and their gimmick was to put a different word in front of the name every year. When 1987 came along, I volunteered my graphic arts services to the staff and they asked me to design the logo (above).
I also came up with this mascot character for use in advertising. I think it ended up on T-shirts, too.
Detroit Institute of Arts, 1989
In the mid and late 80s, I worked for a series of print media advertising agencies while I inched forward toward a more enjoyable comics career. I haven’t held onto much from that time, but I felt like this one was worth keeping. In ’89 I worked for an agency in downtown Detroit that did all of the print media for a museum called Detroit Institute of Arts. We did various things for them, including the wall-mounted labels next to paintings that you kinda read, but not really.
In May 1989, they held a special event centered around their collection of medieval artifacts, and called it “King Arthur’s Birthday Celebration.” They wanted an eye-catching invitation to mail out, and they gave us some photos to choose from. I got the assignment, and when I saw the knight’s armor I instantly pictured this invitation in black ink on silver paper.
These pics show my “comp” for the project (short for “composition”), indicating where photos and text would go. I think the individual graphics were found in a clipart archive. What made it special was that I got it in one try. They approved it exactly as I envisioned it. When the stars line up like that, it always feels sort of magical.
Here is the finished, printed piece. I did all the typesetting and layout.
Project A-kon 2, 1991
A-kon was one of the first American anime conventions, held in Dallas Texas. The name was another example of wordplay, this time riffing on a famous 80s anime movie called Project A-ko. I was invited as a guest to the second A-kon, and they asked me to create the art for their program book cover. The idea was to combine two contemporary titles: Tiny Toons (USA) and Dirty Pair (Japan).
Project A-kon 3, 1992
I didn’t piss anyone off in 1991, so I was invited back as a guest again the next year. This time they asked me to come up with a T-shirt design and since it was the third A-kon I tied it in with Lupin III.
Sun Publishing, 1992
This was a rush project for one of the many indie comics publishers that came and went back in the 90s. They had the rights to reprint an archive of Ripley’s Believe it or Not cartoons and needed a promo image for the project. Something simple that could be done in 24 hours. The image at left sums up my concept: an intense-looking “wizard” projecting his “wizard energy” at you. This was approved via fax, so I quickly refined it into the drawing at right.
The next step was to lay out a full page that could accommodate several of the Ripley’s images around the face. Once I had that mapped out, I could create an inked image of the face. At right was my first attempt at this, which was very unsatisfying. I drew it all in pen, and it wasn’t capturing the image in my head. It looked labored and scratchy. With the clock rapidly ticking down, I decided to start over.
The second round went much better. I switched from pen to brush and the linework was much richer and more organic. This was what I saw in my head and a better stylistic match to the Ripley’s illustrations. I also decided to arrange them in a looser fashion to look like they were tumbling out rather than lining up. The finished promo image is shown at right. This was the last I ever heard or saw from Sun Publishing. I don’t know if the book ever came out.
Dick Clark Productions, 1994
This odd job came to me through a friend named Patrick Owsley, who I worked with at Malibu Comics. Pat’s a letterer and cartoonist by trade (see his website here), and in ’94 he scored a freelance illustration job from Dick Clark Productions. It involved super-heroes and computers, and they wanted realistic superhero art (not cartoony) so Pat turned to me for help.
It took a couple of passes to land the character designs they were looking for, then the real project started: a mockup comic book cover for some kind of handout at a live event.
The event was the opening of the “Innoventions” technology pavillion at Epcot Center, and involved Apple Computers (which were still pretty bulky back in 1994). There were two “Innoventions” at the time, one in Florida and one in California. The CA location closed in 2019. This wasn’t a project for Apple, but a group called “The Apple Corps” which I guess provided heroic customer support. And they could fly. I do remember that part. Don’t you?
I did the art and the “Apple Corps” logo, and Pat finished it off with lettering. This may or may not have been the finished color. I kinda hope it wasn’t. But I have no way of knowing, since I never saw the finished piece.
Birthday Party, 2003
Kind of a throwaway item; an organization was throwing a birthday party at Paramount Studio in L.A. and wanted an illustration for two purposes. It would go on the invitation and also on this picture frame. This was the pre-cel phone era, so you’d get a Polaroid at the party and this frame to put it in. I thought a Harlequin-type character would be fitting, and the client agreed to it without a second of debate. That always makes for a good day.
Masked BAKUC, 2006
Hokay, this one need some esplain. I’ll be as brief as possible.
Bandai is a massive Japanese company that makes model kits (and a lot of other things, but right now we’ll only focus on model kits). For a while, they had live events called Bandai Action Kits Universal Cup (BAKUC) and they came up with a mascot named “Masked BAKUC” who looked like a live-action “super sentai” character. He was meant to be a sort of ambassador for the greatness of Bandai kits. And to be honest, they are pretty great. I’ve lost count of the anime robot models I’ve bought.
The guy who wore the costume was a big fan of comic book superheroes and wanted an illustration in an American Comic (“Amecomi”) style. For what, I’m not sure. Thanks to a mutual friend based in Japan named Matt Alt, I was hired to create that illustration. Masked BAKUC approached Matt and Matt recommended me. The whole thing was done through Matt as an intermediary. I was provided with this costume design for reference.
Fortunately, it turned into another first-idea-wins situation. I imagined Masked BAKUC sort of ascending a lattice of model kit runners that would reach into the sky above him. I started with a heroic pose (left) and then refined it (right). I e-mailed this to Matt at every stage with the question, “OK to proceed?” and after checking he would reply in the affirmative.
The next step was to fully ink the character. Since the final version would be a layered Photoshop file, I didn’t have to draw the background.
Inked drawing with coloring applied. All the colors were sampled directly from the reference image.
The final piece was a composite. I drew the foreground runner for him to stand on, but everything in the background came directly from my model kit collection. I pulled out some runners from unbuilt Bandai kits (anime robots, of course) and put them on my scanner. I layered and manipulated the scans, building them up into towers, then finished off the color.
I was told after delivery that the client was VERY happy with it. But again, I have no idea what it was for. Maybe just his personal enjoyment. Either way, it resulted in dinner and karaoke with Matt, Masked BAKUC (out of uniform) and others when I took my first trip to Tokyo in August 2007. Still one of the best times I’ve ever had in Japan.
WKW album art, 2018-2019
This one also needs explaining, but it’s less complicated than Masked BAKUC.
My favorite rock band in the history of the world is a Scottish group called Big Country. If you’re Gen X and listened to the radio in the early 80s, you for sure heard their anthem. (Hear it again here.) The original lineup for the group lasted nearly 20 years as they delivered one amazing album after another. Today the lineup is quite different, but they still have a multi-generational fan base. I’m proud to be among them. (Find out a lot more about the group here.)
In May 2012, a fellow fan named Thomas Kercheval launched a podcast dedicated to Big Country, titled The Great Divide. I became a listener and occasional contributor, and generally ingratiated myself to Thom. A musician himself, Thom got the chance of a lifetime when he (A) played onstage with the band in a 2013 tour and (B) started a collaboration with the band’s lead guitarist, Bruce Watson.
This led to the creation of a 3-man group named WKW, which stands for Watson Kercheval Watson. The lineup consists of Bruce, Thom, and Bruce’s son Jamie (who also plays for Big Country). As they began to put tracks together, Thom asked if I would be interested in creating the album art, and the word “YES” formed in my mind before he even finished that sentence.
The initial release was a 3-track digital EP titled Hands Across the Ocean. Big Country specializes in a huge, wide-open sound that evokes grand vistas, so the title immediately put this image in my head. Big Country’s first album borrowed illustrations from boys’ adventure novels so I wanted to capture that same style.
The EP was digitally released in October 2018. See more info here and listen to it on Youtube here.
The following year would see the release of the first full WKW album, titled Men of Steel. Thom came back to me again and I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Bruce suggested a superhero-style piece, but the title made me think of a knight’s armor as a hard exterior with flowers spilling out of a soft interior. That’s exactly what this music is like, so it was a perfect fit. Everyone was overjoyed with the result, and I ended up creating the entire CD jacket. Maybe I’ll get to do their next one, too.
Men of Steel was released on CD in December 2019 and is also available for download.
Get it at the WKW website here.
Trivia: when the “ocean art” went public it got praise from fellow fans, but also some skewed eyebrows. Some wondered why I put in four guitar hands when there are only three members of the band. The secret is, that fourth guitar is for the late Stuart Adamson, the leader of Big Country and the spiritual father of everything that followed. The fourth hand is my meager tribute to a musical genius.
Christmas Hog, 2015
Writing that last bit reminded me of a previous drawing I did for Thom Kercheval, and it’s a good one to go out on. In 2015, he wrote a comedy song called Christmas Hog that must be heard to be believed. Thom asked for an image he could plug into a music video, and this is what I came up with, fueled by his song and my disdain of Christmas. You’re welcome.