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!"