Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lackadaisy Volume 1 Review

Now I'm not exactly much of a critic, and the only reviews I've ever written were to get my brains organized enough to pass a school exam. But ignorance never stopped me before, so why start worrying now?
Besides, a book this exceptional is a rare thing to come across. Its unparalleled execution quietly but unavoidably demands notice:

Lackadaisy Volume 1, by Tracy Butler.

The premise seems simple enough at first glance; a prohibition-era gangster story, with a cast comprised of cartoon cats. For the uninitiated, this may not be enough to draw them in for a closer look... But passing this story by would be a regrettable mistake.

A quick flip through it's pages, and anyone with an iota of appreciation for animation will be hooked by the art alone. The stylization is a work of beauty: simplified, dynamic shapes are imbued with magnificent dimensionality and detail, bringing the characters to life with magnetic appeal. We get the best of both worlds: the vibrant expressive attitude of well done cartooning, combined with the weight and tangibility of naturalistic art. The result of this potent brew gifts us with alluring, marvelously emotive characters who interface seamlessly with the detailed settings gilding the pages. The carefully drafted props (Including the featured arsenal items) are convincing enough to inspire concern for the safety of the cast as they gallivant through the story.

And what a cast! Every character is powerfully individual, resulting in a well - balanced mix of disparate three dimensional personalities. No two are alike, from the slick-talking mischief factory Rocky, to the shy-yet-explosively-psychotic Freckle, the brooding brutish Viktor, the coldly calculating Mordecai, the perky Ivy Pepper - the list goes on. When an author takes the time to breathe life into their characters, to fully and truly understand who they are and what drives their actions, it shows. And it makes for one hell of a good read.
In addition to a brightly balanced character ensemble, the dialogue itself sparkles. There's enough wit on display to fill any ten normal books, with memorably distinctive lines popping up non-stop throughout the story. Not only are the lines well - crafted and impactful, but they possess the enviable trait of perfectly suiting the personality of the speaker, every time. Not a single syllable feels contrived or artificial. It almost seems as though there isn’t an author working here at all - everything is coming straight from the characters hearts, every step of the way.
Despite the fact that the characters are clearly in the driver’s seat, the plot moves forward at a good clip, developing into a captivating account of a struggling speakeasy marked for death by it’s competitors. As if all of this weren’t enough, the book is imbued with assiduous attention to historic accuracy and detail, in everything from the costuming to the culture to the props and architecture. One could arguably market this book to schools on the pretense of exposing students to American history. Whether or not it would be a valid replacement for a textbook is debatable, but one thing is certain; The kids would read it.

Not just kids, either - in fact, any particularly finicky parents out there may want to consider reviewing this book themselves before allowing it into the bubble, as it has a ‘teen & up’ rating. Although this book would appeal to a younger audience, it presents a gratifying read for anyone, from teen to adult, providing they’re not too self conscious to be seen reading a graphic novel.

If I’ve managed to spark an interest in Lackadaisy, you can read the pages for free on the website -

But I’d strongly advise ordering a copy to own - aside from being beautifully manufactured, the volume is loaded with extras - illustrations, concept work, bonus comics, even art tutorials.

In closing, and considering its subject matter, I’d have to compare Lackadaisy to a shot of high grade liquor... You’ll want to take your time and really enjoy yourself, because you’ve just found one of the finer things in life. Its carefully crafted art style has been brewed to a fine maturity, and culminates in a beautiful amber richness. The reading experience is something to savor - distinguished, yet filled to the brim with scintillating pizzazz and punch. The aftertaste lingers satisfactorily, leaving a patina of nostalgia, and the sense of having visited a time long past, and of having been welcome there. So the next time you need a good yarn, crack open the covers of Lackadaisy - and enjoy the mayhem.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

V3 Sneak Peak 2: Drawing Monsters

At long last, I'm tackling the next edition of Dreamkeepers in earnest... And let me tell you, it feels good. I've been away from my cartoon crack for far, far too long.

Now pencils are really rolling forward on Chapter 7 - I've just finished drawing the first scene of the story, which ran about 6 pages. The opening involves monsters - lots and lots of monsters. Big, small, pointy, flabby, grim, goofy, humanoid, animalistic, hideous - I was really trying to convey a wide range of morphology. The goal is to distinguish each beast as being it's own individual, as possessing particular physical features. Who needs more monotonous orc armies? It's been done to death, and I want to have unlimited options and deformities available to me when creating beasts.

I have such a good time drawing creepies... It really reminds me of my artistic roots, my first major project when I was four or five. Up until then, I was just doodling whatever came to mind, without much real direction... And then I saw “The Real Ghostbusters“.

I was enamored with the cartoon immediately, and rather than draw Venkman or Egon (ever) I scrawled page upon page of monsters and ghouls. No scrap of paper was safe - junk mail was promptly flipped and transformed into a canvas of horrors.
Not only was I fascinated with illustrating creatures at a tender age, but I was also led closer to the spectrum of publishing... With the help of my Mom, my irregular stack of monster drawings was bound with twine between crayoned cardboard covers, and there was my very first book.

It sucked - the drawings were pretty terrible. I doubt I could have gotten it published. Plus the obvious copyright issues. 'Ghostbusters, by David Lillie age 5' - Hello, lawsuit. Heh - actually, I would love to read a news story about a company suing a toddler for copyright infringement.

As I sit here drawing monsters and making books, and look back on myself age 5, drawing monsters and making books, it does stir the thoughts a bit:

Do we really change that much, essentially, from who we are at birth?

Is it possible that we really do have pre-determined paths?

And, most importantly - why in the hell did I blow all that money I didn't have going to college? Absolutely the stupidest decision of my entire life... But that's a whole other blog.

Here are some sample pics and sketches:

Now I'm starting pencils on the next scene, but I'm taking a break to get a few web pages on the Dreamkeepers site revised. The old 'Graphic novel' page is so sad, it makes weathered steely-eyed assassins cry when they see it. Must reduce the suck.

Also, check back here soon - I'll be posting my review for Tracy Butler's new book release 'Lackadaisy Volume 1'. It's worth reading! The book, I mean. My review's okay, but you could probably miss it and live to see another day.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Progress Posterity

Six articles later, and I think I've exhausted my supply of hot air. With nothing left to fuel pontification, it's time to get back to work. I'm finally poised to begin serious production on 'Volume 3' of the Dreamkeepers series! Cue applause.

But considering 'Volume 2' released just about a year ago, it may be natural to wonder... What exactly have I been up to in the interim? (Besides penning reactionary megalomaniacal articles about the funnies.)

Well if you're curious, I'll lay it out below. But considering my resolute personal need to make headway, this catalogue is as much to bolster my own sanity as anything else. Enjoy!

* Volume 2 came back from the printers in April of 2008 - Liz and I spent the next solid month hand-burning custom paper sleeves, signing & numbering books with custom sketches included, and packaging them for trips to the local post office. By the middle of the second month, we'd officially earned the 'Oh God not them again' look from the mail clerks.

After mailing out all the pre-orders, I had two basic tasks on my mind: Make the website no longer suck, and start Volume 3!

* Liz and I finalized the story for Volume 3, and went through script drafts for Chapter 7. Meanwhile, I realized that technology is my enemy.
* After failing spectacularly to learn PHP on my own, I was fortunate to receive lessons from the talented Ed Mason - bringing my competence level from 'I like Trix' to 'So that's the code viewer!' This transition took some time, and superhuman teaching ability.
* Scripting completed, I drafted page thumbnails for Chapter 7, which Liz and I reviewed and revised together. By this time, things were going along well, so it was necessary to get distracted.
* Suddenly realizing I wanted to make something out of leather (sniff sniff - maaanly!) I opted to create a really, really unnecessarily cool prints binder for the Anthrocon - along with a few new art prints to add a little life to the old lineup. I sacrificed a coat, and spent a couple of weeks with an exacto knife and a hot glue gun.
* After the Anthrocon in July, Liz and I started getting ready for our wedding. This involved a lot of me being on my best behavior, so that she wouldn't have second thoughts until it was too late... Mission accomplished.
* Our wedding was absolutely fantastic - the best I've ever had!
* After the wedding, I finalized some more website pages, and celebrated by opening commissions in August, with what I confidently believed to be prohibitive prices.
* Woops.
* My original intent was to crank out the commissions at a nice brisk rate - but I'd keep stopping and saying, 'Oh, well, this is a really neat idea - I have to take a little more time with it.' On every one.
* In October, I took a quick break from commissions to create the web page and prizes for the annual Halloween fanart contest. That was exceptionally fun in every dimension, and a lot of really cool work came in. But, curiously, I had more commissions pending in early November than I'd had back in October. People were still ordering more.
* After Midwest Furfest in mid NO!-vember, I finally had to close commissions. I was swamped. Initially expecting like ten or twenty orders back in August, I think the final came to over 50 - and most of them were 'full background' commissions, to boot! I now realize a great truth; Most of the world is not as cheap as me.
* Commissions kept me occupied through the winter, and early spring. It was a lot of fun creating them, and I had the privilege of working with some original and interesting material. But I was increasingly getting twitchy about the standstill on Volume 3 and the website.
* In late February, with commissions nearly done, Liz and I took some time off to finally go on our honeymoon. To Disneyworld! Turns out I like Disneyworld. It’s even better than Ohio. Who knew?
* Returning in March, we completed and mailed the last commissions - and just in time for tax season!
* By this point, the old war-horse (My computer) was having some trouble. Enduring years of (looking back, increasingly pointless) college projects, my year of freelance and CG animation, and two high-res graphic novel projects, the half-decade-old thing was about as twitchy as a tegu on taurine. We backed up our files, re-organized things into some semblance of order, and finally replaced the workstation.
* Capping April, we attended the Furry Connection North, and I spent this last week assassinating the surviving stragglers on my 'to-do' list.

Annnd, that less-than fascinating catalogue brings us roughly up to present! Also dispersed within the above timeframe, I was busy researching marketing options and writing articles, drafting a specific business plan to pull Vivid into a profitable range of production, creating video tutorials for local library presentations (and YouTube), drafting a new look for the Vivid Publishing website (which mainly serves as a placeholder until I earn more capital), keeping up with Prelude every week, filling orders and ordering small-runs of the graphic novels, and solidifying our Dreamkeeper backstories and character arcs into a writing bible with a consistent timeline, which resulted in improving and polishing some parts of the story.

So although visible progress is nil, a lot of necessary foundation has been laid; both on the creative and business side. At least, it's consoling to entertain that notion.

Now my plate is cleared, and I need to focus on the two linchpins of my future; Volume 3, the revenue from which will launch Vivid at a professional scale, and completing the website, the hub for all my planned marketing efforts. For those who've been waiting patiently on the next book, thanks for sticking with me! Next blog update, I'll have some Sneak Peaks at the new work being done on Chapter 7... Meaning pictures. Meaning more fun than what you just read.