Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Unsolicited Advice!

...Always the most fun to give. Although it's not entirely unsolicited - I was recently asked by a young reader to share advice about art careers and life in general. Asked for my two cent's worth, I then proceeded to commence a pennies-and-assorted-change bombardment on a massive scale. It's mainly common sense, but as that's frequently in short supply and never provided by our education system, I thought I'd post my 'I'm-getting-old-can-you-tell' ramblings here. Enjoy!

What advice would you give someone who was looking to go into the art field, or really any type of career?
Most of my classmates in art college were there because they loved to watch cartoons and play video games. So when their high school guidance counselor asked them, 'What do you love to do? That should be your career!' They said, 'Oh, cartoons and video games - I should be an artist!'
Wrong. If they had spare time, odds are they'd be watching TV - not drawing. Loving to watch TV is not the same as loving to sit and work on drawings for hours. This seems obvious, but so many kids fail to make that basic distinction. It's like if someone loved to swim in pools - and then made the mistake of thinking they must also love to install chlorination hardware. Except one could likely get a job working with pool equipment if they were even moderately bright and a little motivated.
But a career in art, especially in non-commercial independent art, involves passionate commitment and grueling work. If the person doesn't love that work, they'll be very disappointed as soon as they realize fame is not imminent.

Here's how to choose your direction in life:

(1) Become Good At Doing Things.

What do you enjoy *doing*? This should be an actual activity, one that involves work, effort, and personal satisfaction. If you don't know what you like to do just yet, that's okay - but be doing SOMETHING.
You may learn what you like by finding what you don't like. I did professional studio animation and freelance art for a year after college, and utterly hated it. But I was still doing something - and it's essential to get in the habit of targeting and accomplishing goals, of being active, and of striving to do your best. Just as long as you are in fact doing something.
Learn to be effective. Even if you're working at McDonald's, then kick ass at burger flipping.

(2) Know What You Want.

This actually comes second, after learning to do things. A lot of people know what they want in life - big houses, leisure, respect. But if they aren't good at doing things, they'll never get what they want, so what they want doesn't really matter.
Once you're good at doing things, then you're mobile, you can take action, you can take yourself places. And THEN it's important to decide where you're going. If you're in the habit of doing things, you'll have a good chance of knowing what you enjoy and are good at doing. If not, then you at least have some basic interests - everyone does. Research and pursue your interests with vigor so you will learn, within that arena, what precisely you would like to do.
Think about what you want your life to be like - but be realistic, visualizing unicorns and golden mansions never made a lazy man rich. But with an informed picture of the world, think about what kind of life you would like to live - what ideals would you embody, what work would you enjoy, how would you change things for the better, how would you feed yourself, how much do you want to earn, and how can you be worth it? Once you get a clear realistic vision of what you want in your life, and you're in the habit of doing things, you can start doing things in the direction you want to go.
One note, though - you spend nearly your entire life on the road, not at the destination. So make sure that not only do you want the destination, but you want and will appreciate the road you're taking.

(3) Strive. Fail. Learn. Strive. Fail. Learn. Repeat.

Being relentless is essential. Far more important than talent is persistence. Everyone fails, unless they're taking easy street, which generally goes nowhere. So don't be discouraged by setbacks. Get used to failure - it's not a bad thing. As long as you learn from it, and don't let it permanently demoralize you. Life is hard and painful - you'll need to build up your willpower to get through it. So when you get knocked down, get back up again, and keep at it. For as long as it takes.

(4) Be Happy.

Like I said, life is mostly working towards your goal, not getting it. So learn to enjoy your work and yourself, and even learn to enjoy tackling problems the best you can. Generally speaking, most people will have a pre-set level of misery in their daily life. Even if things are going okay, they will still find something to be unhappy with, because they've subconsciously selected their level of happiness.
Happiness does not come when problems are gone, or with success, or from a spouse, or approval, or from anything else. You will never find happiness. You have to learn to create it, and then you'll have it by your side to help you weather the storms.

And that's about it for advice - that, and read. People smarter than you and I have written books, and we can benefit a lot by taking advantage of that fact.

...I would consider turning the above content into a book all it's own, but I think I'd be violating the copyright on Brian Griffin's "Wish It, Want It, Do It."

Thursday, May 19, 2011


For the first time ever, Dreamkeepers has official T-shirts! Swing by our site to check out the dozens of designs: http://www.dreamkeeperscomic.com/storeShirts.htm

Though originally I was planning on designing very promotion-oriented shirts, when I finally sat down to draw, none of those designs struck me as fun. Who wants to walk around with a giant web-address pasted across their chest? All that invites is dangerous finger-poking from those who misunderstand reality. Instead, I tried to create shirts that would actually be fun to wear around. The designs are bold and colorful, but don't utterly dominate the entire outfit - just enough to add a touch of animation-reminiscent flair. If you look through our selection, I hope you can find a design that fits your tastes. And, actually, our shirts are customizable.
If you visit our Printfection store http://www.printfection.com/Dreamkeepers
you can choose from 32 shirt colors to customize your design choice. And if you'd like our designs on a black or white shirt, we also print through IndyPlanet.

We've been wanting to have shirts available for years, so it's nice to finally have everything set up. 8 D

One note: We will NOT be stocking shirts at conventions since it’s tricky trying to guess which sizes people may want, and we don’t have the space to cover our table with every shirt design and size, so if you’re interested these are available exclusively online.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dreamkeepers - the show?

While drawing our cleanup animation the other month, I felt like working to a DVD. I was in the mood for something specific, but couldn't quite put my finger on the title. It was a cartoon, something animated. It was kinda creepy and spooky, but had a lot of adventure and fun. It was dark, violent, but colorful and vivid, and - Ah, shit.

I wanted to watch Dreamkeepers -which doesn't exist as a show. Fail.

...So I animated faster.

I'm not alone in pining for animated DK entertainment. It's a question we're asked frequently: "Will Dreamkeepers ever be a game or a show?" Something tells me that a blitzkrieg ad campaign featuring our sparkly, fully animated commercial isn't going to make this question quietly fade away.

So I suppose I'd better answer it! Will Dreamkeepers ever be a show?

Obviously Liz and I, even empowered by the Association of 7 (not a numerically accurate title), can't single-handedly animate an entire Dreamkeepers series. That would require far more cocaine than I'm willing to take. For the foreseeable future, our focus is solely on publishing the best comics we can possibly create. So your short answer is:


-Incoherent grumbles-

*Door slam*

*Fading footsteps punctuated by disturbing giggles*

*Nonsensical Twitter posting*

*Prelude Update*

But that doesn't mean the idea of a DK show has never been considered over here - far from it! Read on for links to past DK animations, a discussion of our first offer regarding a DK show (it was preliminary but yes, there was one), and our attitudes toward future possibilities and selling out while smoking cigars and wearing monocles. (Monocles - I am for them.)

Traveling back through the murk of time to the origins of DK, I was actually developing it in my college days as a television pitch. Back in 2004, the entire idea was to have a spectacular, genre-smashing cartoon series, to make the kind of show that kids would love, and adults would have to pretend not to. I even went so far as to animate the pitch. It's now online and publicly viewable for the first time ever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdEkf08rRZ0

I poured everything I had into making something awesome and distinctive - I researched dream lore dating back to Mesopotamia, spent a summer drafting animation-friendly character designs and personalities, constructed story arcs and possible pilot episode ideas, developed and incorporated ideas from my previous projects (more blogs on that in the future), looked up information about pitching television shows and how the industry worked, and sought out a visiting artist with experience pitching concepts in the biz.
What I learned from him was eye-opening. Although I don't remember the precise wording, our exchange might have gone a little something like this:

"Gee Mister, you sure are swell! So do you really think I can pitch my show idea?"

"Sure bucko, go for it! Jump right on in - if you're lucky, they might rip off your idea and change enough things to use it without your permission - but you'll be getting your feet wet! If you're really lucky, and just bathing in cascading torrents of good fortune, they might tear your idea apart and rework it based on their whims or whatever happens to be 'in' at the moment, and actually give you some creator credit. Wowie Zowie! Are we dancin' yet or what?"

"Erm... Yes, we're dancing. I don't know why. Where are we?"

"Ohio! And I am leaving as fast as I goddamn can! So have fun with pitching shows - after you get taken advantage of for a decade or two, you may actually get some sliver of creative input on something, if you really learn to kiss ass and spend your every waking moment networking like a desperate whore. Cheerio!"

Perhaps not a fastidious transcript of the exchange - I forget where my secretary left the minutes. But you get the gist.

I'd already poured a lot of myself into the project, and didn't necessarily want to see my efforts misappropriated. But even more importantly, I had come far enough in the development to grasp what Dreamkeepers could become. I was enticed by a clear and compelling vision - a vision of something amazing, dark, vivid and unforgettable.

Especially at such an early stage, it would have been very easy for the general idea of DK to be pitched and subsequently solidified into something schmaltzy and awful. Just imagine a typical network exec playing with the vague idea of animal cartoons - in a Dream-Land-Place! Rainbows, stars, and imagination, here we come! But uh-oh: Look out for those baddies, the night-time-mares. They cause CAVITIES! So kids, be sure to eat your Dream-Veggies, with Mace and Stink! (Whip was too violent a name. But Mace was fine.)
Liz: "Mace and Stink... Awwww."
There was a risk of Dreamkeepers being engineered specially for a 1:30 pm timeslot to distract toddlers while Mom escaped to the grocery store browsing the aisles lost in memories of better days, days without Play-Doh in the carpet, without snot on the fridge handle, without wall-eyed Mace sippy cups dribbling apple juice all over the couch.

Watching an Animaniacs tribute by the Nostalgia Critic recently, ( http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/27440-animaniacs-tribute
), I was reminded of the limitations inherent in traditional television. The interviewed writers were reliving how thrilling it was to work on Animaniacs, because of the freedom they enjoyed when creating. Though censors would still swoop in and muzzle things senselessly, the creative team had comparative latitude & was thus able to craft a truly standout show. The realization which struck me as sobering was that they all remembered this experience as a rare and singular period in their careers - a period which existed solely under the powerful shelter of Stephen Spielberg's explicit favor. Without, arguably, the most powerful man in Hollywood fighting for them, they never experienced that level of freedom and fun in cartoons again.
Considering the multitudinous mediocre shows and cartoons which parade across television, it's perturbing to think that network-level restrictions on creativity are par for the norm. And these are the writers from Animaniacs, a show which was legendary for its success - if they can't get a gig with some creative elbow room, what are the chances for an outsider? Unless Stephen Spielberg had fallen out of the blue and into love with me for no reason, my chances of zipping from Ohio college to creative freedom in the television industry were dim at best.

More than anything else, It was my vision of Dreamkeepers - a vision of something captivating and unique and worthwhile- which guided my decision to kill the pitch and strike out for the territory of wild, unrestricted creative freedom - comics. And thus we embarked on Volume 1. (Cue LOTR journey music.)

Having total control over Dreamkeepers has been immensely rewarding & effective - I wouldn't backtrack for a second. Even if we'd successfully pitched the TV show as college kids back in 2005 that fuzzy, compromised possibility doesn't hold a candle to the fascinating monster growing up under our fingertips today.

Plus, who knows? As we continue seizing the helm in comic form, it's possible Hollywood could take an interest in the Dreamkeepers we've defined: the dark, layered Dreamkeepers of today... After all, that's already happened once.

Back in 2008, we received a message from a California company which shall remain nameless:

TO: David Lillie
I work at a literary and talent management company out of Los Angeles called [edited out]. Along with the management side of the business we also are a production shingle and have produced a variety of award winning movies such as [edited out] and most recently [edited out] . We represent some of the hottest screenwriters, directors and creators in Hollywood, but I digress.
Currently we are looking for comic book/graphic novel properties to set up at various studios or networks and I absolutely love the look/premise of Dreamkeepers. I would love to speak to you further about this. Please let me know if this is something you are interested in doing.
Hope all is well.
Best regards,
[edited out]

Great to hear back from you. I would love it if you could send a copy of DreamKeepers to my office so I can take a look at it and discuss with a few of my colleagues. I think it has the makings of a high concept animated franchise. If it is possible to send over a package please let me know and I will give you my address. Again I think the ceiling is high for an idea of this level and I look forward to game planning with you in the future.
[edited out]

You may be wondering why you're only just now hearing news of this offer, three years after the fact. Many artists our age would scramble half-crazed to the nearest rooftop and begin screeching their news to the masses at even the hint of a licensing offer - and don't get me wrong, we weren't lacking in optimism over the message. But we try to make a point of representing Dreamkeepers with solid work rather than hot air. I've bumped into too many people over the years who boast up a storm and can't deliver a raindrop, so it's my desire to avoid hollow braggadocio like the plague. In fact, the only reason we're mentioning this offer now is because I believe it qualifies as history at this point, and it's pertinent to the subject at hand.

And in retrospect, it's fortunate that I didn't begin crowing from the mountaintops over the offer, as it wound up fizzling. I wrote back expressing that we were open to the possibility and mailed a book out, and then dropped the matter to focus on Volume 2, which seemed more important. I could have pursued the company's interest with additional follow-up, but it didn't feel right - my gut was telling me that this wasn't the time. (Besides, there were some elements to the offer that made me suspect IP Farming, a risk both from Hollywood and especially some comic publishers - but that's another topic.)
I felt (and still feel) that we needed to focus on building our readership & our story, allowing it to continue maturing and developing without any severe jolts into new media. The time may come when we will pursue the chance of a DK show, but I could tell this wasn't it.
Which leads to the natural question - when *will* the time be right to pursue a DK show?

Maybe never. We're having a blast creating our story in books, so for now that's our focus. And it's utterly fulfilling - I could see myself being content creating books and nothing else for life. But the thought of animated Dreamkeepers is undeniably exciting, and I'm not about to place arbitrary limits on where our story can go. If there was a solid chance to render DK relatively intact in animated form, I would likely take it.

I mean, if the perfect deal came along, with angels gently crooning while a major studio bent over backwards to give me total creative control, a prime timeslot, and unlimited budgeting for a 3-season contract including a complimentary carousel and free cherries for life, of course I'd backflip (metaphorically - a real backflip attempt would end in horrible disaster) and agree.

But perhaps I shouldn't hold my breath waiting for the perfect scenario.

...To be perfectly frank, I'm not totally against "selling out".

What exactly do I mean by "selling out"? Am I preparing to skewer the Dreamkeepers we all know and love so I can frantically suck the sweet, sweet dollar bills that gush from it's mortal wounds?

Well, no. I'm not plotting to compromise my artistic integrity. But there's a fine line between "artistic integrity" and "artistic snobbery."

What's better - an imperfect show that gets created and exists forever, or nothing seen by no-one wrapped in self righteousness?

For an example, take a look Jeff Smith's comic 'Bone'. It's a colossal creative achievement, and in the world of independent comics, it's a titanic icon... Meaning in the world of normal people, it's titanically never been heard of. If you asked the average school kid today what 'Bone' is, they'd throw their X-Box 360 at you as punishment and leave to watch Spongebob on Nickelodeon.

But Bone had a chance to be on Nickelodeon, too. Jeff Smith and Nick were actually in development at one point on an animated version of Bone. However, Jeff Smith pulled the plug on the project because Nickelodeon wanted to include a Brittney Spears song somewhere in the feature.

Now, perhaps that song really would have been a terrible addition to the film. Maybe it would have been cheesy and incongruous. But what about the rest of the movie? And what about the millions of kids that never saw the rest of the movie, because it never existed? Even if Bone had become a mediocre animated feature, how many kids would have discovered a great graphic novel through it?

The creator of "V for Vendetta" groused about how immature and inferior the film was compared to his masterpiece of comic book genius - but I bet he sold more comics after that movie than before. And each sale was another receptive reader experiencing the work who otherwise wouldn't have even known about it.

My point is, if an artiste' is thinking about what's best for their ego, then being too good for everything & better than everyone is always the right choice.

But if they're thinking about what's best for their work & its potential readership, carefully weighing options becomes important.

Now, I'm not saying we'd approve absolutely anything with any company at the drop of a dime. Sometimes a production can be so awful that the tedious experience of suffering through it makes an unforgettable imprint on the viewer, blighting by association every other element of the franchise.

For instance, 'The Wild Thornberries' show could have been derived from a brilliant graphic novel for all I know. But if I ever stumbled across that graphic novel my mind would connect to memories of traumatizing boredom and irritating voice acting, and I'd keep stumbling right on by, just praying I didn't find 'Kids Next Door' books across the aisle.

So for any future opportunities we may encounter, there will be a balancing act - the more control we would have over the writing, casting, and production of a Dreamkeepers show, the better. But if we had no control, and the company seemed flippant or inept in their treatment of the concept, it would be time to weigh pros and cons pertaining to the overall well-being & long term viability of our readership and franchise.

I hope you've enjoyed this hypothetical journey into the magical land of Whatiftopia - but I've got some non-hypothetical drawings I need to get working on.

As enchanting as the thought of a DK show is, I must admit that I retain a fabulous affinity for the medium of books - I love reading them, I love creating them, and I love publishing them.

And who knows - if our graphic novels do well enough, maybe someday Vivid can forge into independent animation. We'll certainly find out.