Drawing Comics Lab & Rockets to the Moon

Monday Musings on Mark-Marking & Moon Missions

Last week I mentioned I’d received my comp copy of Robyn Chapman‘s brand-spanking-new DRAWING COMICS LAB: 52 Exercises on Characters, Panels, Storytelling, Publishing & Professional Practices, a book I’m in (with one of the 52 exercises).

Full disclosure: Robyn Chapman was one of the first folks I met at the Center for Cartoon Studies when we were preparing to open our door to our first-ever summer workshop in the summer of 2005. At the time, Robyn was the first Fellow at CCS, and soon became a long-time faculty member who I was fortunate enough to co-teach a couple of classes with before her departure in 2010 (we miss you, Robyn!).

Robyn was and is one hell of a teacher, and needless to say she’s a hell of a cartoonist/writer/editor/scholar, too (and I reckon I should throw “publisher” in that lineup, too, though she might argue that with me). But what also sets her new book apart is the input and some of the exercises Robyn solicited and incorporated into her book from a who’s who list of creators.

Herein, you’ll find cartooning exercises, tips, and suggestions (all illustrated) from the likes of Jessica Abel, Josh Bayer, Jonathan Bennett, Eddie Campbell, Isaac Cates, Vanessa Davis, Matt Feazell, Tom Hart, Bill Kartalopoulos, Seth Kushner, Jon Lewis, Jason Little, Michael Lopez, Grace Lu, Kara Lu, Matt Madden, Scott McCloud, Tom O’Donnell, Molly Ostertag, Dennis Pacheco, John Porcellino, Jesse Reklaw, Kenan Rubenstein, Chris Schweizer, Bob Sikoryak, Sarah Smith, Karen Sneider, Drew Weing, Mike Wenthe, and Yao Xiao. Whew! But that’s not all—

You’ll also find insights and art from Center for Cartoon Studies faculty and recent alumni (and, thus, many of Robyn‘s now-peers, including yours truly) like Sam Carbaugh, Jon Chad, JP Coovert, Rachel Dukes, Colleen Frakes, Beth Hetland, Jason Lutes, Dakota McFadzean, Melissa Mendes, José-Luis Olivares, Morgan Pielli, Katherine Roy, and seasoned vet cartoonist and teacher (and CCS co-founder) James Sturm.

Needless to say, this also represents far, far greater diversity of styles, approaches, orientations, and just plain ol’ cartooning skillsets than most “how to draw” such-and-such books ever come close to—all orchestrated, with surgical precision of intent and content, by one of the best cartoonists and editors it’s ever been my privilege to know.

Take that to the bank, and snag this book for yourself and any loved ones who make, or aspire to make, their own comics. Most heartily recommended to one and all!


* It’s Kurt Neumann month at the Bissette hacienda, and I’ll begin with a re-visit with the first of the 1950s space-age exploration movies, Neumann‘s ROCKETSHIP X-M (1950), which was rushed through production (reportedly shot in just 18 days) to beat the big production from producer George Pal (the seminal Destination Moon) into theaters—and did!

It remains “that little movie that could” and that did, having oddly dated better then Pal‘s creaky melodramatic color opus. I could care less about the relative accuracy or inaccuracy of the science herein: all gives way to the almost intoxicating sensation of something being taken to completion the first time around for the big screen, simultaneously inventing and codifying what was by 1950 already a formula for making a science-fiction movie. There were precedents, dating back to the 19th Century on through Fritz Lang and Thea Von Harbou‘s Die Frau im Mond/The Woman in the Moon (1929, from von Harbou‘s novel, among the oldest and rarest movie-tie-in novels in my own collection) and innumerable pulp sf stories, novellas, and novels, but Kurt Neumann was doing it first for mainstream American motion pictures in the new decade, post-World War 2, and that still carries some weight for this viewer.

Lloyd Bridges is the pilot and ostensible hero on a five-person flight (four guys, one female scientist who puts up with incessant sexism to the first line of dialogue to the bitter end) to the moon; when engine failure and a miscalculation results in the crew knocked unconscious and X-M (Xpedition Moon) overshooting its lunar target, the ship detours to Mars and a still-imaginative passage on the Red Planet (first time California Death Valley locations filled in for same), where the remnants of a fallen civilization and radiation-scarred and blinded mutant tribes await.

These Martians made quite an impression on me as a lad, and the extended sequence in which they appear is still pretty evocative: old hat for pulp sf readers of 1950, but for those whose only exposure to such notions were via weekly trips to the movies, this was a chilling (and arguably the first) dramatization of a possible post-nuclear future for mankind, bombed back to the Stone Age. They also became staples of cinematic sf for decades to come, and (as I’ll discuss Wednesday) rippled through 1950s and 1960s comicbooks, as well. And oh, that shot of the Martian woman screaming—it still gives me a chill!

Neumann‘s Teutonic roots also showed in the satisfyingly no-nonsense approach to the characters, narrative, and unflinching pacing and rush to a surprisingly downbeat finale, which still packs a punch (it really knocked me for a loop when I first saw this as a 6-year-old). Neumann didn’t let the low Robert Lippert budget get in his way; ignore the now-risible elements, and compare this to any other Lippert sf/fantasy of the period (say, Sam Newfield/Neufield‘s Lost Continent the following year) to reassess what Neumann brought to the table when he was in the saddle.

The coda anticipates another (covert) Lippert co-production, Hammer/Val Guest/Nigel Kneale‘s The Quatermass Xperiment/The Creeping Unknown (1955), sans Quatermass‘s implacable march into the future…

Even when seen today, the red-tinted Mars sequence is a treat (the ebay-purchased transfer I snapped up retains the tinting, thankfully). It’s a gimmick cheapskate Lippert could afford: Lost Continent had a green tint applied once Cesar Romero, John Hoyt, and their fellow explorers scrabbled to the top of the prehistoric plateau. The Mars sequence here also anticipates (as fellow sf film fanatic and Lost Media Archives co-founder Blair Sterrett recently pointed out) another Martian space movie that capped the decade, Ib Melchoir and Sidney Pink‘s “CineMagic” collaboration with producer vet cartoonist Norman Maurer, The Angry Red Planet (1959—more on Maurer on Friday!).

Those wishing to see the original version of Rocketship X-M will have to do some digging. The Nostalgia Merchant videocassette offered the original version, not the Wade Williams revamp with new special effects footage shot in the late 1970s. In any incarnation, Neumann‘s lively opus revels in the same spirit of scientific adventure George Pal’s best films always did. I hate to downgrade Destination Moon, because it was and is an amazing movie on its own terms—but Rocketship X-M is still the more pleasurable viewing experience of the competing moon-shot pioneer efforts of 1950.

Discussion ¬

  1. Tim

    Great Rant! Watched RXM last night for the first time in 20 years. Not a fan of the Wade Williams version, but I do have an old version somewhere on VHS. Time to scrounge around for that. Do love that soundtrack.

Comment ¬

NOTE - You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>