Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bill and Buster's 12 Days of Christmas

With everyone talking about Christmas and their favorite Christmas specials, I decided to dig up a holiday-themed relic of my own. As most people know, my hobby is cartooning, and back in middle school I came up with a duo of characters that have been my signature ever since. Though I've never made a dime from them, writing comic strips and stories with them help me deal with life, and sort of channel my sarcastic side in a positive way. I currently do new "Bill and Buster" strips as an occasional feature on, usually poking fun at issues pertaining to my current home of Austin, Texas.

Anyhoo, Several years ago, back when Myspace was big, I decided to post my backlog of comic strips (with new ones too) as a daily feature for my friends. One year I did a little story arc with Buster getting fed up with Christmas decorations appearing in early November, and sets out to stop it with an army of Thanksgiving turkeys. Looking back on it, I wish I'd fleshed it out more, because it was one of the funniest things I've ever written. Anyway, a year or two later (I believe 2007)I decided to do 12 new strips and post them through the 12 days leading up to Christmas day, and make it a takeoff on the song "the Twelve Days of Christmas". I've gotten SO much better at both my drawing skills and digital coloring since then, and looking back on these, I think they look like shit. But I still like them, and they're funny. The gags are both my own and a couple of suggestions by my friend Jon Cooke, though I've forgotten who came up with what. Anyway, enjoy MY Christmas special, "Bill and Buster's 12 Days of Christmas."

As a bonus, here's the initial "Early Christmas" bit that I mentioned, (I loosely title it "A Bill and Buster Thanksgiving")as well as a few other holiday-themed entries from the Myspace days circa 2006.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Rant About CGI Cartoon Eyes

I know it's been nearly a year since I updated this blog. But tonight I had an interesting conversation on Facebook, and one of the participants suggested I turn it into a blog post. Now, I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon. I won't do a gazillion posts insulting the current state of American cartoons like John Kricfalusi does on his blog. But I WILL do this one.

I was watching "a Charlie Brown Christmas" on TV tonight. Despite the fact that ABC edited out some bits of it to fit in more commercials, I enjoyed it as usual. My eyes were then assaulted by a Disney CGI special called "Prep and Landing". Actually, a sequel to that, but I digress. I should rephrase "eyes were assaulted" was more like "the eyes assaulted ME." There have been a TON of computer-animated movies and TV shows in recent years, and a good majority of them have a design flaw that bothers me. The characters' eyes are not expressive. They look like giant ping-pong balls popping out of the characters' skulls, and they rarely, if ever, change shape or size.

I mentioned this on Facebook, and one astute friend of mine from high school pointed out the Japanese anime influence. We agreed that there is some of that...Osamu Tezuka designed the first true anime character, Astro Boy, with the style of Disney artist Carl Barks in mind.

But Barks' eyes were quite expressive, and Tezuka and his successors were, too. Anime style does indeed have wide, sometimes pie-cut eyes, but they change shape and size for expression.

Compare the above to stuff like this:

Notice the round, staring, ping-pong ball eyes. They never change shape, leaving the eyelids and eyebrows to do all the work. To me, that looks strange. Compare it, if you will, to the hand-drawn masters Chuck Jones and Tex Avery:

Now see some examples in motion. Check out these two clips from Chuck Jones' "Rabbit Fire" and "Rabbit Seasoning". Eyes used to be KEY in American cartoons. Chuck Jones and Tex Avery were the masters of eye expression. A character like Bugs Bunny could say a thousand words without making a sound, just by moving his eyes.

Watch this bit. We've all seen it...but focus on the characters' eyes. They change shape constantly. Watch Elmer Fudd. He doesn't say a word in this scene, but he registers confusion, then frustration, and determination with his eyes alone.

"Rabbit Fire"

It goes to even funnier extremes in this one:

"Rabbit Seasoning"

Now, compare the above Bugs Bunny clips to this:

Notice again the wide, bulging, dead eyes. Even something like "Heavy Metal" did better than THAT. Each character had unique, expressive eyes.

My friend Rachel uses expressive eyes in her comic strips. Though they're simple shapes, the size of the pupils and shape of the eyes change, thus making her characters expressive.

I do it. My characters change eye shape all the time.

So why, with all the awesome stuff that computers can do with cartoons, do we keep seeing this?

It "boggles" the mind.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Judging a Song By Its Cover: Part 1

In case you've never noticed, musicians and bands borrow each others' songs all the time. Usually, these "covers" are done to pay tribute to the original artist, or to adapt a well-known song in a new and different style. I thought it would be fun to compare some of my favorites with the originals, and see if they TOP the original or fall short.

First up, Cake's cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive".



Tough call, because the styles are so different. But I'm going to have to give the nod to Cake for this one. The original is a classic, but it's really stuck in its disco-era time period.

Lots of people have covered John Lennon's songs. They usually don't come close to topping Lennon, but they have done some interesting things with them. Take, for instance, Green Day's take on John Lennon's post-Beatles political rant "Working Class Hero".

Green Day:


Green Day really nail this one, and add a little edge to the darkness and hopelessness of Lennon's lyrics. But I have to say, Lennon's is the original and best.

Even Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder has tried his hand at John Lennon. Vedder tackles the Beatles' "Hide Your Love Away" for the "I Am Sam" movie soundtrack.



Vedder's is a good version. But nobody can say with a straight face that it's better than the Beatles' classic. Ironically, both versions were part of movie soundtracks (The Beatles' "Help!" album was the soundtrack to the "Help!" movie.)

Here's an example of an older, legendary artist covering a more modern song from a completely different genre than he was used to. Let's see how Johnny Cash dealt with Nine Inch Nails:



It's a dark, brooding song no matter how you look at it. But I think the general consensus among music fans everywhere is that Johnny Cash nailed Nine Inch Nails. When Cash, in his final years of life, sang anything, he made it captivating and believable. Out of the way, Trent Reznor...the Man in Black just schooled you on your own song!

Punk covers of pop songs can be particularly great because they generally take a light, simple, bubble-gummy song and simplify it even more, after amping it up on steroids. Such is the case of Local H. vs. Britney Spears' "Toxic":

Local H:


Local H's cover is awesome, but I think the song is so associated with Britney Spears that not even a new spin on it can make a better song. It is what it is, and for that I think Spears wins here.

Sometimes a song is so awesomely stupid that people love it no matter who performs it. Perhaps Snoop Dogg's best-known song is "Gin and Juice", and it's about as classic as you can get for old-school's about smoking pot, getting drunk and "bitches in the living room gettin' it on." But what happens when a quirky country band from South Austin adapts it?

The Gourds:


I have to go with the cover on this one. The Gourds did something completely unheard a rap song. On top of that, they made it AWESOME! No disrespect to my homeboy Snoop, but Snoop can't rock the banjo.

While on the subject of rap covers, What if you turn a rap song into a mellow pop song? That's what Dynamite Hack did to Eazy E's "Boyz In The Hood".

Dynamite Hack:

Eazy E

Eazy E wins this contest. DH's version is funny, but that's just seems to be mocking the original without improving on it.

Here's a 3-for-all...What do Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews and Jimi Hendrix have in common? They've all made kick-ass versions of "All Along the Watchtower" (Dylan's being the original version.)



Bob Dylan is apparently a copyright nazi, so no Youtube link for him. Ass!

But no matter. Dylan's was good, but other artists saw something in it that he did not, hence Jimi Hendrix's better (and better-known) classic. But you know, I gotta give both of these covers a tie here. You might not THINK someone like Dave Matthews Band could compete with Jimi Hendrix, but their version is epic in a way that the other versions weren't. Jimi and Dave get a tie.

Well how about Dave Matthews? Has anybody covered his stuff? Yes! In fact, none other than Willie Nelson gave Matthews' "Gravedigger" a shot.



This is hard, because I love Dave Matthews and Willie Nelson. Both are legendary. Comparing the two music videos, Willie made a better one. But if you just listen to the SONG, I have to say the original is better. I don't feel the emotion in Nelson's vocals as much as I do in Matthews'. That, and Nelson's cover is pretty straightforward...he doesn;t do a bad job, but he doesn't add anything either.