Lunch With Ray Comfort

Cedric with Ray Comfort

My wife and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Los Angeles to visit clients and to attend the NCS Reubuens Awards Weekend. We started off the weekend meeting with one of my favorite clients, Ray Comfort (evangelist, author, and co-host of the TV series The Way of the Master with actor Kirk Cameron). We were given a tour of their offices and then Ray took us out to lunch along with some of his staff. They were a terrific bunch!

Ray is a ball of energy with a great sense of humor. He pulled out his wallet and showed us gag photo after gag photo, told us stories about the chickens he’s raising in his back yard (yes, Ray built a chicken coop in a California suburb), and showed us some nifty slight of hand magic. One thing I love about Ray is that he doesn’t let the dust settle. His mind is just brimming over with creative ideas.

For instance, I told him a humorous story about my first visit to LA and he very creatively used it as a springboard for a post on his blog about the Gospel. It’s a funny¬† story (well, funny now…although I didn’t think so at the time) so I thought I’d share the link.

I’ll also clue you in that Ray and I will (hopefully) be working together soon on a really neat project. I can’t say much more than that but if the pieces fall into place I’ll have some fun work to show in a few months.

“Drawing The Line”

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As I mentioned in my last post, this weekend I had the privilege of meeting animator and author Tom Sito. I just wanted to take a moment to plug his book, Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson. You are probably thinking it would be hard to come up with a more boring topic than the history of animation unions. That’s what I thought too. But after the book came out I read so many rave reviews from other animators that I decided to give it a try.

I haven’t finished the book yet but so far I’ve found it to be a great read. It’s full of fascinating stories and anecdotes about the animation biz from the early days onward to the present. Sito takes what could be a very dry topic and breathes life into it by focusing on the human element. He guides you through the history of American animation, stopping along the way to explain the challenges and conflicts that have arisen from time to time and from studio to studio.

It’s a terrific read and I’d encourage you to get a copy. (Full disclosure: Amazon.com will throw a few coins my way if you order after clicking from my blog. If enough of you order copies I’ll be able to afford a few 99 cent apps for my iPhone).

Report From The Hollywood Reuben Awards Weekend

My wife and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Hollywood where we visited a couple of clients, did some vacationing, and attended the 2009 National Catoonists Society Reuben Awards Weekend. I love Los Angeles and this was one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve taken in quite a while. I’ve got a bunch of photos posted over on my Facebook page. Here’s a few of the many highlights:

As always the National Cartoonists Society picked a terrific location to host this year’s Reubens. You could see the Hollywood sign from our hotel and the famous Mann’s Chinese theater was just a block or two down the street.

Cartoonist Steve Moore, creator of "Open Season", talked about how the animated movie came to be.

The Reubens Weekend kicked off with a presentation by cartoonist Steve Moore, creator of the strip In The Bleachers and co-creator of the animated film Open Season. He discussed the path he took from being a cartoonist to pitching ideas in Hollywood. He also shared a lot of valuable advice for anyone who is considering putting together a pitch for a movie or TV series. I took a lot of notes. A few points that stood out to me were:

  • Write what you know.
  • What makes a TV series successful is characters that people can will want to spend time with week after week.
  • In a pitch the most important thing is having a world and characters that are clearly defined and that are truly unique.
  • Have a clear point of view (know the style/tone of your show).
  • Make sure your premise/concept lends itself to not just a few stories but hundreds and hundreds of possible stories.
  • There is no recipe for success, just strong ideas and strong execution.

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Next up was veteran Disney animator/director Eric Goldberg (apologies for the bad photo). Goldberg is most famous for designing and animating Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin. He showed several clips of classic animation and talked about the importance of using clear and expressive poses when drawing a character. The best drawings say a lot with a little, capturing a character’s emotions *and* action in one pose. Goldberg calls it the “Name That Tune” style of animation (“I can name that scene in five drawings, Bob”).

Recently Eric Goldberg released a terrific book on animation called Character Animation Crash Course!. It comes with a CD-ROM containing animated samples from the book for further study. Highly recommended.

Movie poster artist Drew Struzan discussed his work.

Next up was movie poster artist Drew Struzan. You’ve seen his work on movie poster and memorabilia for dozens of classic movies including Back To The Future, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. He showed slides of his work and talked about what it’s like working with Hollywood studios.

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Friday night and Saturday morning everyone enjoyed food near the hotel’s rooftop pool.

Character designer Stephen Silver (www.silvertoons.com) does a sketch for a fan.

Character designer Stephen Silver (Kim Possible) pauses to do a sketch for a fan. Incidentally, Silver teaches an online character design course at Schoolism.com. I took it last year and it was amazing. I probably learned more from his one class than I did in an entire semester of art school.

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On Saturday morning my wife and I strolled up and down Hollywood Blvd to do some sight seeing, and then landed back at the hotel in time for a panel discussion on the future of newspaper comic strips. Several points of view were shared but everyone seemed to agree that the future is in computers and mobile devices (i.e. the iPhone). The only problem is finding a way to monetize online readership. At least two panel members mentioned that newspapers are having a hard time finding a financial model that works on the web, and that selling ad space on a website won’t be enough to keep things running. Still, the tone overall was cautiously optimistic.

Cedric w/Michael Ramirez

The final presentation was given by two-time Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez. I didn’t get a photo of his presentation but he was kind enough to pose for a photo with me before performing with his band at the Sunday night party. Incidentally Ramirez also won a Reuben award this weekend for “Best Editorial Cartoonist”.

Ramirez is not only a terrific draftsman but a master satirist. I bought a copy of his new book, Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion, and enjoyed reading it on the flight home. His work is amazing and I found myself chuckling out loud at several of the cartoons. His cartoons are simple, powerful, and funny, which is a difficult balancing act to achieve. What is most amazing of all is that he often starts each cartoon at 10am after his morning meetings and has it inked, colored, and submitted by 3pm. That’s amazing speed, especially considering the detail in his drawings.

Jennie and I on our way to the Reuben Awards. You can barely see it but the Hollywood sign is between our heads.

The highlight of the weekend was the Reuben Awards on Saturday night. It’s a black-tie event which gives us cartoonists the rare opportunity to dress up and make ourselves presentable. My wife and I posed for a snapshot on our way to the awards dinner. If you squint you can make out the Hollywood sign between our heads.

I had to pretend to be a waiter but eventually they let me in to the banquet.

Mingling outside before the awards begin.

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MAD Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones chats with fellow MAD artist Tom Richmond.

Congrats to cartoonist Dave Coverly (Speed Bump) for winning Cartoonist of the Year. He’s been nominated numerous times and I’m a big fan of his strip so I was delighted to see him win. For a complete list of this year’s winners click here.

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On Sunday my wife and I did some more sight seeing. On Hollywood Boulevard there are a lot of “actors” dressed as famous movie characters. They make their living by allowing you to take a picture with them in exchange for tips. We saw Jack Sparrow, Elmo, and Darth Vader all having lunch at a nearby McDonalds (unfortunately my photos of Elmo and Vader were too blurry to post). The characters are not sanctioned by any movie studio or local businesses. In fact, many locals view them as glorified panhandlers who are contributing to the overall delcine in the environment on Hollywood Blvd.

Incidentally, a few weeks ago I watched a documentary on Hulu.com, Confessions of a Superhero, which examined the lives of four of these “actors”. It was a surprisingly good film.

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Sunday night cartoonist Cathy Guisewite (“Cathy”) graciously hosted about 300 NCS members for an outdoor dinner at her home. There was terrific mexican food and live music. We were given a tour of her home, and as is the tradition after the dinner many people traded drawings in each other’s sketchbooks.

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A Cathy doll demonstrates the process of working on the strip in her studio.

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Cathy set up a table with a large ceramic pot and a miniature piano, and encouraged everyone to doodle on them. Here’s a shot of Bil Keane (Family Circus) doing a sketch while his son and NCS president Jeff Keane looks on.

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MAD Magazine artist Tom Richmond heckles Hallmark artist Dave Mowder while he draws on the piano.

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I contributed a little doodle as well.

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I had a nice chat with animator and author Tom Sito. I’ve been enjoying Tom’s book, Drawing the Line, about the history of the cartoonists unions. It sounds like a dull topic but so many people recommended the book to me that I had to check it out. It’s a fascinating read full of colorful stories and anecdotes about the history of the animation industry. A must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the biz.

Cedric, Cathy Guisewite, and Jennie

On our way out Jennie and I posed with our very gracious host Cathy Guisewite. She threw an incredible party and was extremely generous in allowing all of us into her home.

This year’s Reubens was a rousing success and the organizers deserve a big round of applause for all their hard work. I can’t wait for next year.

Off To Hollywood

Tomorrow morning my wife and I are flying west to spend a few days in the Los Angeles area.

Thursday I’ll be meeting with clients throughout the day, then capping off the evening by dropping in at Priscilla’s Coffee in Burbank for the weekly Sketch Night. I’m really looking forward to that!

Friday through Sunday I’ll be among the hordes of cartoonists descending upon the Renaissaince Hollywood Hotel for the National Cartoonists Society’s 63rd Annual Reuben Awards Weekend. Guest Speakers include cartoonist Steve Moore, Disney animator/director Eric Goldberg, movie poster artist Drew Struzan, Pulitzer-Prize winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez, and a panel discussion on the future of newspapers and comics. The highlight event is of course the Reuben Awards (black tie only) on Saturday night. It’s going to be a lot of fun hanging around with so many talented cartoonists and animators. It’s also going to be very humbling to spend a weekend surrounded by so much incredible talent.

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(Art by Tom Richmond)

My friend and fellow Minneapolis illustrator Tom Richmond once again illustrated caricatures of several of the speakers and nominees (pictured) for the official Reuben’s Weekend t-shirt. Check out his terrific blog here.

On Sunday my wife and I are also planning to spend some time strolling down Hollywood Blvd. and enjoying some much needed time to ourselves. Then on Monday (Memorial Day) we’ll be flying back and spending the rest of the day catching up on time with our kids. It looks like I may have a big pile of work waiting for me when I get back on Tuesday so I’d better enjoy the time off while I can.

Politicards!

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Peter Green is a talented artist who runs a design and marketing firm in Los Angeles. He has a long history of doing work for pretty much every major Hollywood studio in one form or another. I’ve had the privilege of working with Peter on a couple of projects. He and his staff are terrific. Very professional, experienced, and top-drawer.

In 1972 during the Nixon/McGovern Election Peter created “Politicards”, a deck of collectible playing cards with a caricature of a different politician or pundit on the face of each card, illustrated by Peter himself. He has produced 5 different decks since with the most recent in 2008. For you political junkies out there this would be a fun novelty item to keep on hand. You can order both the 2004 and the 2008 cards at the Politicards website.

Monkey Business

gorillaLast summer I was interviewed by magazine editor and cartooning buff John Read for issue #3 of his excellent magazine Stay Tooned! It was a real honor for me, especially considering some of the exceptional talent and “big names” in cartooning that have graced his pages.

I wanted to order several extra copies of the magazine to give to family and friends. John offered to give them to me for free in exchange for an original sketch. He colleects cartoons of gorillas and asked me to doodle up a gorilla (black and white only) reading his magazine. I was delighted to oblige.

The extra issues arrived and then life got crazy, and I’m embarrassed to say it took me several weeks before I was able to do the sketch. Because of the long wait I went one step further and inked it. I’ve been doing all-digital drawings for well over a year now so it felt a little odd to ink something on paper but it came back to me fairly quickly. The drawing went out in today’s mail, and John has given me permission to post it here.

Stay Tooned! really is a terrific magazine for anyone interested in cartooning or cartoon art. Don’t let the fact that a schmuck like me got in the magazine fool you. You can subscribe or order back issues here.