I never thought I'D be the one to say that there is still hope.

Tutorial / 12 January 2021

Well, 2020 was something wasn't it? I know the roots of my 2020 were set back in 2019, and further. 

In 2019, I felt that I was stagnating at a professional crossroads. I had to admit some hard truths. The one on the forefront of my mind was that too much of my time had been taken away from what I love, managing so many other concerns, and teaching. No I also love teaching too, but it was also something I was maybe spending too much time doing. As I said, this was tough to admit because I had to take a long-hard look at myself and admit that although I had learned and taught many new skills over the last decade, that the overall quality of my artwork was slipping and I could tell by looking at it myself that it had degraded over time. 

It's not that I didn't love art anymore, it was that I had really fallen in love with writing and developed and strengthened my skills in that arena, while also falling in love with teaching and enjoying that, and publishing and mentoring and social media presence and so-on. I was hiring other artists to create art for projects that I had created and written, because I was no longer confident in the quality of my art. Although I knew all of the ways in which a person could create and publish a comic, video game and more and taught them, I lost confidence in my art skills, which with everything else in life, just fell by the wayside. Stress and life and bills always seemed to push art out of my life. 

Too be fair, at times I feel like I have a special brew of circumstances that makes letting those skills slip almost acceptable, and at first, I told myself the comfortable lie ; that was the case. A comforting excuse, but still an excuse.

Not to belabor or bemoan my own problems, but the mix of severe head injury from an accident in my teens, lifelong issues with anxiety, alcoholism through most of my late teens, 20s and early thirties, lifelong weight yo-yoing, work injuries to hands and arms and a plethora of other things that I've experienced in life, I should technically have enough nerve damage to barely hold a pencil. So it really shouldn't shock me that the quality of my work was slipping, right? Wrong. Everyone has those stories. Sure, their stories might be different, the details may vary, but everyone in the world has just as many tragic stories, and excuses, not to try. Of course I am not exceptional, just lucky, someone else in the same boat may try and fail. What's important is that they tried. 

Thankfully I realized fairly quickly that I wasn't pushing myself as hard as I could. I was letting the acceptance of those things in my past be an excuse not to push harder. It can be very easy and equally dangerous to let your past be your excuse not to try, and a lot of people do it every day. 

The difference was that I knew that if I continued to let things slip, if I let this slide, it would be that much easier to let the next thing slide. One of the things I teach new comic artists is digital illustration and production. The skills for the software alone change every 6-12 months. I simply couldn't let my skills continue to slide and I needed to focus on at least getting my art skills back up to acceptable standards. If I couldn't do that I wouldn't be much use to my students, and I would likely lose my job or, even worse, force them to endure a hopelessly out of date and out of touch class. I respect myself and fellow artists too much to do that. 

So, I wound down my teaching duties and stepped away from several teaching positions. I planned ahead. By the end of 2019 I had wound down my teaching work and was looking ahead to 2020 being the year I spent focusing on my own skills and self-improvement. To learn new skills and techniques and get to the point where I enjoyed looking at my art again.

And coincidentally another very lucrative offer came up...in teaching. It was a new school and new class I hadn't taught before with more hours and more money. It was just good enough at the right time, that I was planning for the future, and it was local, minutes from my home, which was a BIG factor. 

Though a little apprehensive, it turned out to be an enjoyable experience. The students appreciated the work I did in class and extra work I did for the course. I found ways to adapt my learning and working on art skills both outside and inside class. At many times I introduced new concepts and software that had the students and I learning together, which was really cool.

Even after the VID shut down the school we continued online, up until July when I was laid off due to online classes being merged with another instructor. I can't blame anyone for that situation it was business, no worries. I had EI and I could also look at the positive side, I'd get more time to devote to learning and improving my skills and getting my art back to a place where I felt confident in it's quality again. 

6+ months later I can say that I've accomplished my goals. My art isn't perfect mind you. No one's is. There will always be new and old techniques I'm tweaking and practicing. Every artist should be making progress in their art throughout their life. 

Along the way my 2020 has been tumultuous, just like everyone else's. I extended that journey of improvement into facing and admitting more of my own faults, flaws and issues, and beginning to blog publicly about my struggles with anxiety. I had to ask a publisher to back out of my creator owned mini-series half-way in, because the craziness of the real world suddenly conflicted and went far beyond what I had intended to do with that comic and the concept of the story kind of got blown apart by real-life events. 

There's been plenty of time for me to delve into personal things that I had been ignoring and let fester for a long time, and face the personal demons that were holding me back and led to the point where I had to admit that I needed time away from all of it to renew my skills and passions. 

Anxiety is a very funny thing, as it can convince you that you are protecting yourself or playing it safe, when you are really selling yourself short. I think that's been my biggest lesson of 2020. 

In a few weeks I'll be back to teaching and also producing fun new content with the skills I have practiced in the last year. 

I'm looking forward to it. And so should you. 

It sucks that we're all essentially locked in for the second time, but I do believe that we can, must and will find new ways of doing things that will be better that what we did before. I truly believe that if enough people look at the world and accept the reality of what it is, not what they want it to be, that people will propel the movement to improve the way we live and work for everyone. 

It's my sincere hope that we as a society can move beyond money being the central focus of life, and I am doing my best to lead by example. Being the change I want to see. Exploring all of my crazy ideas with new content and media and sharing these with people on a non-profit basis. 

I think it's apparent that there were holes in the system we didn't see until a worldwide emergency happened. I also think it's fairly plain for most people to see that corruption isn't something that exists in a country half-a-world away, corruption is right here and it is in every country. The main proof of this corruption is that whoever has the most money gets to be leader, regardless of whether they have any vision, leadership skills or redeeming qualities. And I'm not just talking about you-know-who. It's evident of many other world leaders as well. When money determines the outcome, regardless of competency, that is corruption. When everyone is swayed by dollars and can make deals and compromises for cash, our system falls apart due to ineptitude.

It can be really hard not to get stuck in a very negative outlook on life when you start to see these things. My blog is proof. I admit, at times I get stuck in a generally very negative outlook on humanity. I do. I have very little faith, if any, in most institutions, businesses and people. 

And somehow yet, I have hope and optimism. Hope that people of all ages, races, lifestyles and religions will see through all of the ridiculous agendas that have been pushed to profit from the division they create. If we stop buying into the bullshit artists with the most money, I sincerely hope and believe that we can and will move forward. 

We've seen what the alternative is, right? Did anyone like that? Is anyone enjoying it? So why go back to that?

I know that we can move forward and embrace a future where we help and respect each other, instead of nitpicking each other or fighting with strangers on Facebook over the minutiae of a recent film, when there are so many more worthy things to focus your attention and time on.

I hope and believe that when can get past the shit show of the last 12 months as well as the decades before it and build a new system and society that is based on helping each other. I hope my work helps further and inspire that, even if it is just the smallest tiniest way. Even if it only inspires one person. 

Is that person you? Can you inspire the next?

Thanks for reading,

Mike

Some artistic inspiration and great skill observation

Tutorial / 22 December 2020


Never too late to recognize your flaws and improve.

Tutorial / 21 December 2020


Crapping on others, does not make what you do better.

Tutorial / 16 December 2020

Something that there is no shortage of is people complaining. One of the more popular things for people to complain about, is the creative work of others.

It's a strange cultural development that we pick apart the people who create our "favorite" art, as if we know their jobs and objectives better than they do.

What I have observed as particularly troubling is the trend in my college age students of the last few years, to use the mutual hatred or ridicule of someone as a way to fit in. Often, if pressed, most students can't really verbalize or articulate the reasons for their group hate on something or someone, with the discourse falling apart with a trailer off sentence that leaves the unsaid very clearly. Hating on a mutual subject was a way of fitting in with their peer group.

Our own pop culture and media can influence this as well. When something reaches a critical tipping point where a certain percentage of the population deems something "not good", the pressure to change your opinion and also dislike that thing seems to come from every direction; television, radio, internet, and even peers.

What? You're an adult over 30 and you like the Star Wars prequel movies? Surely, you must at least hate Jarjar Binks!?!

There are plenty of other example I could used, some are specific and individually targeted artists. I won't expand and give more examples because I choose not to take part in the behavior of singling out others and don't want to draw attention to actions that I myself do not want to perpetuate.

I can't help but find this trend most egregious when I see it in a group of art students.

There is no group in the world more ready and willing to stand up and call out any type of bullying in real life and on the web, and then they can turn around in the next second and take part in the same behavior that they just condemned, secure in the feeling that the targeting that they are doing is justified. Their friends and favorite website and Facebook wouldn't have lied to them, right?

That is why I make sure to devote at least one lecture for each class to point out that bashing other people's art doesn't Ake your art any better. This can be applied to all manner of creative ventures.

Sure, cutting down someone else who you perceive to be more accomplished and successful makes you feel good about yourself, but that feeling is artificial and fleeting. That ego boost is temporary because at the end of the day, pointing out the flaws of others doesn't do anything to make your life or work better. It doesn't I crease your achievements or make any achievements you may have earned on your own shine brighter. When it comes down to it, that person you are criticizing is probably more accomplished and well-known than you are. That's why you're talking about them. In your subconscious you know there's big gap between your and their achievement. This is dangerous because when you ego boost runs out, it doesn't just go away, but leaves you feeling more empty than you did before. 

It can be very easy for a person to fall into this pattern of behavior and never get out. The artist who thinks he should be writing and drawing every comic book. The graphic designer who never stops talking about how others designers work is garbage, and so on. We all know someone like this in some context. These are people who found themselves feeling emptier than when they started and failed to recognize that the feeling was caused by their own actions. So, these people find someone else to rip apart, they feel better about themselves again, so they think it worked. When the euphoria wears off and that person finds them in an even deeper emotional hole than before, so they keep ripping people apart, thinking it's making them feel better until you end up with a negative, bitter, disgruntled person who trusts no one and thinks everyone has treated them unfairly.

The damage is double edged, because this bitterness will also push away people in your own support system, perhaps even those peers who you started the behavior to fit in with in the first place.

I don't want that for anyone, friend or enemy, which is why I decided to write about this.

It all boils down to this motto:

"At the end of the day, the time you spend hating others does nothing to help you or improve you life."

So, instead of throwing away your time in trying to ridicule others, take that time and devote it to something positive that you are passionate about.

Make a sculpture, film a movie, draw a comic, practice and perfect any skill. 

That time you would have spent hating others is much better invested in improving your own skills and accomplishments. It will leave you feeling much more accomplished and fulfilled than spending your days hating on others.

I spent my time writing this blog and making this art:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

Division is Bullshit

Tutorial / 25 November 2020

At the end of the day there is no us and them, not the way we've been taught to see it anyway. There is us, one group, called humanity. We should be working together to improve life for everyone instead of tearing each other apart. 

Anyone using an arbitrary designation or classification to direct your action against another group of humans is the enemy. 

The idea of Liberal/Democratic and Republican/Conservative divisions within society is ridiculous. It's two wings on the same bird tied to marionette strings for our distraction and to keep us arguing with each other instead of looking deeper into the system that we live in, no matter how much we know the system that we live in is failing. Do not look behind the curtain. 

I know good people, not like Trump, on both sides. I know liberals who are great people and I know conservatives who are good people too. There are also horrible and bad people on each side. Every single person is following their own agenda and power and influence in groups can be very attractive toward someone's ends, so inevitably you are going to get bad people inside both camps working toward their own agendas. 

How do you tell who the bad ones are? Anyone using that group dynamic to sow division and dissention. Anyone trying to foster conflict instead of co-operation. If your politician of choice isn't trying to work with other politicians, regardless of what party they belong to, to improve life and solve problems, then you need to re-think your political allegiance. Simple as that. 

Attacking another side and widening the rift doesn't move the ball forward for either side, it just widens the gap until we have no ledge left to stand on and we all fall in. 

We don't all have to agree on everything and just because someone sees a thing a different way doesn't make them the enemy. 

The enemies are the people who manipulate the two groups against each other for their own agenda. 

Any division, any "ism", is stupid. Hating or oppressing, or targeting someone maliciously, over gender, race, color, age, weight or religion is just stupid, and if you can't figure out why, you haven't been paying attention to the world around you for your entire life.

People working together with mutual compassion and understanding is the only way forward. 

Jealousy of others success is stupid too. There's no reason for it. Someone else's success does not equal your failure or take anything away from you. 

Be happy for both friends and strangers at their successes, it looks a lot better on you than withdrawing or gossiping out of jealousy. 

That's all I got for today, so check out some artwork!:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

Don't Be Limited by What Others Have Done Before

Tutorial / 11 November 2020

One of the lessons that I try to drive home in all of my writing classes, is the will to risk. Risk doing something different. Risk changing the status quo of your writing. You never know what is going to be successful and absorbed into the genre or fandom. 

The easiest example I can make of this is modern film and fiction depicting vampires or werewolves. What most of us think we know as standard facts about werewolf or vampire mythology was actually created by the movie industry in the last 100 years and were never part of the original myths and legends. Death by sunlight? Made up by movies. Must sleep during the day? Made up by movies. There's actually a much better and great explanation of this concept by Simon Pegg by way of Max Landis, which used to be on youtube that I would have dropped right here, but it seems impossible to find now. If anyone knows what I'm talking about and has a link, send it my way. 

The gist of Pegg's advice video is this: Don't be afraid to create your own rules for fictional characters and don't be constrained by rules created by other writers. Want your vampires to sparkle? Not sure why, but why not? Want your vampires to prefer their hemoglobin mixed with bourbon? sure. Want a werewolf who transforms at the sight of a cat and fears rolled up newspapers? why not? Vampires and werewolves don't exist, so why be held to account by the rules another writer made up 50 years ago? Don't be afraid to make your mark and be different. It may catch on. 

In a similar spirit, I've been thinking about comics lately. 

I got into comics because I wanted to make art and tell stories and the sequential form really resonated with me. I loved comics. Spent my life learning to make them and eventually became a working member of the industry. 

This is a moment where sayings like "Be careful what you wish for" or "Don't ruin your passion by making it a job." come to mind. 

I still love comics and sequential narratives and storytelling, but the industry scene is a hot pile of garbage right now. 

Never in the history of comics, as I've known, have the different segments of the industry and fan base been so at each other's throats. Fans hate the distributors. Distributors hate the retailers. Retailers hate the publishers. Publishers hate the fans, and no comic themed conversation can be had online without it devolving into childish know-it-all-ism and name calling. 

DC Comics literally can't do anything without the entirety of the internet screaming in disgust, whether what they are doing is really that big a deal and even worthy of attention or not. 

I have lost all desire to work in mainstream comics and don't read them any more. I don't think any of those publishers really give a shit about their existing fanbase or making good comics. Pretty sure they don't give a shit about my demographic by the junk being put out. 

It's a hot mess with no security and at the end of the day, it's very uncertain whether you'll be paid for your work from ANY publisher right now.

So why wade into this sewer and try to get everyone to play nice? 

I just want to tell stories. I want to share them with people. I want to make art that makes you think and discuss it intelligently with readers.

I don't need mainstream, or even comic book publishers to do that. I'm fully capable of producing my own comic, but in the uncertain economic times that are 2020, why put out the extra expense and headache? I think I'll be shying away and strictly limiting any print self-publishing that I do from here on out. Digital publishing is way less headache for a small business or individual artist and since there are way more options and possibilities with digital delivery, why not explore them?

At the end of the day I'm happy to take my own ideas and skills and make my own kinetic novel, visual novel, motion comic, video game or any other creative work featuring my own characters on my own terms and share them with supporters on my own website. 

If word-of-mouth can't grow my audience, then I need to go back and look at my work. I prefer my work to speak for itself, so if something I'm doing isn't resonating, I need to go back and review my approach and no amount of money spent on Facebook or Instagram ads will change that. 

Don't get sucked in by those social media platforms or by "mainstream logic" that says you have to slave away for a corporate giant while being underpaid and disrespected. Make your own way and your own mark.

 Make your own rules. Comics are supposed to be fun after all. 

That's my rant for today, and also, here's some art:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

Fan art and Copyright

Tutorial / 04 November 2020

The issue of copyright as it applies to fan art is convoluted and purposely confusing, to discourage budding artists from creating a situation that could compromise their financial future.

There are a lot of different sides to the issue: artistic freedom, moral philosophies, intellectual property protection rights, and more.

I’m going to use my limited space, time and audience to lay out the details of the legalities of fan art and hopefully dispel some myths.

Please note that this info is for general purposes and you should consult a legal professional in your area for more specifics about how copyright as it applies to fan art may effect you.

Is fan art legal?

Yes. There are those who will argue not, usually based on moral or financial interests. The truth is that, in any major civilized country, there is no law restricting what artists can create as it applies to copyright or intellectual properties. You are allowed to make art of your favorite characters. No question.

If I make fan art of a recognizable property, is the property owner granted copyright?

No. If you live in any civilized nation, laws may vary slightly, but the core of the law is that a citizen owns the copyright of any art that they create, the moment that they create it, regardless of content, unless that work was produced under contract for a client on a work-for-hire basis. This means that unless someone else hired you to produce the art specifically for commercial purposes outlined in a contract, you own the copyright to your artwork. Most countries offer additional protection with official copyright registration available for a fee, which will strengthen your case if you have to take someone to court for stealing your work, but the necessity of this will vary from country to country.

I can make fan art, but I can’t sell it, right?

Wrong. In most modern civilized countries, you are allowed to print and sell a limited number of copies of a recognizable character. The usual allowable threshold is 1000 copies or less. For example, if you create a wicked Superman pin-up, you are perfectly within you legal right to print and sell 700 prints of that art without compensating DC Comics. In most regions, if you want to sell more than 1000 copies you are required to approach the rights holder of the character and request permission, which usually includes negotiating a deal with them before printing that includes a sales percentage going to the owner of the character as a royalty. Keep in mind, it’s best to just keep your print runs less than 1000. If you sell out make a new print or a variation that clearly differentiates it. I keep all my print runs of merch and art under 1000. Remember, if you intend to sell more than 1000, it is always best to contact the character owner first and come to an agreement in writing, otherwise the character owner can ask a court to force you to release your sales records. If the character owner can prove that you sold more than 1000 copies, a court can level fines for damages, legal costs and a percentage of your sales to the character owner.

Keep in mind that big companies will use and abuse this system to their advantage. A great example from recent history was that Marvel had no problem with the original creators of Ghost Rider selling art and prints at conventions. When those creators told Marvel that they thought that they deserved some royalties for the Ghost Rider movies, Marvel instead sued them into oblivion for daring to make a living by selling art of a character that they created. Marvel was totally within their right to do this, as all of their talent must work under work-for-hire agreements, making Marvel the legal owner of Ghost Rider.

What could be changed?

There are a lot of varied opinions about how to improve this system, but I personally feel there needs to be even less restriction and more freedom for the artist. Prior to the modern copyright enactments of the early 1900s, when an artist created a piece that featured a famous person, scene or character, there was no question who owned it. Copyright laid with the artist and unless the piece was commissioned by a patron, the physical art was property of the artist until sold. A business could hire an artist to produce work for specific reprint or publishing, which usually consisted of a split of sales or a verbal agreement with the artist. It was possible to hire an artist on a work-for-hire basis, but this was generally reserved for specific logos and branding for business.

I’d like to see all restrictions lifted on the artist, allowing them to sell as many prints of their art as they want, regardless of content.

The entire subject has been made murky by modern business. Legal teams for big corporate property holders will argue that the visual representation, imagery and shape of their characters is a recognizable aspect of their business branding and is a Trademark in and of itself, and that your work devalues their property based on confusion with their own legitimate Trademarked products. Essentially the argument is that selling prints of your Batman fan art is the equivalent of selling prints or other product featuring the Starbucks logo.

Though this is the argument that entertainment giants will often lean on to win cases against individual artists, who rarely have the money to fight these giant companies in court, I think this argument should be turned on its head, in favour of the artist.

If pointed ears, a cape, cowl, and bat emblem make a piece undeniably recognized as Batman, or if a circle with two smaller circles on top and a pointed nose is undeniably Mickey Mouse, I would say that the character has become engrained in the culture. Any registered Trademarks should be declared void, and the characters should be considered to have entered the public domain. 

This is where corporate lawyers would clamour about unfairness, but the truth is that public systems and institutions are supposed to look out for the interests of the public first and are not obligated to protect the profitability and assets of a private business. Bottom line. Unfortunately, the system in North America has become so corrupted by money and special interests, getting those systems to change their perspective in favour of the public and artists is an uphill battle.

Some online merchandise and art posting websites have gone as far is to ban fan art, a position that I hope to see reverse, not just in my lifetime, but sooner rather than later. Fan art is a part of the culture and it is art. I feel that it should be treated with the same rights and protections given to any piece if art, without any restriction or differentiation.

Well, that’s all for today.

Here’s some art:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

Just something to think about...

Tutorial / 01 November 2020


How to have fun, get cool stuff, and support charity!

Tutorial / 29 October 2020

Hey guys check this out, I thought I'd share a highlight from my recent Twitch stream. If you haven't heard of Humble Bundle and you like comics, games, RPG, etc. you should check it out! (They do not pay me to say that and I am not associated with Humble Bundle, I just love the stuff they have and charities that they support)


3 Simple Rules on Writing and Drawing Female Characters

Tutorial / 26 October 2020

In the debatably classic comedy "As Good As It Gets", Jack Nicholson plays a writer who, when asked how he writes women so well says: "I think of a man, then I remove all reason and accountability."

A hilarious moment, but definitely not an approach I would use in my own work. 

See, you can find something funny (or offensive) and not adopt it into your core identity (or storm the internet convincing everyone else to hate it because you do), but that is a subject for another day.

In the meantime you're here to find out my approach to creating female characters, so let's get on with it.


RULE 1: No damsels in distress. 

I'm sorry, but at this point in history, the damsel in distress is clichéd to eye rolling levels every time I see someone still using it. The weaker sex is a myth. And could you imagine being in a relationship with one of these characters? I don't care how hot Lois Lane or Mary-Jane are, after a few months of constantly rescuing someone from situations that could only be arrived at with poor judgement, that lady is getting cut out of my life. 

Now, some of this is personal preference and it will resonate with some and not others. That's fine, my opinion is not the end-all be-all of the creative process.

Helpless damsels don't do anything for me. Maybe they are the epitome of desirability and alluringness to you or someone else, the idea of saving the helpless woman and having her fawn all over her hero. Not for me, as said above.

I love the female form and I've looked on women as real living, walking works of art for most of my life. I love the female form, but I don't need to draw some weak, twiggy screaming waif being menaced by some beast for an excuse to draw the female form or put them in alluring, skimpy or shredded clothing. 

In real life I like strong, independent women. I don't expect anyone to wait on me hand and foot, have dinner waiting for me when I get home or helplessly run to me over every minor issue or dilemma. I like a boss bitch. A strong woman who knows how to handle herself, her business, earn her own money and have her own independence and individuality. Sure, we can cuddle in and have some fun after work, but there needs to be a mutual strength of character and mutual respect. 

I treat my female characters the same way. That's why in my work and the majority of my art, you won't see the stereotypical helpless girl. If I'm going to create a character of any gender, they need to be strong and strong-willed, otherwise, what's the point? Weak characters don't interest me. I make a conscious effort not to depict helpless women just cowering in fear of any menacing man or other threat. That's just me. I hate cliché'.


Rule 2: Depict realistic body type

In classic renaissance art women are full figured, voluptuous and generally beautiful while still looking like a regular human. I really don't know how this twiggy thin waif-like body style became the default body style for female characters in modern art and pop culture, such as comics. 

If a woman can lift 100 tons, she better have some muscle tone and an imposing body size. If she's not a physical fitness instructor and she works in an office., etc. there's no reason for her to look like a stick thin supermodel. 

I actually wish that some of my pieces had fuller figured women. I make an effort to use realistic and varied body styles and there are a few concepts and story ideas I have that center around full-figured and larger women, that my scheduled just hasn't allowed me to develop yet...but you will see them as soon as I have the opportunity. 

That's not saying that in real life I think that all women should be one way or the other, or that they should look a way that reflects their personality, or I only like big ladies. That would be crazy. I'm talking about art, which when boiled down is the skill of using visual communication to present an idea. If there are no words, you need to tell as much as you can about the character visually. 


Rule 3: Not everyone is white. 

I've been preaching about this in comics for about 20 years.

It's a good idea for any character, male, female or otherwise. 

Look around folks. Not everyone is white. Get some diversity in there once in a while, if you want me to believe the story you are trying to tell. 


Honestly, it's 3 simple rules that, if like-minded, you can follow and with practice I think you'll find that your render will become more interesting and compelling over time. 

That's all for today!

Thanks for reading,

Mike