Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Let's take a look at "The Illustrated Al" from Z2 Comics!

Every once in a while, two great things converge. Sometimes the result is ranch dressing-flavored ice cream. But other times, two great things coalesce into a somehow perfect combination. Even more infrequently, I get to make the dang things. So here we are at today's much-anticipated blog post about The Illustrated Al, Z2's "Weird Al" Yankovic graphic novel, inspired by Al's catalog of songs.

As an aside, would you look at that picture at the top? I'm going to be buried with it. Anyway, let's move on.

The Illustrated Al is a collection of graphic adaptations of a number of Weird Al songs, mostly focusing on his original material from various albums over Al's decades-long career. I was contacted by Z2's EIC in May of last year asking if I would like to participate to this project, to which Al himself was overseeing. I've loved comics only slightly longer than I have loved Weird Al, so I naturally agreed and picked my contribution from a list of pre-selected songs. Wouldn't you know, my all-time favorite Weird Al song, "Good Old Days" from the 1988 "Even Worse" album, was available, so I jumped on that and contacted my friends Jeff McComsey and Mark Welser to help me make this short story. Folks, I gave it my all, and I'm happy with the results.

I knew from the beginning that I didn't want to just adapt the song in a literal way. First of all, "Good Old Days" is a very dark and violent song when taken at face value; making a comic about this means that right away, we're lacking the accompanying James Taylor-like musical track which adds half of the humor to the song. I could go on about how the combination of those two disparate elements creates a pitch-perfect package.

What I tried to do was create a narrative around the lyrics that centered around the story's main character looking back at his life and all of the havoc he's created. He's at the end of his life and he wants it all to mean something - he wants to perform his biggest and most terrible act yet. So he's a pretty much a serial killer, which is an idea that is, in some ways, so difficult to accept as a concept that it lends itself to hyperbole from the beginning. Then I set it in outer space, because I like outer space.

Over the course of creating and submitting the story, I got a few notes from Al, his manager, and Z2's editorial team, but the story was mostly accepted as we made it.

I'll let the story speak for itself, but there are a few things that I want to call attention to. The panel above is from a sepia-toned flashback scene, where we meet the song's Mr. Fender ("who ran the corner grocery store"). There's only one line of dialogue in this story, while the rest of the lyrics are presented in dialogue boxes, which seemed more appropriate. This one line gave me the opportunity to use a different font, and I felt that I should probably use it to include my newly-minted McClellafont. Really, if there was a reason I made the thing in the first place, this was it.

Let me also point out that I did add several Easter egg-style references to some of Al's other works and the like in this story. A few people have found some to this point, and there are some in this very panel. Most of them are pretty obvious, though maybe not all.

In addition to lettering, I tried my hand at color separations (or flatting) for the first time with this story. This is the process of adding color to the image that a traditional colorist will refine later. I will say that this process didn't take a lot of skill (perfect for me), but it did take a LONG time to do. It was very time intensive. I did what I could.

In true form for the modern comic book industry, the hardcover volume was released with a few different covers. The main cover is on the left and has art by MAD Magazine's Drew Friedman. On the right is the limited Local Comic Shop Day exclusive cover by Mark Fredrickson, also of MAD fame. It's interesting to note that the LCSD version of the book was actually the first to be released in late November of '22, while the proper, wide release version didn't come out until early this year.

The back cover actually has my name on it (and they spelled it correctly, too!), alongside some real comic book heavyweights. You might notice, along with myself and Jeff McComsey, a few Planet Comics contributors in this list such as Hilary Barta and Weird Me creator Kelly Phillips.

"Good Old Days" is located toward the end of the book. It's surreal to see it printed in this fine collection. Oh, and I also feel like mentioning that I created the 3-D title effect in Illustrator specifically for this story.

There was also an oversized, super deluxe model that came with a slipcase, a cover by Mike and Laura Allred, and a bunch of extra stuff like trading cards, coasters, a turntable dust cover and a print set. There's supposedly a miniature accordion still in the works that got delayed in production. This version is really extravagant and it seems like a real collector's item that some folks will keep for years.

I mentioned Planet Comics earlier - issue #3 ran this ad in the back, which I believe is the only print ad for the book out there. I contacted the folks at Z2 and they put this ad together. I suggested they use the line, "give meaning to your boring, miserable life," which is along the lines of something Al would say about his songs and concerts in the past, and they went with it.

In the very back of the Z2 hardcover, we find this page, which was probably created to fill some blank space at the end. Am I implying that this sequence made it into the book because of my ad copy suggestion? I am outright speaking it into existence, my friends. You are all welcome.

Once the book was widely released in January, Al and the Z2 staff went on something of a mini promotional tour, talking with a number of comic book and mainstream entertainment outlets about the collection. I get how these work: so that a bunch of sites can claim that they have exclusive looks at the book, giving them an incentive to promote their interviews and by extension the product being sold, creative talent will talk about certain things with one site and other things with other sites. Cynicism aside, it was still very gratifying to see my name pop up at a few of these outlets, such as Entertainment Weekly.

This was, and is, a pretty big deal to me, and I'm really grateful that Al noticed the story and some of the effort we put into it.

A lot of this coincided with Al's 2022 tour and the release of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story from the Roku Channel. And speaking of effort, I got to play "Weird Al Jeopardy" at the Pittsburgh tour stop and I cleaned up. Don't worry that one of the individuals I beat was a literal child.

After the show this night, I got a brief opportunity to speak with Al. Without any prompting (I promise), he told me how much he enjoyed the Illustrated Al story that I worked on. I realize that he is both a professional and an actor, but he seemed genuine and I choose to believe that this was a truly spontaneous moment. It is - without a doubt - a moment that I will remember for a long time to come, and I really appreciate his words.

Around this same time, I got to attend the premiere of Al's movie in Toronto...

...and I found a seat at the Weird panel at the New York Comic Con...

...where I bought this "Fat" portrait from artist Clay McCormick.

At the very end of the year, a radio station in Wisconsin changed their format to all Weird Al, all the time for a brief period. Suffice it to say, 2022 was a big year for Weird Al, and a big year for me and a few different Weird Al projects.

I walked away from this project with some really great original art, too, starting with pencils (and a book of thumbnails) from Jeff McComsey.

I also managed to grab the title page image from Craig Rousseau, who put together the "Melanie" adaptation in the book.

Danny Hellman drew the trading card art that was also included as a set of pinups at the back of the book. I got this one, drawn on vellum, of the absolutely incredible "Living with a Hernia" piece. I'm debating on whether or not I should frame this one.

This was an incredible experience, and it was something to which I took a lot of pride contributing. I'm eternally grateful to Al and his team for considering me when this project was just starting out, and to Z2 for their work in putting the book together.

The book itself has had a pretty wide release, and you can find it at comic shops and bookstores worldwide, as well as online on Z2's website and the usual places like Amazon. I'm hoping to grab a bunch more to take to conventions with me this year.

I think I've made it clear on this site that I'm a really big fan of Al and his music, so this was a really big deal to me. And in case I need to show off my nerd cred even more, check out these stage-worn boxer shorts I just bought that Al rubbed in someone's face while singing "One More Minute:"

Take care, all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Spice up your love life with these Tick-themed Valentine's Day cards

Back in 2018, Amazon Prime was still in the habit of promoting their Tick streaming series, and in February of that year, they posted several Valentine's Day cards on their various social media channels. I saved 'em all as I saw them, and I feel the need to share them so they don't disappear from the internet completely. So here they are, nestled onto this blog for future generations and archeologists to discover and ask, "hey, who did the art on these?" I have no idea, future people. I wish I did.

Wow, these were pretty great! They could only be made better by some unlikely appearance by the Thing, but what are the chances of th- 

There we go! All of our Valentine's Days are now complete.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Let's take a look at this custom Thing bust by Mark Valentine

I'm always on the lookout for interesting Thing items, and I recently came across a really great one - it's a resin bust of the Fantastic Four strongman that I had never seen before. This guy popped up in my eBay feed with a low starting bid. I decided to take a shot and ended up being the only bidder - I'm sure the seller was disappointed, but I got a great deal and am happy to show it off.

It's an unpainted resin Thing bust with a stand. Check it out!

The bust itself can stand alone and is mightily impressive. The figure work is excellent for what I understand is a custom piece, not officially licensed. I don't consider this to be a bootleg figure since I believe this is a 1/1 item.

The detail work on the rocks is really something. This is better than a number of licensed Thing items.

The base also comes unpainted and is a white resin. It's got a peg at top for the bust to sit on. The base shows off some wreckage from an apparent brawl that went down on Yancy Street.

The street sign is there and is a nice feature.

The back looks like...wait a that...

Okay, here's a strange and kind of unexpected addition - it's the Impossible Man! Or at least his head. Or at least an image of his head. Does this imply that the base is actually the man from Poppup? Is he just hiding out amid the rubble? This was an odd choice, but hey, I'm happy to get another FF character included here.

Another fun surprise is on the bottom of the base, where the original sculptor, Mark Valentine, both signed and drew a great Thing sketch.

I'd love to know more about this unique item - whether this is truly a 1/1 item and why Mr. Valentine made it. It reminds me of one of the '90s-era Thing model kits in size and function. I suppose that this was meant to be painted, but I don't know if I could bring myself to do it. The bust, anyway, strikes an imposing figure as it is. In any case, it makes a fine addition to my Thing collection, and I'll happily put it on display.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

"It's Cobblerin' Time" by Second Sin Brewing

My friend (and yours) Larry often tells me, "for someone who doesn't drink, you sure buy a lot of alcohol." Look, this is true. It's a contradiction to be sure. But Star Trek now makes a licensed Cardassian Kanar and Klingon Blood Wine! The Steelers have made commemorative beer cans for decades! There are several Weird Al-themed IPAs! And now, thanks to the Philadelphia-area Second Sin Brewing, there's a Thing-inspired sour ale named "It's Cobblerin' Time!" So I ask you this - what am I to do? NOT buy these collectable beverages? Nonsense.

I found out about this new drink over the summer (back when I used to actually post to this long-neglected blog), and after a small amount of research, I discovered that the brewery where it is made and canned was not too far away. So I sent off an email to try to see where I might locate the final product and was told that...I'd have to go to the brewery itself. Second Sin is starting off small. But that was okay - I took the drive to just outside of Philadelphia, where not only was I able to purchase a Fantastic four-pack (I couldn't wait any longer to use that), but I was offered a tour of the brewery itself. Naturally, I took the owners up on it. I was greeted as "the Thing guy!", which is a title I am happy to wield.

I spent about a half hour hanging out in the back room brewery, watching the machines pour the beer and seal the cans, and I got to chat with some of the workers about comics and the Thing. I can hang around pretty much anywhere and talk comics, so this was naturally a great time for me. I got to learn a little more about the label's fruity-Thing artwork (a local artist drew it) and about the seasonal Cobblerin' offerings that the brewery cooks up throughout the year.

On the way out, the owners sent me off with the different, seasonal labels...

...and their last Cobblerin' Time glass! I'm really grateful for the time and effort that everyone at Second Sin shared with me on this hot summer day, chatting about the Thing and their new brew. I'm sure Ben Grimm would drink it daily, out of a dirty mug or something.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

"The Illustrated Al" from Z2 comics

All right, I know that I talk about "Weird Al" Yankovic on this blog a lot. You all know that I'm a big fan and as such, I have tried to make and pitch a few Weird Al comics in the past. I mean, there's one tagged at the top of the page here. You get the point. Anyway, it was only a matter of time until someone published a bonafide authorized Weird Al comic, and, through various steps of good fortune, I am going to be contributing to it. Wow!

The Illustrated Al will be published by Z2 Comics in the fall of 2022, and it's going to be produced by some dang comic book luminaries, such as Mike & Laura Allred, Bill Plympton, Peter Bagge, Ryan Dunlavey...and a few of my friends like Craig Rousseau and Kelly Phillips!

There will be a few different versions of the book, including a softcover, a hardcover slipcase, and a super deluxe version with a bunch of extra stuff included, like trading cards and a mini accordion! All of the versions are currently up for pre-order on Z2's website, which you can get to here!

All of the entries will be adaptations of some of Al's songs, hand-picked by the man himself. For my part, I'll be working on the song "Good Old Days," which is absolutely one of my favorite songs of all time. It's a James Taylor-sounding original and it goes to some dark places. Joining me on this story is my friend and frequent collaborator Jeff McComsey.

To say that I'm excited about this project is quite an understatement. In a lot of ways, I feel like this is the biggest project that I've ever been involved with, and I'm really excited to see it move forward. I can't wait to hold it in my hands. Can I share any artwork from my story yet? I don't know! Maybe? Heck, let's throw caution to the wind:

That'll have to suffice for now. I'll post about this again when the book comes out. If you'd like to hear me blab on about this further, I did an interview with Dave & Ethan's 2000" Weird Al Podcast, and you can get some more info there!

Monday, May 30, 2022

Introducing...the McClellafont!

I've spent the past few months trying to shore up some of my comic book lettering skills. I've lettered in some fashion for years at this point, but there are still things at which I'm not really proficient. This is partially because I'm lazy, but also because comic book lettering is, in many ways, Wild West-like in how people approach it. There aren't a lot of definitive resources out there, and a lot of what I've learned has simply been through trial and error. Nate Piekos did us all a great favor in publishing his The Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering late last year, and I used that as a motivator to finally get some answers to questions that I've had for quite a while. If you're interested in lettering for comics, this book is a great resource!

One skill that I never really thought I'd acquire is creating a font from scratch, but I recently came across the video below from Joshua Smeaton, in which shows how he created a font using his own handwriting: 

This was enough for me to start working on a font of my own, and pretty soon I was writing out panagrams - sentences that use every letter in the alphabet. Rather than using a digital tablet or an iPad, I hand-wrote all of the letters so they felt more natural. My handwriting is not what I would call artistic or even all that good, so I tried my best to make everything legible while still maintaining my own style. I used comic book backers for this, so now I have a stack of these bizarre ramblings in my house. If anyone would just stumble upon them...well, I guess I have weirder stuff lying around as well.

The whole process has been long and involved. I scan the letters into Adobe Illustrator, where the program traces them and makes them individual objects. After choosing what I feel are the best letters, I bring the letters into Fontself, an Illustrator extension, where the work gets even more meticulous. Not only am I looking to create a regular, all-caps font that I can use in comics, but the completist in me has put in motion a lowercase version, too, complete with alternate symbols for almost every character. In addition to this, there are bold, italic, and bold-italic versions that many good fonts need, plus symbols and other letters that are more common in Spanish and European countries that I'm trying to incorporate as well.

In all, this has been a ton of work, but the results are, so far, fun and at least somewhat encouraging. The above balloon looks okay, I think, though I'm continuing to tweak things that I think could be better. I figure that I'll be at this particular task for another month or two before I finally put it to rest. But at the end, I'll have a font that is completely my own and not subject to any licenses or agreements, and hopefully one that I find some uses for, too.

I've named this particular creation the McClellafont, which is a bit self-centered of me, of course, but it's mine and I'm owning it. I considered different variations of spelling like "McClellaphont," "McClell-O-font," "McClellephant," and other, worse options, but "McClellafont" is what we're going with for now.

While I'm waiting for the paint to dry on the McClellafont, I went ahead and made a much simpler font using a similar method, based on the keystrokes of my much-ballyhooed 1930s Underwood typewriter.

For this one, I typed up a bunch of text, scanned the letters, *painstakingly* adapted them in Photoshop, and then brought them into Illustrator, where Fontself took care of the spacing and kerning. Manual typewriters have fewer keys than a modern keyboard (mine does not have a key for the number 1; you use a capital I as a substitute), so this one had fewer characters to use.

This font, which I am unimaginatively calling "Underwood 1930s," features a regular and italic version with numbers and all of the symbols that are included on the actual typewriter. The one exception is the exclamation point. If you wanted to exclaim something using this machine, you needed to type a period and then draw in the top line with a pencil or pen. I felt that I couldn't be without one (I get excited sometimes), so I created one using two existing symbols, and the result is what you see above. I made a few tweaks before I was happy with the final version, as seen below:

I can hear the clickety-clack of the keys and the thunk-thunk of the carriage as I read the words! I'm not sure how often I'll use these fonts, but it was interesting to make them and I'm happy I did it. I have plans for maybe one or two more before my font-creating career comes to a close. But maybe you'll see one or both fonts in a published comic book before too long.