Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Finishing the year in Cartooning Club.

 The Cartooning Club meets this Thursday, Dec. 19 at 5:30 and those who come will help finish a project. In October, the kids were asked to rough out some ideas for a picture they would like to give to someone. In November, we sketched out the pictures on large sheets or poster boards and some people even started the inking and coloring process! This week, we will meet to finish up our pictures, cleaning them up, fixing problems, inking and adding color. Then they can be rolled up with a bow and they are ready to give to somebody special!
 If you didn't come to the club meetings in October or November, you are still welcome to come to the December meeting! You can come with a rough drawing in hand or an idea in mind, or you can choose not to do a poster-sized picture at all. We will still have some great discussion about movies- is Frozen a cookie-cutter Disney movie or does it stand out for some reason? It looks like the best-selling Disney animated film to date, so it must be doing something well. We will talk about comics- a store in not-too-far-away Columbia, SC has announced they are not selling new comics on the rack anymore, just back issues! Is this because of digital comics? Are new comics overpriced? Is there no market for new books compared to the old ones?
 We will also check out some great early animation with a Christmas or winter theme to it. I am still amazed when i watch the old cartoons knowing that every cell was hand painted. No computers, no shortcuts. The consistency and quality from cell to cell of an old animated film is just amazing to me, and hopefully will be to you, too!
 In the meantime, check out these great pieces of kid art from our Cartooning Club!

A winking ghost who isn't afraid of the sun!

Mix Slenderman with My Little Pony. This is what you get.

Shadow and Tails flying into the fray!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ten Underrated Christmas Specials

 Every year we get to indulge in the tradition of watching Charlie Brown, the Grinch, Rudolph and Frosty spread  their tales of Christmas cheer. Truly it is a treat to look at the collaborative genius of Charles Schultz and Bill Melindez, or see all the tell-tale trademarks of Chuck Jones interspersed in Dr. Seuss' rhyming tale. And watching the herky-jerky motions of the Rankin-Bass specials reminds you that they just don't make them like that anymore (thank goodness!).
"Good Grief, I killed it!" Yes you did, Charlie. Your special is the gold standard.
 But there is a tidal-wave of Christmas specials made year in and year out. Do any of them deserve to stand with the above mentioned network staples? I say to thee, "Aye!" and even "Aye, verily!" Here are ten specials that either measure up to or surpass the specials we see every year.

 10. The Nutcracker Prince
 With voice talents like Keiffer Sutherland, Peter O'Toole and Phyllis Diller, this take on the traditional tale is fun, funny, and has plenty of action. The animation is very good (though not theatrical-release good), and they even venture to use a variety of animation styles to tell different parts of the story. The cast of accompanying toys adds comic relief, while the Rat King (while being an idiot) is a ruthless and determined enemy. Tchiakovsky's music plays throughout, completing the mood and feel of the story.

9. Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey
"Nestor saaaaad."

Nestor makes history.
Nestor is a donkey with an unusual feature- even for a donkey. He has incredibly long ears. This makes him an outcast similar to Rudolph, and like Rudolph, Nestor can make good use of his unusual gift/curse. He can stand on his ears and ski down the sand dunes! Rad, dude! But Nestor is looked at as being worthless and unwanted and it is in this moment that Nestor is chosen to help carry out one of the most important events in history. Nestor beautifully illustrates how God finds value and purpose in everyone, and how He sees things differently then we do.

8. The Snowman/Father Christmas
 Based off of the books/graphic novels by Raymond Briggs, the animation captures the wonderful styling that Briggs brings to his work. With an excellent musical score and nothing else, the short films take on a silent movie like quality that allow you to focus on and appreciate the images even more.

7. Precious Moments- Timmy's Gift
 Based off of the drawings and figurines of Sam Butcher's popular line, this Christmas tale is about a tiny angel who is tasked by God to deliver a crown to the new-born king. Arriving on Earth, Timothy's journey takes him through all kinds of perils like wolves and freezing cold rivers, and he makes friends along the way with a timid rabbit, a reclusive squirrel (voiced by Don Knotts), and a wolf cub. Timmy's kindness and desire to look out for the well-being of others has beneficial effect on each of his new-found friends, but when he loses the crown will Timmy make the right decision?

6. The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas
Ted Edward Bear (or Ted E. Bear) is a curious bear, and when he hears about Christmas, he's just got to find out what it is all about. How does he do that? Instead of hibernating like the other bears, Ted decides he is going to stay awake long enough to see Christmas himself. Finally, a very drowsy bear is greeted by Santa who kindly explains the holiday so that a bear can understand it. Hailing from 1973, the show got a lot of airings in the 80s. The look of the cartoon is dated, but in a way that is more retro than "old".

5. Garfield Christmas Special
 Before you begin scoffing at this selection, hear me out. Jon, Garfield and Odie return to the family farm for the holidays where we meet Jon's mom and dad, his cranky grandma and the just-as-weird-as-Jon Doc Boy. Of course, Garfield is bored out of his skull, but he is drawn to Grandma, who for all her gruff seems very sad and alone. Garfield also suspects a mystery when Odie keeps slipping away for no apparent reason. Investigating, Garfield inadvertently breaks whatever Odie was piecing together, and he stumbles upon a box of old letters- correspondences from long ago between Jon's Grandma and Grandpa (who died years ago).
Garfield fixes Odies contraption only to find out that it is Odie's gift to him- a back scratcher! Garfield then has a present for Grandma- the bundle of letters. Overcome with the joy attached to the memories in the pages, Grandma softens and all is right with the world. It is unusual to see a children's special address the loss of family members, and even more so for a holiday program, but Garfield kindly reinds us that the holidays can take a different tone after a loved one has died, and that we need to treasure the memories we make.

4. Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas
 A Muppet tale from the 70's, the scale of work on this production was amazing- from the different sets like the frozen river, the shack, Emmet's home, the talent show, and the town square to the cast of characters that includes all kinds of anthropomorphic woodland creatures. There are a ton of songs and musical numbers included (Ain't no Hole in the Washtub is my favorite) to add to the entertainment. The story centers around Emmet and his mother who have been barely able to get by after the death of Emmet's father. Mom works hard doing laundry and odd jobs, while Emmet tries to be a kid but ends up worrying about money, holes in the roof, meager meals, and helping his mom. While life is hard, they are still happy, knowing love is more important then material possessions. But when a talent show offers a prize that would allow Emmet to help his mom, can he and his friends win out against the Riverbottom Gang? This movie was important because it laid the production blueprint for creating feature-length Muppet movies. The Muppet Movie would release in theaters two years later.

3. The Tick Loves Santa
The Tick meets the REAL Santa!
 Easily the funniest selection on the list, the Tick is distraught after a robber- disguised as Santa- is chased by police and ends up sliding into an electric billboard and falling to his likely death. The Tick believes the robber was Santa and that Christmas is now canceled despite his fellow heroes attempts to convince him otherwise. But our robber turns out to be not only okay, but "charged" with an M burned into his chest from the billboard. Suddenly other Santas appear. They can only say "Ho, ho, ho," but they are good at fighting, robbing and taking orders from the robber who now dubs himself as Multiple Santa. After a skirmish with the Santas in which the Tick can't bring himself to hit any of them and the other heroes are soundly beaten, Multiple Santa decides to charge himself at the hydroelectric dam to create an army of Santas.
The Tick and his sidekick, Arthur, are visited by Santa and his secret service elves who convince our hero that the other Santas are bad and must be stopped. There a variety of hilarious moments like when a wave of Santas is rolling towards the Tick he yells, "It's a Yule-tide!!" Another scene involves two security guards discussing the nightmares they have watching a mechanical Santa at the store. When the Santas break in and run over the guards and Multiple Santa rips the head of the mechanical Santa one guard says to the other, "I may never sleep again."

2. The Small One
 This was Don Bluth's last project at Disney, and it tells the tale of a friendship between and little boy and a small, old donkey. Not as young and not as big as the other donkeys, Small One (as he is called) can't keep up with the others. The boy does his best to share the load with his friend, but his father points out that the donkey eats as much as the other animals and does less than half the work. The time has come to sell Small One, but the dad allows the boy to handle the deal ensuring that his friend doesn't go to a butcher or a tanner, but someone who will love him like the boy does. The boy and Small One meet person after person, but each prospective buyer has dire plans for the creature, or they just want to humiliate the beast, or they won't offer anything for Small One. Finally tired, alone and depressed, the boy and Small One are approached by a kind young man who sees value in the donkey and pays more than the boy was expecting. The man needs Small One for a very important job- to take his wife Mary on a journey to Bethlehem.

1. The King is Born
 Created by Nest Entertainment, the animation crew is made up of Disney animators under the direction of Richard Rich, you can see the stylistic influence from The Small One and The Little Mermaid. This is a pretty straight forward telling of the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph may come across as a little too happy-go-lucky at times, but at other times they express quiet confidence and wisdom beyond their years. Herod is a truly scary villain, working himself into frenzies and ordering the deaths of the new borns in Bethlehem. The inn keeper is not presented as a bad person but rather someone who thinks outside the box to try and help Mary Joseph in a time of need. It is a refreshing change, and it helps provide some comic relief.

I hope you have the chance to check out some of these hidden treats. Let me know what you think of the stories and the animation. Did I leave something deserving off the list?

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

30 Characters Challenge COMPLETED!!!

Sorry I've been away for awhile, but really, I have been busy!
 Anyway- I successfully completed this year's challenge, getting all 30 characters posted by Nov. 30. This is a fun exercise to do, and people have asked me what the pay-off is.
 First- it is a creative exercise. Most comic-styled artists will create characters, or ideas for characters, year round. Yet to have to do it one per day, for an entire month, and to try and stay on schedule really stretches the creative muscles.
 Next, because the pace should be a character per day, and there is a time constraint, it exercises discipline in the artist. Many of us are disciplined in learning new techniques, tools and mediums, but many artists (myself included) are lousy at keeping deadlines. My friend Al Bigley said meeting deadlines is one of the reasons an artist gets called by an editor. Artistic ability is great, but not worth anything if it makes books late or delays them.
 Another benefit is seeing the ideas other artists come up with and looking at the variety of styles presented. This year, I really tried to put a lot of work into each entry, adding a border to publicize myself, doing color, using more backgrounds and effects, and still trying to come up with names and stories that are fairly original. As a result, I appreciate other artists who put in the same effort.
 Last, it gets your work seen by that many more people and it costs you nothing out of your pocket. Getting public exposure for your art is one of the most important things for an artist- whether they are looking for recognition and fans, or if they are seeking paying work.
 The downside of this challenge is the same every year- technical issues. My laptop quit working at home during the challenge, so I was forced to enter my art through work computers. Finding the time to do that at work so it doesn't interfere with policy or workflow can be challenging. Having to use the scanner increases the time needed. Being closed for the Thanksgiving holiday gave me four days straight of no computer access! But I worked on what I could and got all I could done with what I had until I could get back to the scanners and computers. The result- I completed the challenge on time again!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

30 Characters Challenge- One week in the bag!

 The 30 Characters Challenge is in full swing, and so far I have managed to stay on track with the spirit of the challenge- creating a character each day. I've also tried to vary what I come up with to show a range of art styles. This has caused me to avoid the traditional super hero motif and try steampunk, sci-fi and supernatural characters. My first three entries were real experiments as I created the pictures entirely in GIMP- a free, open source photomanipulation and image creating program. The last few I have gone back to doing on paper and inking by hand before coloring with GIMP.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

30 Characters Challenge is coming!

Good news for all you super-creative people out there- the 30 Characters Challenge is coming! What is the 30 Characters Challenge, you ask? It is an artistic smorgasbord of art and design that begins November 1 and ends on November 30. Each day, you create and post a character to the blog. Make a total of 30 unique and original characters in that time span- you can do two or three one day, one another day, take a day or two off- just get to 30 characters. You can collaborate with someone, you can do pencil sketches, digital painting, photo manipulations, multi-media art, photograph a sculpture- whatever and however you can create an image of an original character. Cool?
 If so, read more about the particulars of the challenge here, because you have to register to participate (if you were in last year or the year before your account is still active!
 So, ripped straight from the 30 Characters Challenge website:

30 Characters Challenge is Back!

The Challenge: Create 30 new characters in 30 days- one for every day of the month of November.
Why: Because the world needs new characters…YOUR characters!
When: Registration runs until 5 pm October 31, 2013. The challenge begins starting November 1st, 2013.
Where: Right here on at 30Characters.com
How to Register: Simply sign up here with your name and email address to be added to the 30 Characters 2013 Challengers Roster.
Returning Challengers: If you participated in the 30 Characters Challenge in either of the past two years, and would like to take part again this year, you’re account is still active! Welcome back!
Stay Connected and Spread the Word:
- Follow the hashtag #30characters on Twitter for the latest information on the 30 Characters Challenge!
- Keep an eye on your inbox for weekly 30 Characters Challenge updates!
- Grab one or more of the approved 30 Characters Challenge Banners, and post on your website.  Or better yet, create your own!
Have questions about the challenge? Be sure to read our FAQ, for everything you could possibly want to know about #30Characters.

 Do you have what it takes to meet the challenge? Then sign up, jump in and let me know you're on board for this year!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Star Wars Day- the Report!

"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong," is an adage made famous by some poor sap named Murphy (or maybe named after him) and while it is an extreme view, it is almost always true. When it comes to having a Star Wars Day, that means the chaos of the Dark Side seemed to win the day, as only one presenter showed up, leaving us with no officially costumed characters, and no Lego table. (We're good with the Lego dude again- just sorry he wasn't there!)
Greetings from an extra-friendly trooper!

 But presentation is almost as important as the content of a program and it helped save the day!

Books! Utinni!
 As people came into the Union West Library they were greeted by a 6' 3" stormtrooper cutout with Star wars music and themes playing in the doorway. Upon entering, the meeting room was ready with a Master Yoda standee presiding over the light saber duels, and a shooting range had been added! Moving into the main portion of the library, the adult side had a table filled with fiction and graphic novels, and a stoic Jawa watching over the collection.
Every kind of Star Wars book a kid could want- and Darth Vader!!
  The kids side featured meditation activities (coloring pages) and strategy activities (mazes and puzzles) at the Jedi Academy table. Lord Vader stood proudly behind the kids table of books, arranged by reading level and type (non-fiction, graphic novels, etc). Another table was the crafts headquarters as kids made Yoda ears, Imperial dog tags, and clone trooper bookmarks and pencil toppers. The dog tags were a BIG hit- we ran out! Retro Reboot was a presenter who did show up, and the display os Star Wars merchandise was nothing short of AMAZING!!!

R2 had wheels and a rope so he could get around!
 The children's department had managed to save up over 60 books, new and gently used, and we were able to give them all away with no problem. In addition, DK Publishing sent us 17 sample books from the New York Comic Con and three other Star Wars books, which means roughly 80 kids got something to read and keep!

I meant shoot a picture, Boba Fett!
 The library circulation manager told me she kept a check on the door counter and in one hour, nearly 250 people came through! Our estimation for attendance is 350+!
 This was a library-wide event, and everyone at Union West that day- manager Betsy Cullen, circ manager Nancy Thompson, children's librarian Kenzia Lett, reference librarians Marcy Scudder and Cliff Rhodes and the circulation staff Heidi North, Jakeem Royal, Chris McHugh, and Pam Booth! You guys are amazing!

Banners- a good way to show off your sponsors!

ALL things Lego!

The Duels in action!

Shooting range- I see Imperial officer material standing to the left!

Princess Amidala and mini-Darth!

The youngest clone trooper I've ever seen...
Retro Reboot had a table full of AWESOME!!

Even princesses have to wait in line!
The banner for Dark Horse led the way to the graphic novels.

Does that Jedi robe double as a Snuggi?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Count Dooku's Secret Weapon?!

 Last month I asked the kids in the Cartooning Club to come up with a new creature, character, or vehicle that would fit in with the Star Wars universe.
 One brave young man boldly stepped forward with his concept: a shark Sith apprentice! Brinton Whitecar designed "Cardon -a karkarodon who was secretly trained by Count Dooku.  He helped develop the hydroid medusa bio weapons in the clone wars."
 Take a look at the colors and way Brinton filled his picture. Also notice the action pose on Cardon. Awesome work, Brinton, and a great idea well executed (oops! Might not want to use that word around Sith!)!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Big Thanks to DK! Star Wars Day is Ready to Go!

This past Friday and Saturday, Star Wars reads Day was celebrated across the US and around the world. But- just in case you missed it- in the words of Yoda, "There is another."
 Friday, October 11 at the Union West Regional Library in Indian Trail, Star Wars Day will happen from 2:30-5:30, with lots of fun stuff going on all over the building! Light saber duels, crafts, coloring sheets, costumes, great original art on display and more!
 Helping to round out things for the event is DK Publishing, who very generously sent out an event pack that was incredible! They sent a bag FULL of Star Wars Reads Day II buttons, 17 books sampling some of the latest Star Wars fiction out there (and with a New York Comic on label on the back- very cool!),  book of punch-out paper models, a guide book to the Clone Wars cartoon series, and a book on the Jedi! But DK did more than that, too! They really seemed to be the driving force behind the idea, putting together event kits (including a Spanish one this year!), and setting up a Facebook page to network librarians and bookstores.
Big thank yous go to Rachel Kempster and Malisa Savanh from DK's marketing team for everything they did for this year's event, and to help this library with our event!