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March 11, 2006

How A Drawing Happens

My friend Rachel Barenblat has asked me to do a drawing for a personalized Haggadah she is preparing. A number of her artist friends from around the country are contributing artwork for her project.

So as long as I'm doing a new drawing anyway, I thought I would document the successive stages involved for the benefit of those folks who are always asking me how computers have come to affect my way of drawing.

No, I don't use a Wacom tablet and stylus yet, although I have to say that many of my cartoonist friends are getting really impressive results by going entirely "paperless" and drawing directly into their computers. As you can see from what follows, my own drawing goes back and forth, into and out of my PowerMac G4 at least twice before it's cooked.

A
Outside the Mac: I do some initial sketches in pencil on typewriter paper.

B
Outside the Mac: I place a sheet of vellum over my pencils and do slightly tightened ink sketches. (Notice how I'm not yet worrying about how the elements will be grouped. That comes next.)

C
Inside the Mac: I've scanned my ink sketches. In Adobe Photoshop I separate each figure onto its own layer so that I can use the move tool to play with ways to assemble them into a satisfying composition. Sometimes I will reduce or enlarge a figure slightly. When I'm finished I print the result onto a new piece of paper.

D
Outside the Mac: I tape the printout onto the back of a sheet of Strathmore Bristol board and place them both over a light table. 2-ply Bristol is translucent enough to see through when light is behind it. I then trace my sketch onto the Strathmore in pencil and ink it. I don't yet bother filling in black areas or fixing the small flaws that in my pre-digital days would have called for white-out or pasted-on patches, because these final corrections are much more easily made, once I erase my pencil lines, if I scan my newly inked "finish" so that the drawing is back...

E
Inside the Mac, where Photoshop's tools make it a breeze to bring my drawing to completion.

If anybody has questions or remarks about this process (which is not necessarily the best one, just the one I happen to have arrived at from my experimentation), toss 'em my way. As anyone knows who has spent time at my web site's Cartoonists Corner, I have pedagogical tendencies that are way out of control!

March 24, 2006

Give Us This Day Our (More or Less) Daily Feeds

I was in the middle of writing a note to friend and fellow blogger Bruce Garrett a couple of days ago when Eddie remarked from the other room that his Dell computer wasn't being helpful in the least in allowing him to subscribe to my weblog using its RSS capability. So I thought I would see if Bruce had any thoughts about Eddie's difficulty:

ME TO BRUCE: ...I was interrupted just now by Eddie, who is having trouble subscribing to my blog's RSS feed. Eddie's a PC guy working with Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6. My web-enabler says that RSS feeds are a cross-platform program. But when Eddie clicks on my blog's "Subscribe to this blog" link, he just gets the blog's source code.

I know that your own blog is now RSS enabled. On my Mac (using Safari on MacOSX 4.0) when I click on your RSS link I get the trimmed down version of your blog, but Eddie gets source code. Do you have any insights of what may be going on?

Two responses from Bruce arrived on successive days.

BRUCE TO ME: You asked about why Eddie is getting only source code while you're getting the posts off the RSS link on my blog and I've been trying to understand how that might be happening, and to do that I've had to dive into the mechanics of the whole RSS thing because I really don't understand it.  I just asked my new web host to enable RSS when we moved my blog to WordPress and he did it.  That's how I got mine set up.

So I'm still digging, which is why I haven't answered yet.  This is why I'm making a pretty good living doing computer work.  I had an employer once who complemented me on my "stick to it-ness" and I didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't work ethic, but more like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when it comes to computers.  My thoughts just get sucked into the algorithms and I have to understand what the f*** is going on here...  A shrink could probably help me with it, but it's paying my bills.

Then, the next day:

BRUCE TO ME AGAIN: What's happening is the stylesheet isn't being picked up by the Windows browsers for some reason.  I get the same result with FireFox on Windows.  What Eddie is seeing is the xml, without the style sheet applied.  Not sure why that's happening at this point.

I suppose I could just give in and ask my web host to fix it.  He's a Mac guy too and so he probably didn't notice.  The reason I didn't notice at first was that I don't use the RSS feed.  But I just got into trying to figure this thing out. 

I've been doing this to myself for years with Cricket.  We have students here at Johns Hopkins who play it during the warmer months.  I've been watching them for years, trying to determine what the rules are, from how they're playing.  Not much luck so far, except I think it has something do to with knocking that twig off those three upright wooden posts behind the batter.  I still haven't got a clue how they score the damn thing.  I could just ask, but I'm determined to figure it out for myself.  Some days I'm watching them, and I catch myself thinking that Cricket is one of those dry jokes the British like playing on people.

Some of you who are reading this may have thoughts of your own to offer — whether on RSS feeds or Cricket.

March 27, 2006

More on RSS

My web host and indefatigable weblog enabler Jason Bergman has taken a look at the problem my hubby Eddie was having (as described in my March 24 post) subscribing to my blog's RSS feed. His analysis: "The RSS issue is due to a lack of a plugin for Internet Explorer. Unless you're using a program that can actually read RSS, you're going to get the source code." Which, of course, describes the response Eddie was getting when he clicked on the Subscribe to this weblog link on his Dell PC.

"Tell him to use Firefox!" Jason advised with an emoticonned grin. :)

Bruce Garrett, meanwhile, had come to the same conclusion. "If Eddie is using IE," Bruce wrote, "then he'll still have a problem.  This is from Microsoft itself:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/IE/community/columns/rss.mspx

"Although some sites provide information about what RSS is and how to access it when they offer RSS on their sites, many do not. If we do the logical thing and click on the button when using Internet Explorer 6 or earlier, and we do not have an RSS reader or [an appropriate] plug-in installed, all we will see is code. IE 6 needs a plug in to work.  IE 7, when it comes out, won't."

Got it, Mr. Gates!

"So Eddie can either find a plugin for IE 6 that he likes (there's one called Pluck out there that people seem to like), or wait for IE7, or download and use the current version of Firefox."

Firefox again! I sensed a trend in personal preferences gathering.

Jason did offer an additioned insight: "If there's anyone complaining about compatibility with RSS readers, there is a second feed being generated by your blog at this URL:

http://www.howardcruse.com/cruseblog/atom.xml

"It's generated automatically. That's a specifically Atom-based feed. By default your blog is showing the index.xml file, which is a straight RSS 2.0 feed. Atom is an alternative format that is prefered by some people, although generally it tends to be less compatible, as it's a newer format. If you want, you can either switch the default to that, or link to it as a secondary feed. I don't bother myself, as any reader that can read Atom is 99.9% certain to be able to read the other one. But you never know."

Somehow I don't think I'm going to fool around with any default settings, though, since in that last paragraph Jason forged way beyond the boundaries of my Level of Incompetence. Babe in the HTML woods that I am, I'm far too dependent on the kindness of my geek friends to venture too far out on my own.

April 7, 2006

The Mac I Couldn't Avoid

There's almost never a time that I can afford a new Mac — but sometimes my hand is forced. And I have to admit that when cruel circumstances absolutely require me to absorb the cost of a pricey new offering from Apple's computer line no matter how much my bank account groans, it's a little like having my doctor give me a prescription for three tubs of ice cream a day and sternly admonish me not to dare skip a single dose.
I purchased my first Mac, a PowerMac 9600 that came with 256MB of RAM, a year after Stuck Rubber Baby was published. My Mac mentor David Hutchison predicted that I would quickly be springing for additional memory, and of course he was right. Digital graphics applications chew up RAM like cashews. leaving you always wanting more, more, more!!!

When I told a computer geek neighbor that I was buying a Mac, he looked at me sympathetically and said, "That's too bad." As if I had told him I had contracted a case of athlete's foot. We fools who bought Macs as the company was about to plunge over a cliff were going to end up as stranded as early adopters of Betamax VCRs. (It's hard to believe, but at that point many business pundits were predicting that Apple's poor market share was a sign that the company was in its death throes. Like the Iraqi insurgency six months ago, according to the Vice Prez.)

But Steve Jobs returned from exile, and soon thereafter the iMac line was born and color began returning to Apple's cheeks, not to mention the company's first-generation line of temporarily candy-colored machines. The color calmed down in subsequent iMacs but exciting designs continued. In recent times Apple's new hit, the iPod, has been hogging the spotlight, but it's still the company's elegantly designed and user-friendly computers that make my heart go pitty-pat.

My original PowerMac abruptly stopped working in the year 2000. The Y2K bug had nothing to do with it, I should add; it was nowhere near January 1st when my computer went belly-up. Besides, Apple, unlike Microsoft, hadn't been complacent about building dates with the wrong number of digits into its computers' workings. By then a capacity to execute and transmit my artwork electronically had become central to my professional modus operandi, so I had no choice but to order a PowerMac G4 overnight, hoping against hope that it would arrive and be working before any of my clients noticed the work stoppage at Howard Cruse Industries.

My credit card, already burdened by leftover debt from my graphic novel adventures, creaked under the strain, but withdrawing from the digital revolution at that point could only have made things worse. By then, like so many people, I was a slave to pixels.

For more than five years since then my G4 has been a loyal workhorse, absorbing dozens of software upgrades and a scary change of structure in its operating system. It's contributions to my creative life have been many. But lately, signs of arthritis have been creeping into view.

I've jacked up the RAM, optimized everything in sight, and tried to ease the strain by ushering as much data as possible through a FireWire leading to a LaCie external hard drive. But despite all of this, my G4's speed of processing has been getting more and more halting. Commands from my mouse or keyboard have periodically gone ignored for distressing lengths of time, as if somebody's hearing was slipping away bit by bit, and overall forgetfulness was perhaps setting in. The possibility of a sudden disabling stroke loomed.

At this point computing power has been so totally integrated into my professional life that I have dared not risk even a few days of digital paralysis. Clearly my G4 needed to retire to a simpler life, with the torch of productivity being passed to something more youthful and vigorous. The matter was being taken out of my hands.

Hence the new iMac now sitting on my desk. Boo hoo. Poor me. I can't afford it, really!

But boy, is that 20" display screen roomy.

April 17, 2006

Déja Vu and One Chicken's Odyssey

If you joined this weblog recently AND have been paying attention to the Squirly & Earl cartoons I've been running every Sunday AND are from Birmingham, Alabama AND are no spring chicken, you may have found yourself disoriented by weekly sensations of déja vu.

That's because all of the characters and jokes in my present-day squirrel humor series are blatant steals from cartoons that ran in the (recently folded, I'm sad to say) Birmingham Post-Herald between 1970 and 1972.

Above left: "Ms. Kackle" in my April 9 Squirly & Earl cartoon. Above right: The same hen appearing as "Mrs. Henpeck" in a 1971 Tops & Button panel.

Because I was the cartoonist who drew the original Tops & Button series from which the these cartoons and usually renamed characters are lifted, I'm allowed to refer to my spree of thievery by the more polite term: remakes. I explained all of this back in February when I was just getting this blog underway; I'm only mentioning it here for the benefit of those aging Birminghamians and Birmingham refugees (you know who you are) who have come in late.

I needed to spend a few moments addressing an unrelated Squirly & Earl housekeeping matter anyway. This weekend I noticed to my embarrassment that I had accidentally run the same S&E installment on two different Sundays, separated by a month of so. I'm sure this caused much consternation abong my legions of Sunday squirrel humor fans, all of whom were too sensitive to my feelings to share their distress with me personally. Never wanting to short-change my loyal readers, however, I want you to know that I have belatedly corrected my error: the Squirly & Earl cartoon now archived as my April 2 offering is different from the one first posted on that date originally.

As I uploaded the aforementioned replacement, of course, I was siezed with uncertainty about whether today's children grow up hearing the nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet, which couldn't be avoided when I was a kid and on which the presumed humor of that particular cartoon rests. Maybe the spider-spooked lass in the nursery rhyme has faded into obscurity in the intervening years. Conversely, if today's youngers do know the verse and have been inquisitive enough (as I never was in the first six decades of my life) to look up the actual dictionary definition of a "tuffet," then the panel will draw a total blank. Everything depends, after all, on the slightly provocative sound that a child's tuffet can take on when one has no idea what a tuffet is. Such is the fragility of comedy that assumes that readers are as ignorant as the cartoonists entertaining them!

A final note: the "Mrs. Henpeck" first incarnated in Tops & Button took a brief side trip into disreputability (see the drawing at left) during the years before her recent reemergence as "Ms. Kackle." Since I often wonder if anyone is actually reading this blog beyond the handful of loyalists who occasionally post comments, let me take this opportunity to run a small test.
To the first person reading this (other than a family-member of mine) who can correctly identify the work of art in which this drawing first appeared I will send the original art from a Tops & Button panel featuring my cranky chicken — IF you contact me by email with your answer before noon tomorrow Eastern Daylight Time. To the next nine people who provide this information during the same time period I will send an autographed sketch of either Mrs. Henpeck, Ms. Henpack, Ms. Kackle, or Squirly & Earl — depending on your preferences.

November 4, 2006

Building a Magazine Cover

The Fall 2006 issue of UAB Public Health (Formerly The Handle) came out a few weeks ago, with my cartoon art splashed all over its front cover.

While I was working on the drawing several months ago I took the occasion to build a little demo showing the steps that are involved in building a drawing like this one.

The jumpy little graphic at left is just a teaser. If you'll like to get a longer and more detailed picture of how a picture gets made, click here.

January 10, 2007

Party Time in Birmingham

It's always fun to put together self-promotional montages like the one above, in which assorted characters from odd corners of my professional life come creeping out of the woodwork to party.

In times past a lot of rubber cement and X-Acto knifeplay would have been required to create a graphic like this one, and even so the slightly frayed edges of the hand-trimmed images would remain apparent to anyone chosing to peer closely at the finished assemblage. But everything has been made easier and cleaner with the advent of magic software like Photoshop.

(And I would say that even if Adobe Systems, the makers of Photoshop, hadn't been dominant among my freelance clients for the last half-year.)

If all goes well and enough page space is available, this graphic will accompany an interview with me that's set to run in an upcoming issue of Birmingham Weekly, for whom I did that weird Santa Claus cover art I told you about a few blog entries ago.

What occasions that print interview (as well as a radio interview that will be taped on January 18 on WBMG's arts program Tapestry) is the trip to Birmingham I'll be making next week. By virtue of having drawn cover art this fall for UAB Public Health magazine, I'm being given the royal treatment at a reception being thrown by the University of Alabama School of Public Health on the 18th.

UAB has even made posters out of my cover art. Signed copies of these will be available for sale at the reception to raise money for the Bill and Judy Bridgers Scholarship Fund.

About Shop Talk

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Loose Cruse: The Weblog in the Shop Talk category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Pure Toontime is the previous category.

Soapbox Break is the next category.

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