Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

I’ve been reading Garfield comics with my son this week.

He’s too young to really follow the narratives — after every strip he pauses, asks what happened, and then says, slowly and calmly, “Why” — but he’s already very fond of the drawings and characters.

We’ve been reading specifically late-80’s strips, since those are the books we have handy. Honestly, I consider this period the creative zenith of the strip; it’s the sensibility that led directly to the Saturday-morning cartoon, which in my opinion still holds up.

I’d read and loved these particular strips as a kid, but haven’t revisited them much in the many years since. Reading them again now, I came to notice things I had never noticed before.

I posted all about it on Twitter yesterday, and thought I would record my thoughts here, too, for the record.

One thing Garfield doesn’t get enough recognition for is truly bonkers, impressionistic color choices. This sidewalk is pink and yellow. Jon wears purple pants. Every panel is like an Easter basket. (Click any image for a closer look.)

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

On, Twitter, Jim here replied with an observation that the current version of this strip in the Garfield online archive features different coloring:

I find this fascinating — it means that someone, at some point, recolored it.

It makes me curious to know how this strip looked in the paper in ’87. A quick search of instances of the word “corset” in newspapers on September 20, 1987, gives us a clue:

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

This is a low-resolution image from newspaperarchive.com. I can’t see the full image because I don’t have a paid subscription — because back when I did, I didn’t get anything else done.

It’s hard to tell, but it looks like Jon’s shirt is darker than his pants in the newspaper version — which means it’s more likely to have been colored like the version from my 1989 book, rather than the recolored online version.

It’s been noted before by other commentators that the rooms in the Arbuckle house are never any specific consistent color. The switching colors contributes to the ping-pong effect of the rhythm of the dialogue. The final panel here keeps the rhythm going while not being at all logical! Yet it works.

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

I’m being serious: it takes chutzpah to have, as a creative ethos, the theory “it doesn’t matter what color anything is, as long as it’s from the Cadbury brand palette.”

Below: is the house purple or yellow? Yes. Is the entryway green or pink (compared to the mailman strip above)? Yes.

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

The ping-pong walls don’t appear when color is an important part of some other part of the strip. The static choices are still zany, though: yellow floors, pink baseboards:

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

(Side note: I need more of Gwen, stat.)

Here’s this Gwen strip from above as it appears now on GoComics. The colors are different, but decisions are still being made to make them as bold as possible.

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

The green of Gwen’s outfit, as seen here, can only exist online — which is to say, in RGB colorspace.

The gray in this graphic shows all the out-of-print-gamut colors (colors that wouldn’t be available on a standard printing press):

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

This is that strip converted to print-safe CMYK color, meaning, a version that would print just fine:

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

It still looks just as interesting, and is actually less abrasive to the eye.

Yet, someone at PAWS HQ (or somewhere) is deliberately coloring Garfield strips with super-bright colors such as R122 G255 B0:

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

It’s just one of the many enormously bright colors in the comic — a color that won’t translate into print, and is much brighter than I think most people would choose to use for any sort of illustration (comics or anything else).

All the online Garfs from this era use these ultra-bright colors:

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

If you know the Garfield archive colorist, please buy them a drink. They probably need it.

Interestingly, newer comics don’t share this palette! It appears to be only the archives.

There seems to be a shift in style around the year 2000. The 1999 comics are all as bright as the above. The 2001 comics all look pretty “normal,” with a lot more prevalence of muted, darker, and/or desaturated colors.

2000 is a bit of a transitional year in the archive. The start of 2000 looks a lot like the archives, but by the end of 2000, things are looking more like the future. (Though there is still no consistency from comic to comic about the color of, say, Jon’s phone.)

This timeframe coincides roughly to the era when digital coloring began to become the norm, and cartoonists were beginning to submit daily strips already pre-colored to their syndicates (rather than letting individual papers color them via manual means).

So it’s more likely that color versions were already complete and backed up from that point forward, whereas the older black & white comics likely had to be colored from scratch (or recolored, in the case of Sundays) if they wanted to present an entire archive that was in color.

Back to the 1989 book: this dog is one of the very few white (uncolored) things in the whole book.

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

Note how the concrete is brown, though — a weird choice.

I suspect the entire book was colored from B&W art separately from how they appeared in papers. The whole book is probably colored from the same 20 swatches.

The notion that a strip might have been colored differently from paper to paper opens up a whole new world of imagination:

For the online version, they fixed the color of the cement in the dog strip, but made some other, very curious, choices, such as a profusion of bright pinks:

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

Preliminary research suggests that the version of the strip that ran in (at least some) papers was probably closer to the book version. Note how dark the cement looks, even in this preview:

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

(I found this page in the archive by assuming, correctly it seems, that it would be one of the only places the word “sucker” would appear in most newspapers on October 4, 1987.)

The part of all this that fascinates me the most is that, when the decision was made to color the comics for the online archive, someone seems to have considered — and then answered in the negative! — the question of whether or not to look back at the previous versions for reference.

One thing I never specifically noticed until now is that the little Garfield books collect the longer Sunday strips, complete with the first two “throwaway” panels.

They’re not colored at all, and you can see how they suffer visually compared to the strips intended to print as B&W (full of spot blacks & halftones):

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

The color book, however, which is a collection of all Sunday strips, omits the throwaway panels of all the strips — when you’d think that a book would want to present the complete material, not truncated versions.

This is curious to me, because it implies a priority other than presenting absolutely every bit of the content.

My big takeaway from all this for cartoonists is that your work doesn’t necessarily have to have an “official, canonical” version. The same work can be presented in different ways depending on the context.

I suspect that newspaper cartoonists who knew that 1/3 of their strip might get lopped off, or the panels reshuffled, from paper to paper may have a more inherent understanding of the work itself as being modular.

One final observation here is that perhaps I have been far too conservative in coloring Wondermark, when I have made color versions of the strips for my own books.

Here is comic #378 as it appeared in a book, colored by Philip Obermarck, which is lovely — but here is ALSO a proposed version that I did not publish (submitted by Erica Franzmann):

On the bonkers color palette of Garfield comics

This could be a whole new horizon for Wondermark!

I have a Pepper Tree Problem.

In my back yard, there used to be a giant tree.

It was a Brazilian pepper tree, about thirty feet tall, with a trunk you couldn’t fit your arms around and a canopy that shaded the entire yard.

Branches had even grown around and encased the telephone wire that ran past the house.

Its roots were giant. They could be seen snaking throughout the entire yard, crowning and diving like loops of the Loch Ness Monster in a field that the tree’s immense shade had rendered brown and barren.

Their growth was even starting to crack and buckle the concrete foundation of the garage from underneath.

The tree had stood there for a decade or more, tolerated by the house’s previous residents.

When we moved in, the tree was the first thing to go. Three guys with chainsaws spent three days chopping it up, grinding its stump, and pulling out a few other baby pepper trees (“only” 6 feet tall) growing elsewhere on the property.

We were warned by the arborist that it was an invasive species, and that we would likely see the remaining roots still in the ground try to regenerate little shoots (“suckers”).

His words proved prophetic. A week after the tree was cut down, I found one little red-leafed bundle of nothing, poking its head through the dust in the middle of the yard…

I have a Pepper Tree Problem.

I sprayed it with herbicide and watched its little fronds shrivel.

The following week, there were two new suckers. I sprayed them as well.

Two weeks later, seven more had popped up, and they too got the spray.

Pretty soon I had to stop keeping count.

When the herbicide ran out, I decided to dig some of the roots instead, to pull out the things actually sending the suckers to the surface.

I knew there were a million root structures buried in the earth, and I’d never be able to get them all. But just grabbing the ones that came up easily would be a start.

Here’s one little sucker and the root he rode in on. Pretty big root for just a little guy.

I have a Pepper Tree Problem.

That root connected to another, which connected to another, which forked off to another, which crossed paths with another, until finally, just in the extraction of that one little jerk, I’d pulled up the ground six feet on either side of the original spot where the sucker had arisen.

Some of the roots were as thick as baseball bats.

I have a Pepper Tree Problem.

The suckers look so innocuous on the surface, lush and excited to be here, ready to join the big wide biosphere.

I have a Pepper Tree Problem.

Below, you can see one that looks pretty small on the surface, but that quickly revealed itself to be part of a gigantic root structure — in fact, the very root that had snaked underneath the garage and cracked the concrete pad!

I have a Pepper Tree Problem.

I have a Pepper Tree Problem.

After hours of excavating around this giant root blob — all revealed thanks to the tiny clutch of sky-seeking stems pictured above — the best we could do was chop up what we could see, apply herbicide to the cut ends, and fill in the hole again.

I have a Pepper Tree Problem.

There is a metaphor here, I’m sure.

Maybe it’s something about not being able to judge people from what they reveal on the surface — sometimes they are connected to other things, other people and parts of life, in ways you can’t perceive. You never know who knows whom, that sort of thing.

It also brings to mind my conversation with the makers of counterinsurgency-themed board games. These war games attempt to simulate combat between the traditional military and insurgent or guerrilla forces, which can strike from hidden positions and then melt back into society. Terrorist cells are surely connected in ways that these roots are dramatizing.

Perhaps the roots can teach a lesson about patience — by which I mean, although there are more suckers every day, the more I tear out huge swaths of roots, surely the fewer roots remain in the ground. Isolated root segments might be sending up gasping shoots en masse because, various chunks having been removed by me, they can no longer draw nutrients from the entire network. A huge show of suckers, then, may be a death bloom.

All I know is that I walked through the yard yesterday and counted TWENTY-FIVE tiny new sprouts.

Please. Send help.

Teaching My Boy the Family Business

Teaching My Boy the Family Business

To those I often see in the Bay Area around this time of year, I’ll be missing Maker Faire this time around. I’ll be staying home with my little dude, who cannot fend for himself and must have everything done for him.

I grew up in a family business. I was raised behind the counter of a store; I was stocking shelves by the time I could stand; I was making change by the time I could count.

Most of my childhood, I was surrounded by adults doing work. I think it taught me a lot.

I bristle somewhat when I hear people say “don’t define yourself by your work,” because I like my work, and I think I occasionally do good work, work that feels like an authentic expression of something I care about. And I do not feel entitled to any sort of success without doing work, so I feel like work must be worth something.

Work must be important, otherwise I would just do no work and wait to be successful, and that math doesn’t compute, to me, based on my mindset or my lived experience.

So when my own son was on his way, I pictured myself perkily doing my regular work with him hanging off the front of me in one of those little carriers, cheerily observing and absorbing everything in order to become a creative person of his own one day.

It has not gone quite that way. It may still, but not yet.

Teaching My Boy the Family Business

He’s here, now, and I don’t know whether he’ll be a creative person, or an entrepreneur, or not; he’s got plenty of time to figure out what those words even mean, much less what to do with his life.

The first thing people ask when they see him is “Are you sleeping at all?” Like it’s a big in-joke that babies will wake you up in the night. Yes, thank you, I’m sleeping. (In little two-hour bites, but yes.)

Our boy is six weeks old — or just one week and change if you correct for his premature arrival — and as of yet he’s basically a houseplant. He stays where you put him, wiggling around like he’s imitating a skydiver. He doesn’t yet understand “objects” or “interaction” or “operating his limbs purposefully” or “responding to anything”. He lives in a world all his own, population one.

We’re also packing up our life to move to a new house, quite unexpectedly as it turns out…and we’ve got a sick kitty who requires a lot of attention…and projects and tasks are stacking up at work. I’ve been trying to wrap up a bunch of complicated projects that I started months ago KNOWING academically that they were going to be impossible to maintain once the baby arrived, but not quite anticipating just how fast the days would slip by, just how hard it would be to accomplish basic tasks in this state of mind.

This will be old news to many (you parents out there) and of little interest to others, I imagine. Remarking on the capital-C Change that the arrival of a child brings to one’s life is so mundane an observation as to be a dull cliché.

I think because of that, I figured it would be different for us, somehow. We would be smarter; we would figure it out.

And we have, so far — but we have withstood it, not bested it, which I understand one never quite does.

I’m grateful that I have the flexibility to stay home with my wife and the kitty and the baby, for a little while at least, and I will beg your forgiveness for the occasional lapse here on the site. This is my conduit to you, and I want to keep it alive, so I will try my best.

I want to make more fun things for you to take home, but I don’t want to shill products more than I provide new comics. People email me every day offering to cram my site full of terrible ads, and I turn all of them down, or ignore them entirely, because that feels gross to me, and disrespectful to you.

I will get back to work soon enough, I hope, with the baby hanging off of me or not. I will imagine myself teaching him all sorts of important things about Business and The World and Adultness, when in reality he will probably be teaching me things. Already, at his knee I have learned much about the subject of Wiggles, and we are working now on a new effort called Groans-And-Moans.

He is issuing creative product of his own, daily, but so far it kind of stinks, and I throw it away in a special can.

Teaching My Boy the Family Business

I need to become okay with not doing as much work, at least for a bit. But this is also my job, and I have to do some work, or else I don’t have a job.

The solution, of course, is obvious, as my own parents knew: child labor. Work hard, little one, and learn fast. Someday, this will all be yours.

RIP: Richard Thompson, creator of “Cul de Sac”

A few years ago, I wrote a recommendation of the strip “Cul de Sac,” by Richard Thompson, a gentleman I had the privilege of meeting several times. I wrote:

The characters are eccentric in ways that continually delight and surprise. I read individual strips in bits and pieces (here’s the strip’s official online home), but it wasn’t until I sat down with the full books in-hand that Alice, Petey, and their parents and friends took on strange and hilarious personalities. The language is clever and specific; the drawings are weird and delightful…

In 2012, Richard retired from drawing “Cul de Sac”, following the worsening of his Parkinson’s disease. To aid in a fundraising effort for Parkinson’s research, I and many of my cartooning colleagues contributed original art to a book called Team Cul de SacThe next time I saw Richard was in my buddy Dave Kellett’s cartooning documentary Stripped.

This week, Richard passed away from complications from Parkinson’s. He was 58 years old.

Here’s a video that shares a little bit of what made Richard’s art — and his life, and his personality — so marvelous:

I hope everyone takes the time to read some “Cul de Sac”, or his editorial strip, “Richard’s Poor Almanac”. Richard was a phenomenal talent, a cartoonist’s cartoonist whose work overflowed with wit and exuberance, and I hope his voice will endure to inspire generations of artists in the way it has me.

He was also a kind, generous, gentle man whose acquaintance I was supremely honored to have made:

Miss you, Richard.

To David, the genius behind Wondermark, with admiration from your fan —
Richard Thompson, SPX 2010

He did not have to be so kind, but he chose to be. I will always be grateful that I met him, that I got the chance to experience his work, and that I could be a tiny, tiny part of his life.

We will miss you, Richard.

Wondermark is now on GoComics!

Go Go Wondermark Comics

I’m pleased to announce that starting this week, Wondermark will be running three times a week at GoComics.com, online home of a bajillion newspaper and newspaper-style comic strips.

Nothing will change here — I’ll still be posting new content like usual. The GoComics version of Wondermark will be a TIME MACHINE, starting with the very first Wondermark strip (originally published on this website back in 2003) and marching forward at a steady pace from there, slightly faster than real time.

I think whis will be interesting for several reasons!

Firstly, there is a decent amount of topical humor buried in the ol’ archive that might end up unearthed and reheated. It’s one thing to read, say, a MySpace joke in a book collection, or on an archive page on a site, where its original context is clear. (In my books, I include a “Topical Reference Explanatory Index” as an aid to any reader from a future beyond our own.)

I recognize, though, that that hypothetical MySpace comic may read differently to someone encountering that strip as a “new” post on GoComics! MY GENIUS SOLUTION FOR THIS PROBLEM IS: Not to actually worry about it, or alternately, to find it hilarious.

Secondly, and maybe more interestingly, I made the earliest Wondermark comics OVER THIRTEEN YEARS AGO. I was much younger then, and maybe not as good a writer (opinions differ), and definitely not as experienced a visual designer.

I don’t mind the material being rough-edged in its youth — that’s part of the charm, after all — but I am enough of a nitpicky perfectionist to want to spend a couple minutes brushing off the dustiest bits and straightening a lapel or two.

The most obvious of these little touch-ups is fixing lettering errors:

I have GOT to stop redoing decades-old work

In this panel from Wondermark’s second episode ever, the original version (at left) has the word balloon cutting off the nightstick for no reason, and it also uses the wrong “I”. (In comic lettering, the pronoun “I” should be rendered with crossbars; other instances of the capital letter I are not.)

I didn’t get that right in all the early comics, and while I don’t know that I’ll go back and obsessively fix everything that strikes my now-wizened eyes as wrong, I did feel compelled to spit-shine at least the first handful of strips. You can see in this one that I also added a suggestion of a shadow/horizon, and increased the contrast a bit for a sharper, more handsome image. I also went on to give the character an elaborate backstory that no one will ever know but me, and I’m quite satisfied to have done so.

What’s dumb, though, is that I already re-lettered that strip, in 2005, for my very first book The Annotated Wondermark (now out of print). My very first (2003) versions of the first hundred strips or so were done at web resolution, using Comic Sans. I know!!!

In order to be able to make that book, I had to go back and recreate all those comics from scratch, using new higher-resolution scans and a better typeface. But looking back now, a decade later, I notice how in some of the cobwebby corners where no one ever looks, the workmanship is a B+ job.

I tried my best, but then I got better than that.

The first comics I made are very unsophisticated. I made the first twenty in an afternoon, just trying to feel out the format. All through the first couple of years, I would just write anything, because why not, nobody was reading anyway.

But now, in looking back at the earliest comics with the realization that, for some people, those early strips will be their first exposure at all to Wondermark, I found myself reliving a little of the silliness and glee with which I first began banging images against each other to see what kinds of sounds they made.

For this new venture, I am allowing myself the luxury of editing dialogue that I find just too cringeworthy to stand behind anymore: for example, episode one’s “genital warts” has become, on GoComics at least, “private pox”, which may not be much of an improvement but does at least represent taking a half second to consider the tone I prefer the strip to take as a whole.

I also replaced dialogue in episode four (appearing on GoComics on Monday) that related to a private in-joke I no longer recall the meaning of, which didn’t make sense to anyone then, hasn’t made sense to anyone over the last 13 years, and wouldn’t make sense to a new reader now. There’s all kinds of weird little wrinkles like that in the archive — I can tease out little references to jobs I had at the time, or people that I no longer know; and I also sigh, just a bit, reading snark that a younger version of me wrote and published, snide takes hot off a 22-year-old dome that don’t hold up under much scrutiny.

It’s hard for me not to fixate on wanting to go back and perfect everything. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with revisiting one’s work in this way — the eternal question of George Lucas aside — but I do think falling into the well of doing so can become a time sink, in return for not much added value.

It’s fine to think your early stuff isn’t that great, because how else can you be sure you’ve grown since then? There are some jokes in the early years (and in the middle years, and in the later years) that I wouldn’t make again today.

But there were also others that leveled me up, unlocked things in the development of my voice, conceptual islands that couldn’t have been arrived at without laying stepping stones down first. Whatever else I may have managed over 1200+ episodes, I’ve tried to avoid letting it get too easy.

I think it’ll be fun to replay that evolution again, this time at 150% speed with perhaps a few of the worst clunkers chiseled off, as a new set of people watches it start from something coarse and refine into something with a distinct sensibility. I might even be able to tell what folks end up thinking about it, because unlike the comic entries on this site, GoComics has a comment section. Which, full disclosure, I have seen get cuckoo bananas on some other strips.

If you’d like to stroll down Wondermark Lane with me and the cuckoo-bananas crew, check out gocomics.com/wondermark, where we’ll be posting classic episodes from the vault every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the sun burns out and abandons us all to a lonely, shivering doom. Or until I run out of material! Whichever comes first.