Friday, October 3, 2014


Looney Tunes #222 cover

Man it's been awhile since I've been around these parts…

Apologies as I've been absent from posting much here. I'm in an interesting transition period of work. Have wrapped up most of my inking commitments. Writing various short stories and special issues for a range of places (drawing a few of them too). And venturing into the Children's Book Market for the first time as I'm in the early stages of working on what will be a huge publicized project in the coming years. Equal parts daunting and exciting.

And another phase of work is getting the chance to draw covers, which I always consider another form of "storytelling"…just with less space involved.

The career I'm stumbling through to chisel out, I never expected to work on covers. Or even draw sequentials. I was pretty comfortable just inking for a long stretch of it. But eventually you want to try different things. Opportunities surface. And you're just sort of happy for the chance.

Working on Looney Tunes has been pretty exciting. It doesn't seem that long ago (although it's been 25 to 30 years in the past) that I was waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings, getting hopped up on sugary cereal, and lying on the floor to watch hours of cartoons. Of those, repeats of those great classic Looney Tunes were part of that experience. Now all these years later, working with one of my editors on Batman Li'l Gotham, I'm fortunate to draw some covers for the Looney Tunes comic that DC is still putting out.

Drawing such recognizable animated characters is probably the greatest challenge. Unlike most comics where companies (and fans) are interested in an artist's distinct style, it's much different for cartoons (and cartoon based comics). The artist isn't the star attraction, the character and their design is. And being focused to draw them as close to "on model" as you can is the most important part.

For a couple of years before I got into comics, I was in art school specifically to get into animation. Character animation, inbetweening, clean-up, storyboarding; and shopping my portfolio around animation studios. And even though comics always was the bug that bit me first, I've always enjoyed animated material. But it's also tough to try to fit into that style on a consistent basis. But doing covers is a little easier than drawing or animating these characters more sequentially or frequently.

Below are some of my thumbnail ideas for this cover. Covers usually happen one of two ways. You either just randomly draw whatever you feel like and it doesn't have to relate to the story. Or you get the script and come up with ideas around it. This was sort of a mix of both. I got to read the script, and drew some space themed ideas, even though the cover scene never specifically happens in the story itself. Still it's a fun exercise to try to capture a theme in one image that will make the reader want to buy the comic.

I have another cover I'm doing for the comic as well as writing the story for it too. But I'll cover that (no pun intended) in a future post.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Just like all science experiments, there are steps involved in order to create. It's no different here, bringing back a beloved cartoon to comics. So here are six steps involved in creating the new DEXTER'S LABORATORY comic at IDW . . .


In this industry, I've found this rule-of-thumb applies best…

    It's always better to be asked than to ask.

I've tried pitching for various titles and companies in the past. Cold call submissions. You might know someone at a company, or sometimes not at all. But you're hopeful your resume of past work will help them consider you, so you contact them first. For the most part, it generally never works that often. Pitches get turned down for any number of reasons (similar projects in the pipeline, they're not looking, or they just flat out hate the idea). But when a company comes to you, you at least know they're interested in the project, and more importantly, in you.

I was approached by Sarah Gaydos, who had previously edited me on Batman Li'l Gotham at DC. Now that she was at IDW and in charge of the Cartoon Network line of kids book, she asked if I'd be interested in pitching for Dexter's Laboratory. It was a show I fondly remembered when it came out during my latter years in college before I graduated. I loved the humor, and felt this would be an ideal follow-up to the fun stories I helped write in Li'l Gotham.

Pitching is just like a job interview. You have a resume of past work and connections that can get your foot in the door. But it really comes down to presenting yourself (your idea) as best you can and just hope that they like it. Add to that, that you're not the only one pitching. You assume, and rightfully so, that others were asked to present their ideas as well. So you're in competition with others as well as yourself, right out the gate. Putting your best foot forward and coming up with the idea itself can be the most nerve wracking part of the process.

When pitching for a licensed title, the research involved means watching cartoons (or as I call it…the perks of the job). Dex had many seasons of shows, and a lot to go through in a limited time. But the idea for my story came within watching just a few episodes. Really it came down to seeing the opening title sequence for every episode. Seeing the antagonistic relationship between brother and sister, and no matter what Dexter created, it would be inevitably destroyed by Dee Dee. I started forming the basic plot for a 4-issue storyline, jotted it all down on a one page pitch and sent it off. Of that, the premise became:

There is one thing that has always ruined every experiment Dexter has ever created…his sister, Dee Dee. Realizing the only way to ever succeed is by removing this error from the equation, Dexter believes he's created the perfect world in which to reach his ultimate potential. Instead, his dream becomes a nightmare once he realizes he needs Dee Dee, and will go to the end of the world to bring her back.

As the case is with pitching, sometimes you hear back but usually not at all. You cast away, hope for the best, and move on. I can't recall if it had been weeks or months when I heard back, but I was out of town and checking my email on my phone when I got the word that Cartoon Network liked the story and greenlighted it! Before I could celebrate, it was time to start drafting up the outlines to each issue, and get the ball rolling.


There are actually a few steps for the process of writing comics. For me, it's turning in an outline for each issue (generally a page or two long that plays out the various beats and ideas for the issue). There's writing the scripts themselves (I always write full script…breaking down every page and panel with description and dialogue). Writing is rewriting, so once you get notes back from the editor and the licensor, it usually only takes one more draft to turn in. And towards the end of the process after all the art and lettering is done, is the proof stage. To see how it looks and turn in any last minute notes (usually to add or take out dialogue as the case may be).

For Dexter, the scripts came pretty easy. A lot is watching enough episodes to get a feel for how the show writers helped give voice to the characters. I always try to remain as true to the show as I can. I want to hear the actors in my head when scripting them for the comics. It's the best compliment to get when someone reads the comic and says it reads like the show or they hear the actors. And you always hear horror stories of various networks asking for lots of changes and being tough to work with. But Cartoon Network has been very easy. I noticed that when writing the Adventure Time comics and it was no different on the Dexter's Lab comics.


Knowing that IDW publishes multiple covers for each issue of their comics, I wanted to see if I could draw one (especially for a title I'd be writing). So it was agreed I'd do one for the very first issue. From this point, it was a matter of drawing up some thumbnail ideas for what the cover might look like. And the idea for what would become my cover, came while sitting in traffic. Stuck on the 405 in LA, bumper to bumper, I had a notepad in my passenger seat. And when the idea of Dexter stuck in a tube held by Dee Dee in his lab popped into my mind…I drew up a rough sketch. I later revised it into a few different designs.

Once approved by Cartoon Network and IDW, I went about drawing it up in blue pencil, then ink, then passed it along to the colorist, Pamela Lovas. Aside from web comics and convention prints, this is her first professional published work that I know of, and I think she did a fantastic job. Actually added so much more to my very basic idea. And I've worked with her again on an upcoming Adventure Time story.

Cover Process with thumbnails and rough pencils (art by Derek Fridolfs)


Not every project I'm on, do I get to see the rough pencils before the art is finished. A lot of time, books are already under tight deadlines, and the writer doesn't see anything until the proofing stage (and sometimes not even then). But we were on schedule or ahead of it, that I'd get sent some of the rough layouts by artist Ryan Jampole. And even at this stage I was excited, because his roughs looked on-model and clean. I could already imagine what the finished art would look like!

Layouts by artist Ryan Jampole


Ryan Jampole on pencils & inks. Jeremy Colwell on colors. I'm not sure how close they worked together, but I think they blend together extremely well. The cartoon is heavily centered around blues and greens. And sometimes, that might get drab or come across flat on the comic page. But I think a nice balance has been reached. To the point that the art looks so close to the animation cels from the show.

Art by Ryan Jampole and Jeremy Colwell


And the final step….you the audience!

The first issue, in all its covers, hits stands today. And I'm hopeful that new and old fans will like it. And I'd love to hear from ya. Feel free to comment.

Covers by Ryan Jampole, Derek Charm, and Derek Fridolfs with Pamela Lovas

Monday, March 24, 2014


Superman is one of those characters you never think you'll get a chance to work on. Arguably THE #1 recognizable superhero and trademark for the industry. The cape, bright colors…truth, justice, and the American way. And when the DC Digital First "Adventures Of Superman" title was announced as an out-of-continuity anthology where creators could put their stamp on the character, it would provide an opportunity to do a story that might be a little old fashioned. One that wasn't tied into the current look or feel for the character at the company. And one I couldn't wait to tackle.

The longer I work in comics, the more I see the chances to work on some of these icons as fleeting. The directions for these characters, their titles, and their creators, all get set up many months if not years in advance. Very few spots become available and very few fill-ins anymore. So when you do get to tell a story with them, you really feel like this might be the only chance you'll get. You really feel the pressure of the "kitchen sink"approach. That you better have a great story to tell and put in everything you want to say about that character, because you might never have another chance. And that's really the approach I took with my story.

Everyone has their favorite version of Superman, whether it's the film interpretation by Christopher Reeve or the era of the comic they first started to read. My approach was more animated. I loved both the Fleisher era and the Timm/Dini/Burnett show that also drew from it. I wanted to include all the classic tropes…The Daily Planet, Lois not knowing Clark's secret identity, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor and Brainiac cameos, Superman put in an unenviable position with a life on the line and no easy answer, and of course, the underwear on the outside. I wanted to split the time in Metropolis as well as a rural small town farm community. And I had to find space for it all in 20 pages.

I don't remember exactly how I landed on the idea of "Letters To Superman". Just that it's probably been done in the Superman comics of the past, as well as for other characters. And it provides for an interesting story angle. For Clark to step outside of his Superman persona for a brief moment and see how others view him. It's something I've recently experienced myself from time-to-time when DC will forward some letters from school students to me asking questions or sending along their words of appreciation. You get so used to sitting in front of the computer or art table, alone in a room, working on comics by yourself; that it's nice to get a handwritten or typed letter from someone you've reached with your work and realize there are people out there enjoying it. 

One thing that surprised me after my story came out was a comparison to the "Man Of Steel" film. One even pointed out that it might've been in direct opposition to it. That the movie had all sorts of collateral damage by keeping the battle in the city and lives lost, while my story took the fight out of the city and into the farmland. To keep any casualties to a minimum. And my enemy wasn't killed at the end but saved through other means. Of course, none of this was on purpose or some kind of statement on my part. I had no idea at the time of writing my story how it might be compared to a film that hadn't come out yet. I had turned in my script at the start of 2013, and a film I didn't know the full details about wouldn't get released until that summer. And while I prefer a more throwback approach to the character in my story, I still am a big fan of the "Man Of Steel" version as well. I think Superman is a large enough character (much like Batman) that I appreciate all variations and that there's room for various interpretations.

But the most amount of fun I had working on this was with my good friend Sean "Cheeks" Galloway on art. I met Sean online waaaaay back before he had broken into the industry. And seeing him rise through the ranks of comics and animation has been a fun journey to witness. As someone who has his own studio of creators working for him at Table Taffy, I wasn't sure how busy he was. So it was perfect timing that he was able to fit this story into his workload. I knew since we both grew up at the same time and have similar interests, that this would be a story he'd enjoy working on and geared to a more all-ages mindset. And he'd be able to give it that sort of cartoon cel shaded style that he's known for (having been the designer on the Spectacular Spider-Man show and Hellboy Animated films). And you'll be seeing more from us in the future as well, as I've written for some of his Kickstarter created projects.

Layouts and finished color art by "Cheeks"

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


It's been a little hectic around these parts as I've been juggling all sorts of jobs lately the last few months. Writing in comics and the computer game industry, back to inking fairly regularly again, and also found the time to draw an upcoming short story as well. Whew! But in the end, I've been neglecting to keep things updated here on this blog. Going to see if I can change that and update things a little more frequently.

Batman Li'l Gotham finally concluded what became an insanely fun ride. What started as Dustin pitching chibi characters for a line of snow globes, turned into a couple short backups in the Batman Annuals, and eventually to a full blown digital and print series. Out of all the projects I've written, it might've been one of the easiest to write for. Dustin always had the tough task of having to draw and paint it all on a tight schedule that never let up. But I got to kick back, brainstorm with him, and come up with some of the silliest ideas…and it somehow just clicked. Very little in the way of rewrites. Most of the stories were set to run as-is, which is a huge blessing in this industry.

For the very last Li'l Gotham story, I'd had the spark of an idea very early on. I think early in our run after the book had found a very excited and vocal audience, it sort of dawned on me that it would be nice to really think out a nice ending that would wrap our run. To really stick the landing. It's very rare for creators to have a chance to plan an exit long in advance. Usually a book gets cancelled prematurely or the creators pulled from a book with very little time to wrap things up to their satisfaction. So as we went along, I know I was always nervous about wanting to find out exactly when we'd finish. Was it going to be the original 12 stories, the expanded upon 24, or even possibly more after that? I wanted to have a story in the bag so when the time came, we could present it as the last one.

I don't know where I came up with the idea for having a family album look back, but it just felt appropriate. Li'l Gotham's cast actually grew very big over the year. Lots of friends and family for the Bats, as well as villains. And trying to fit in everything and everyone for a final bow would be a crazy task. At one point, we toyed with the idea of doing a 2-part Christmas story. Sort of a Batman ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. What life in Gotham might be like if Batman wasn't in it. So Bruce would be visited by an early version of himself as Batman (or possibly the Grey Ghost), a current version of Batman, as well as a trip into the future with Batman Beyond. Dustin and I even toyed with having our idealized version of the future. Superman and Old Bruce with kids carrying on the tradition. Have a brighter outlook than the darkness that permeates most of the current books. But as things got closer to Li'l Gotham finishing, we were running out of room with stories we'd already committed to. So we decided on just doing one 10 page story to wrap things up. And the family album concept would be a nice visual treat to look back on all the characters fondly. And of course, give me one more chance to toss in a song by rewriting the "12 Days Of Christmas" Li'l Gotham style. 

While finished, Li'l Gotham remains firmly on my mind with a smile. A chance to continue the collaboration with Dustin and see his vision of this project finally become a reality after taking years to get it greenlit. It helped open a lot of creative doors for me being associated with it. And it's just nice to have something I've worked on be so easily accessible to kids of all ages. I think the trick to how our book worked, was Dustin and I were just having a lot of fun. I don't think I ever thought of trying to write to fit a certain age bracket. I kind of just approached it with the mindset of the animated series with a lighthearted angle to it. To write something I'd enjoy reading. And I think the darker the main books got, the easier it was to go the opposite way and shine a light on the silly absurdity of these characters. But always in good fun.
So what does the future hold? Our first trade paperback collection is hitting stores, so all these stories will eventually be collected. I think the sales of these can help determine if there's enough demand to bring back the series. And we're going to get some Li'l Gotham action figures coming out this year as well. And hopefully those do well enough to continue past the initial four being offered (I totally wanna get a Li'l Gotham Mr. Freeze…make it happen)!
Out of the Li'l city and back into the big city again.

Thanks for everyone's support!