Posted By Art Baxter

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Well, this is the third and final installment, just in time, before everyone is sick of Christmas '08 already. Click HERE to see it.

Ok, the next year, 1998, I was slowly loosing my mind when I had an idea for another Christmas strip. Blah...Blah...Blah... I'll post the thrilling (yawn) story behind this strip in a day or two. I wanted to get this up before Easter!

 

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Posted By Art Baxter

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This time you get to see the comic first before the "making-of" documentary. That is my gift to you. Click HERE to see it.

Ok, the next year, 1997, I was minding my own business when I received a call from Michael Gentile, the founding art director of the NEW YORK PRESS. The PRESS, in those days, was a new upstart free weekly alternative paper in NY that ran a huge amount of art each week to match its (usually) "first person" articles. Between the NY Press and SCREW, New York alternative cartoonists managed to not starve by getting plenty of work from both papers. I had been a semi regular contributor to SCREW since the 1993 where I was able to get in print and get paid while I honed my craft. By '97 I was also illustrating for the PRESS. I had done a few cover stories and a lot of B & W spots. This was still the precomputer & internet days (for me at least) so I got the spot illustrations to the PRESS in a unique way. Mike Gentile told me to fax him the art as large as possible then he would scan the fax and reduce the art to print size. It worked pretty well. The published version wasn't as sharp as I would like but it was perfectly acceptable considering it was printed on newsprint.

Anyway, Gentile calls me on the phone in mid November and commissions a half page color Christmas theme strip. He called on either Monday or Tuesday and it was due first thing the next Monday for the big Shopping Guide due to hit the stands Wednesday (Thanksgiving was Thursday). So I scramble and come up with an idea for Billy, Tommy & Santa again. I fax him the sketch and he tells me to push the dominatrix more (I had held back a little bit). I believe he suggested the whip ( I already had her on Santa's back). The print size of the strip was 10" x 6" and I drew it twice up at 20" x 12," a pretty good size. I'm notoriously slow. I think I finished drawing and lettering it by Friday night. I still had to color it.

The NEW YORK press had a color chart from there printer that had all the colors and their percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow and black that they gave freelancers as reference when they colored their art "mechanically." Which means the artist would have to indicate on a peice of acetate the percent of a color to "build" the color they wanted.  (Click HERE for more on what I'm talking about.) I picked a palate of as few colors as I could get away with then used percentages of black (gray tones) to expand the range a little. I made a zerox of the art and did a few color sketches with color pencil until I got the color scheme I wanted then I had to do the color breakdowns on the acetate. I won't go any further describing the process except to say it can get very complicated and very time consuming. I had done it many times before but it's a big chore especially when you try to get the best results you can. It's a lot of guesswork.

I was pretty happy the way it all turned out actually.

NEXT: Back in Philly for the answer to the age old question "Where do baby Santas come from?"


 
Posted By Art Baxter

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Over the next five days, I will revisit three ghosts: Ghosts of Christmas Conics Past!

It was 1996. I had recently published my first comic book, SPUD and I was hot to trot. Cartoonist James Sturm was living in the city at that time. We had partnered up to sell our books at the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda Maryland and another small press show in Chicago and we had also done signings together in Boston, New York and here in Philly. James had gotten himself hired as a "comics consultant" at one of our free alternative weekly papers, the PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY in late summer. In November of '96 he did a cover story on alternative comics with a bit of a spotlight on me and I did the cover illustration. I got the idea to do a Christmas special featuring my Billy and Tommy characters and now was the time to do it and get it in the paper while I had an "in."

I had the idea for "All I Want for Christmas," a somewhat depressing Christmas tale (the best usually are) without an uplifting ending. James presented the strip to editorial but there was a lot of indecision on whether or not to run it. This "hemming and hawing" went on for the three or four weeks leading up to Christmas. Ultimately, they passed. In the meantime I had sent it to a few other alt.weeklys in other cities. I was happy that Dale Yarger, art director of the SEATLE STRANGER picked it up. The full page strip was designed to run in color but the STRANGER could only publish it in black and white line. The STRANGER was a far more comics hip paper than the WEEKLY thanks to the exploding alternative cartoonist scene in Seattle of the early '90s. In fact James Sturm had been one of the founders of the paper. I was happy that my strip had found a home.

As I mentioned, "All I Want for Christmas," was originally done as a color strip. Coloring comics on the computer was still in its early days. The size of the art files were generally too large for most mid 90's home computers to handle. Let alone the fact that I wouldn't have one for another few years. A lot of cartoonists were coloring their comics with acrylic animation cel paints. They came in squirt bottles and the colors were a lot more more vivid than regular acrylics. You would shoot the art on a film positive (acetate) photostat and use the paints animators used to color the art, on the reverse side. It worked pretty well although the printed colors tended to be a little muddy due to the acetate. By '96 this coloring technique was also on it's way out the door. Thanks to the rise of computers, stat cameras were disappearing. It was getting tough to get a damn stat shot in this city. Cartoonist Charles Burns recommended to me someone who he used, a vietnamese guy in chinatown who bought the equipment recently from a photo house that got out of the stat business. That was great...while it lasted.

Today, I present to you, the first appearance of my 1996 Christmas strip, "All I Want for Christmas," in its original color (cleaned up a little through the magic of Photoshop). As it turned out, the themes are perhaps more timely today than when I drew it in '96. So, without further adieu, click HERE to read the strip (if I haven't already bored you to death with my tedious ancient history, forgotten stone-age techniques and obnoxious name dropping).

NEXT: Billy & Tommy are off to New York for "Desperately Seeking Santa!"


 

 

 
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