Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Signs of spring

Although there is more snow predicted for this week (damn it!), today there were also two signs of spring.

First, I took my first motorcycle ride of the year! I got the DN-01 out of mothballs and rode it down to Mirage -- not a long jaunt, but enough to whet my appetite for more.

Second, while we taking Parker for a walk, Jeannine spotted this crocus on the side of our driveway:

Surely, spring cannot be far away.

Please? -- PL

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: "The Thin Black Line: Perspectives on Vince Colletta, Comics Most Controversial Inker"

In February of 2011, I stumbled upon this book while looking for something else on, and immediately knew I had to read it.

Vince Colletta (1923-1991) was a prolific inker of comic books from the 1950's until his death in 1991, and I first became aware of his name and what he did when I was turned on to the Marvel Comics' work of Jack Kirby. I discovered these comics -- "Fantastic Four" and "Thor", particularly, in a used bookstore in my home town of North Adams. The store had a large shelf in one of its front windows upon which were piled a variety of secondhand comics which the store was selling for a nickel or a dime apiece. I found a lot of treasures there, but it was the Kirby stuff that really grabbed me… grabbed me, and held on until this very day.

One of those comics, "Thor", was regularly inked by Colletta, and it was apparent to me that there was something different about it, different from the other Kirby comics that I saw, like "Fantastic Four", which had -- for a long part of Kirby's run as penciler on it -- another inker, Joe Sinnott. The styles of the two inkers were very different, and I preferred Sinnott's… it just seemed to fit the boldness and strength of Kirby's drawing style. Colletta softened Kirby's lines and shapes a lot more than Sinnott.

But I didn't hate the work that Colletta had done on Kirby's "Thor", and that was because when you have pencils as unique and distinctive as Kirby's, it is hard (though not impossible) to ruin them with the inking, unless it is truly sub-par and nonprofessional. Colletta was a professional (something that is made clear in this book). I enjoyed the "Fantastic Four" comics because of Kirby's art, faithfully rendered in ink by Joe Sinnott… and I enjoyed the "Thor" comics in spite of Colletta's inking, because the distinctiveness and power of Kirby came through, even with the soft-focus filter of Colletta's "thin black line".

Fast-forward a few years, and I found myself in possession of an original Colletta-inked Jack Kirby page from "Thor", purchased at a New York City comic book convention. To own a page by my favorite comic artist -- awesome! And then, as I pored over it, looking at all the details not immediately apparent in the printed version, I started to see some disturbing things. When I tilted the page just so, and the surface of the bristol board caught the light just right, revealing the impressions Kirby's pencil point had made, in some panels I could see where detailed figures had been drawn… and then erased. In other panels, figures in silhouette -- outlines filled with solid black -- revealed themselves to have originally been drawn in fully-detailed costumes.

I was stunned. I could not fathom the audacity of anyone assigned to ink a comics page -- any comics page, let alone one of Jack Kirby's -- taking a penciler's detailed drawings and just filling them in with solid black ink… or erasing details on a whim. This was the beginning of my distaste for Vince Colletta's approach to inking, and it grew stronger as, over the years, more and more information became available, especially through the reproduction of Xeroxes of Kirby's penciled pages before Colletta inked them. It became abundantly clear that a great deal of what Kirby had created had vanished under the brush and pen (and eraser) of Vince Colletta.

And this book, "The Thin Black Line", makes it clear that this was not an isolated event -- Colletta did it with practically every pencil drawing he touched, every comics page he inked. Many different comics artists were interviewed for the book, and almost every one of them says the same thing, with varying degrees of vituperation: Colletta ruined the pencilers' work… or, at the very least, turned it into just another hacked-out example of the "assembly line" look that typified a lot of Marvel and DC comics in the decades during which he worked the most.

However, the book does very clearly explain why Vince Colletta got all the work he did -- he was FAST. He was reliable, and would take on almost any job, even last-minute ones which needed to be done over a weekend. And, truth be told, even at his worst, his work maintained a minimum level of the "professional" look required for a newsstand comic book.
And it does make a certain amount of sense that a guy who could throw down the ink so quickly -- sometimes inking a book in a few days -- would be appealing to those in charge of the business part of the world of comics. Those folks weren't always that concerned with maintaining a high level of artistry -- if they could get that, fine, but what they REALLY paid attention to was making printing and shipping schedules.

It had been a while since I had looked closely at Vince Colletta's work, and seeing all the examples in this book made me admit -- a bit grudgingly, I have to be honest here -- that the man did have talent, and -- as many of the interviewees in "The Thin Black Line" attest -- when he took his time, Colletta could turn out some nice work. He was far from the worst inker ever employed by Marvel or DC. And for some things, in some cases, his style improved, or at least didn't degrade, the work of the penciler.

"The Thin Black Line" is an interesting book, especially for those of us who came of age reading those wonderful Marvel and DC comics of the era in which Colletta did most of his work. It offers a fascinating behind the scenes look at the comics industry, and even if you have no interest in Colletta per se or any of the pencilers he inked, it's still an intriguing glimpse into the business of comics.

But… I know that when I'd finished reading it, and felt like I had a greater appreciation for what Vince Colletta did, why he did it, and -- perhaps even more important -- why he was ALLOWED to do it, I still felt cheated out of who knows how much great stuff, especially great Kirby stuff, that I never got to see… stuff that was there in the pencils, but when they got handed over to Vince Colletta, that stuff disappeared. If the publishers were so concerned with meeting deadlines, and they also preferred inkers who could be more faithful to the pencilers' intent, why didn't they spend a few more dollars and a little more time and go out and FIND good inkers? I mean, surely there were enough people out there who knew how to wield a brush and/or pen, and who would have done so without erasing important details, or obscuring them with solid black silhouettes, or simplifying them just to make the work go faster.

In the end, it comes down to this, at least for me -- as someone who has been both a penciler and an inker, I know that I would NEVER, to make my job easier, turn another penciler's detailed figure or building or vehicle or whatever into a silhouette, or erase them because I didn't think they needed to be there… and I would be furious if anyone who inked my pencils did that to them. It is just wrong. -- PL

Thursday, March 24, 2011

About the future of this blog...

Sometime soon -- perhaps in the next couple of days, or maybe even tonight if I get a burst of energy -- this blog will no longer feature stuff relating to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". All of that material -- and any new TMNT-related items I put up in the future -- will be viewable on a NEW blog, at this URL:

Once this happens, I will not be answering TMNT-related questions or responding to TMNT-related comments on this blog's posts. In fact, I will be deleting such comments from any posts on this blog.

However, I will be happy to respond to TMNT-related questions and comments on the NEW blog, which is very cleverly named "Peter Laird's TMNT Blog".

This blog -- palblog -- will now focus on all the stuff I like to put up which has nothing to do with the Turtles. There may be a TINY bit of overlap -- I may mention the TMNT in passing on this blog -- but from now on, I plan to keep the two worlds separate. -- PL

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kennbunkport (and elsewhere)

I haven't blogged in the last few days, and that's partially becauseI have been otherwise occupied enjoying a brief spontaneous vacation with my wife in Kennebunkport, ME.

Jeannine had learned a few months ago of an interesting new bookstore in Kennebunkport, called "Kennebooks", and in January of this year we had given some thought to driving up there and staying in what appeared to be a very nice inn called the White Barn Inn and Spa (something I had stumbled upon while researching Kennebooks' location on Google maps) for my birthday. But January and February were months with a lot of snow and cold weather, and we figured it might be better to wait for better climatic conditions for our initial visit to Kennebunkport. (Curiously, though we have been to the southern coastal area of Maine many times for vacations (pretty much every year since Emily was a baby), we had never been to Kennebunkport, which is really not very much further north from Ogunquit or Welles.)

With the weather starting to look better here in western Massachusetts, and the snow fairly rapidly receding, we decided to take a chance and go up to the White Barn Inn for a couple of nights. As it turned out, this decision dovetailed nicely with a talk about writing that Jeannine was scheduled to give to a group of teachers at the Phyllis Allen Smith North Shore Council of the International Reading Association meeting in Danvers, MA. That town is north of Boston and only about an hour from Portsmouth, NH, which we decided would be our first overnight stop on our way up to Kennebunkport.

I helped Jeannine get set up (mostly getting the projector and computer ready for her Keynote presentation) and wandered around taking photographs of the room and some of the people there. Jeannine introduced me to the vivacious Elaine Magliaro, retired teacher/librarian and current writer of poetry for children, and the person who invited Jeannine to the event (and who graciously allowed me to sit in and eat dinner with everyone), and also to a very nice young woman named Grace Lin, an author/illustrator she'd met some years previously, who came to the event just to see (and listen to) Jeannine. Grace had had several books published, including her Newbery-honored "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon", a book she wrote and illustrated. (I got to see this book the next day at the Dover Public Library, and was impressed -- I have not yet read it, but the illustrations were very cool.)

Here's a shot of Jeannine signing a copy of her book "Borrowed Names" for Grace...

... and one of Elaine, Jeannine, and Grace.

Before Jeannine's talk, there was about half an hour during which people could buy copies of a variety of Jeannine's books and get them signed, and while that was happening I got a chance to chat with Grace a little bit about the world of illustrating, something I hope to get back into, and she gave me several useful tips.

Jeannine gave a hour-long talk, which held everyone's attention (not an easy feat when dinner follows the talk and people are already hungry). The food afterwards was great, and we enjoyed talking to the teachers who sat at our table.

Following the talk, we packed up Jeannine's stuff and headed up to Portsmouth, one of our favorite towns. The following morning, we ate breakfast at Popovers (I mentioned this place in my blog last year), and I had a wonderful thing they described as a "breakfast quesadilla". Very yummy! Check it out...

I have more to write about but the sun is shining, it's almost one o'clock, and the temptation to get out on my bicycle is just too strong -- I must go! I'll be back later. -- PL


Okay, I'm back -- had a nice bicycle ride out to Hadley on the bike path, and stopped at Panera Bread for lunch after picking up a magazine or two at Barnes and Noble. It is SO nice to be able to get out on the bike again after this long, snowy winter.

So after breakfast in Portsmouth (and a hour or two for Jeannine to write while sipping coffee at Popovers), we checked out of our hotel and got on the road, first stopping at an historic site in Portsmouth that I'd remembered going to once, years ago, with Jeannine and/or Emily. It was called Fort Stark, and it is essentially an abandoned shore defense installation from  World War II. My slightly shaky memory of that single visit some twenty-five or more years ago included this detail -- that the site was on or at the end of a street the name of which had something to do with either things floral or things fruity. As it turned out, when I did some searching online the previous night, it was on Wild Rose Lane in New Castle, NH. (I love it when I come across evidence that my memory of certain things is not ALL that terrible.) The site was not open yet (I guess their season has yet to start) and the parking lot was closed, with ominous "No Parking!" signs all around the small lot outside the gate. So we just stayed a few minutes, allowing me to take some shots of one side of the site. Here's a small panoramic view:

I hope to get back there when the site is open, and roam around the grounds so I can take a lot more photos.

Jumping back in the car, we headed toward Maine. We decided to stop in Ogunquit and have lunch, and picked up some food at a store in the center of town. We found a vacant bench at the south end of the Marginal Way -- not very far, in fact, from "Johnny's Oarweed", a seafood restaurant where a young Kevin Eastman used to cook lobsters -- and ate our lunch, per Jeannine's wise suggestion, while watching (and listening to) beautiful waves crashing on the rocks in the cove. 

We continued to follow Route 1 up to Kennebunkport, arriving at the Inn about forty-five minutes later. The staff could not have been more friendly and gracious, and they showed us to our cottage, which was about a quarter of a mile from the Inn proper, and situated on the shores of the Kennebunk River. It was small, cozy, quiet and tidy, and we loved it. (Except for the Wi-Fi -- the signal was pretty weak inside the cottage, leading to a frustratingly sporadic connection. If i hadn't discovered that sitting outside on the front steps of the cottage provided [for whatever reason] a much stronger signal, we would have been virtually Internet-less. Horror!)

We did find Kennebooks (in fact, drove right by it on our way into Keenbunkport) and thought it was pretty cool. And even though it was Saint Patrick's day, and we thought we might have trouble finding a place to eat supper in town that evening, we ended up having some decent Mexican food at a joint named Pedro's, which the proprietor of Kennebooks had recommended.

The following day, we had AMAZING weather for March 18 -- sunny and 70 degrees! -- which made our excursion to check out Kennbunkport's beaches quite a pleasure. First we drove to Goose Rocks Beach, stopping along the way in Cape Porpoise to pick up some food at a deli called the Cape Porpoise Kitchen.

It was great food, but what we didn't count on was the brisk wind that kicked up when we settled down on the beach to eat -- blowing sand all over, which was fun to watch, but not so much fun when some of it got into our food. (It made me wonder -- and remark to Jeannine later -- if dentists in coastal areas see more damage to people's teeth from eating sand in this manner than their counterparts inland do.)

Here's a photo of the sand blowing across the beach, although a still image doesn't  really do justice to the sinuous undulations of these sand waves. They really were quite beautiful.

I spent some time taking photographs of some of the interesting textures in the beach sand -- I love looking at these things. Here are a few examples:

We walked to the north end of Goose Rocks Beach, then turned back. I saw this single clam shell on the beach, and liked the way it looked against the backdrop of the ocean, the sky and the sand:

And this one I like for several reasons, mostly the light reflecting on the water and the wet sand, and the frozen moment of Jeannine's forward stride, as she is made almost a silhouette by the bright sunlight:

It was a wonderful day, with wonderful almost summer-like weather. So you might be able to imagine my reaction when, upon awakening the next morning, I rolled up the window shade near to our bed in the cottage and saw this:


I couldn't believe it. I stared at it, and then just started laughing. I mean, it was just so absurd, to go from almost summer conditions the day before, to a snowfall the following morning. I kept chuckling that morning, every time I thought about it. 

Now, if the snowfall had been heavy, and there had been a serious accumulation, then I would probably not have laughed so much. But this flurry didn't last too long, melted pretty quickly, and was actually kind of pretty while it lasted.

I tried to get in touch with Steve Lavigne while we were there, because he and his family live within a half hour's drive of Kennebunkport, but once again I didn't plan it well (i.e. waited too long to call him) and it didn't happen. Next time, Steve!

Jeannine and I had a great time at the White Barn Inn, and hope to go back again. The staff was incredibly nice and helpful, and the food (we had breakfast there twice) was excellent. I'm not sure if it would be as quiet and restful during the peak summer season, but in the spring or fall I think I'd like to spend a few more days in one of those cottages.

Heading home on Saturday, we decided to stop once more in Dover. I had mentioned to Jeannine that she might like this cafe I'd eaten at last year, "Cafe on the Corner" at 478 Central Avenue, a new eatery in what was once one of our favorite places in Dover, an ice cream bar. And, I told her, there's a bookstore right across the street. 

She enjoyed the meal at the cafe, but wasn't too sure about the bookstore -- Baldface Books at 488 Central Avenue -- until she discovered their extensive poetry section in the back, which she loved. We each left the store with several book purchases, including one which I bought partly because it was so cheap ($1.50) but mostly because it had some illustrations which I found intriguing. It was a Scholastics Books paperback titled "The Monsters' Room" (original title: "Peter's Angel"…!? Go figure…), and it contained a number of black and white illustrations by someone named Lilian Obligado. They were really nice, apparently drawn in pencil, with a lot of energy in their subtle shadings. I plan to look for more of her work.

And then it was back on the road home, although we did make another bookstore stop -- the Toadstool in Keene, NH (a GREAT bookstore). 

Not a bad little vacation. -- PL

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blast from the Past #358: Big-headed alien green bug

I decided to title this entry with the name I gave to the digital file for this piece, becuase I couldn't really think of a better way to describe this odd drawing.

I think it dates from the early 1980's, but it could have been drawn a little earlier. What is curious to me is that I spent the time and energy to color what is obviously a quick doodle (as evidenced by the somewhat scrawly nature of the linework). It doesn't appear that I did any preliminary penciling before jumping into inking it. Given that I have never been one to do much in the way of color (something I am TRYING to rectify now), and almost always on drawings that were at least carefully drawn, WHY did I go to the effort of coloring THIS goofy thing?

I can only guess.

Regardless, I kind of like it. -- PL

Monday, March 14, 2011

Blast from the Past #357: Triceratops logo image, airbrushed version

I have posted a couple of different versions of this image I'd drawn for self-promotional purposes, but just recently came across what I think was the final version. I am pretty sure this one was never actually used for anything -- it was just an exercise to see if I could work with an airbrush. -- PL

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Nice ice

Today, while Jeannine was entertaining and educating a lot of first through fourth graders at the Paton School in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, with her slideshow, and box of inspirational props, and tales of the vicissitudes of the writing life, I took a drive in my truck up into the hills around Brattleboro, Vermont. It started out as your basic aimless meander, but once I left Brattleboro proper and started up Route 9 towards Bennington, it got interesting. I was glad that I brought my good camera with me. (By "good", I mean the one with the nice zoom lens on it.)

I had not realized that Vermont had recently gotten hit with an ice storm of this nature -- similar, it seemed, to the one that devastated western Massachusetts a couple of years ago (although there did not appear to be as many broken trees in Vermont, or at least along this stretch of road). It seemed as if every tree had a thick, glistening, glittering coat of ice, and that, coupled with the bright sunlight, made for quite a sight as I drove the curving road up and over Hogback Mountain. I stopped in several locations to take a few photographs, but I could easily have spent all day there and blown through the entire sixteen gigabyte memory card in my camera -- there were that many beautiful images to be captured.

After leaving Hogback Mountain, I headed towards WIlmington, VT, and took Route 100 south towards Massachusetts. As I was driving up the first long incline, I saw a dirt road heading off into the woods, with the sun beating down on the ice-crusted trees lining both sides of the road. It was an arresting sight, a great photo opportunity, but I was by it in seconds.

It stuck in my mind, though, and a mile or so down the road, I pulled over, turned around, and drove back. I ended up taking almost as many photos in that spot as I had in several on the way up to (and including) Hogback Mountain.

This dirt road did not seem to be heavily-traveled. I stood under some of the trees and listened for a while to the soft, intermittent clatter as bits of the coating on the branches -- the ice loosened by the heat of the sun and the movement of the branches in the wind -- fell onto the still-hard crust of snow covering the ground.

I am looking forward to spring, and I want to see all of this frozen water gone, and soon… but I have to admit that on a day like today, seeing a large part of the ordinary world briefly transformed into this shining, scintillating marvel is quite magical. -- PL

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nature's architecture

Today, the temperature is up enough to continue the melting that started yesterday. and a light rain is helping matters along. I hope this is the long-awaited beginning of the end for this winter, though I am not foolish enough (well, in all honesty, I am ALMOST foolish enough) to bet on it.

It's encouraging enough to make me post this image I shot several days ago, when it was really cold, and we'd just had another freezing rain. Jeannine and I were out walking the dog and I saw this group of golden yellow weeds of some sort bent over by the weight of the glistening armor of ice they had accumulated in the storm.

The slender arcing and interwoven forms made me think of some kind of architectural concept I'd seen somewhere -- could it be something associated with Paolo Soleri's "Arcology"? Maybe.

This image is actually created from three separate photographs stitched together with Panorama Maker 5.

I put this image together a few days ago, but even though I found the shapes and colors of the ice-clad plants quite beautiful, didn't post it because I was so sick of winter and looking at ice and snow.

But today, with all the melting going on, somehow, it feels okay. So here it is. -- PL

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Blast from the Past #356: Sketches for "Nuclear Freeze" posters

These are some quick sketches I made for some ideas I had related to possible posters for the "Nuclear Freeze" group I worked with in the late 1970's and early 1980's. I believe they were meant to help raise money for the cause.

I'm pretty sure I never did any finished art based on these sketches, and thus no such posters were ever made, but I kind of wish I'd done more with that "nuclear vulture" one -- I like the layout and the way I made the vulture look sort of like Ronald Reagan. -- PL

Friday, March 4, 2011

Blast from the Past #355: MSC logo designs

I've always enjoyed trying to come up with interesting logo designs, though I am not terribly good at it. I think my best one may have been for the "Scat" comics magazine I helped to found with some artist friends years ago. I have always been impressed with people who can come up with clever variations on a theme (the theme being, typically, letters and/or numbers in the name of a business or organization). One of my favorite logos of all time is the one that you see on the hoods of Toyotas -- I never knew until a few years ago that that simple symbol, if broken down properly, reveals all the shapes of all the letters in the word "Toyota". And right behind that one is the logo for Acura, Honda's luxury car brand, which is essentially the famous "H" used on all Honda cars, but with the top corners of the "H" pivoted slightly inward to form an "A" for Acura.

(Actually, I am not sure if these symbols are, technically, logos… but that's how I have always thought of them. If anyone knows a better term, please feel free to enlighten me.)

I found the following  page in an old sketchbook, where I was apparently trying to work out a design for some outfit called -- or with the acronym of -- "MSC". Do I know now what "MSC" is/was? No. That memory has vanished. I don't even remember WHEN I did this, though from the looks of it, I'd say some time in the early 1980's.

Looking at this, I am reminded of how much I have admired the work of illustrator and graphic designer David Suter. Don't get me wrong -- I am not at all equating my work with his brilliant stuff. But I see some of his influence here in my attempt to play with three dimensions and the classic "three-quarters view" while working out this design.

I can't recall if I ever even came up with a finished logo design for "MSC", or -- if I did do a final design -- if it was used. But I can see that I was having some fun with it. -- PL