The Wayback Machine

Since this is a holiday weekend, here’s a fun time waster:

Somebody’s been keeping a record of the entire internet. Go to the Wayback Machine, type in the URL of any webpage, and see what it used to look like. Don’t ask me how it’s done, or why. I can’t imagine how much server space this takes up. But it’s fun to poke around. (2002 was an ugly year for my website).

Enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend!

Ken Levine: Sitcom Secrets Revealed!

Here’s something a little different. Ken Levine is an emmy-winning comedy writer whose long list of credits include M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier, The Simpsons, and Everybody Loves Raymond. Recently he hosted a free online seminar about comedy writing titled “Sitcom Secrets Revealed”. It covered such topics as:

• The current & future states of sitcoms
• How the possible writers’ strike affects struggling new writers
• Writing & submitting spec scripts
• Key elements of writing farces
• How to create fresh, interesting characters

The event was primarily aimed at writers, but I think it can be healthy for an artist to broaden himself by learning about other disciplines. Especially writing. Many artist are in fact writers in the sense that they tell stories visually. This is especially true of cartoonists, storyboard artists, and comic book artists, but to an extent it is true of any artist.

I’ve always admired writers. I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag (Bobo the chimp handles all my blog posts), but I’m a firm believer that writers are the unsung heroes of the entertainment world. Writing is even more important than the visual stuff when it comes to the success or failure of an animated project. I am especially in awe of good comedy writers. I mean the good ones. There aren’t that many out there, but Ken Levine is one of the best.

You can download an MP3 of the teleseminar for free here. (You’ll have to give your name and email address to download the MP3, but Ken promises it will only be used to add you to his seminar mailing list and you can unsubscribe at any time). I haven’t had time to listen to it yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it. Comedy, as they say, is serious business.

“Monk”-ey Business

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One of my favorite TV shows is Monk, a dramedy about an obsessive-compulsive detective (Adrian Monk) played brilliantly by Emmy-winner Tony Shalhoub. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes had been wracked with anxieties and phobias, and you’ve got the essence of the character. His over-the-top attention to detail makes him an excellent detective but also an enormous frustration to the people around him. Monk is one of the top shows on cable, and for good reason. Its a fun premise with great characters and lots of humor, and almost no sex or foul language (proving a show can be clean and family-friendly without being dull.)

But Monk started out as something very different. Jim Hill has written a fascinating article about the origins of the show over at his blog. I was surprised to read that the show was originally created over at Disney, with hopes of putting Michael Richards (Kramer on Seinfeld) in the lead role. They apparantly wanted lots of bumbling and slapstick. More Inspector Clouseau than Sherlock Holmes.

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Personally I’m glad things didn’t turn out that way. Richards is a brilliant physical comedian, and I enjoy goofy slapstick if it’s done right (Mr. Bean, anyone?) But Monk wouldn’t work as a slapstick character. I think one of the reasons Monk is so popular is that most people can relate to him at some level. Almost everyone has at least a few little quirks, phobias, or eccentricities which we are secretly embarrassed about and/or which annoy the people close to us. Shalhoub understands this. Monk may be strange but Shalhoub also makes him very sympathetic. I could be wrong, but if Richards had played Monk my hunch is he would have been too cartoonish to be relatable.

You can watch Monk on USA Fridays at 9/8c. You can also purchase episodes on iTunes or rent them on DVD. Highly recommended.

“Hi, I’m a Marvel”…”I’m a DC”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av6fWfmugds]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azGhHh9mV_Q]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbRh9MFW9FU]

I was playing around on my iPhone the other night and came across these YouTube videos. They gave me a good chuckle. The first one is a spoof of the “I’m a Mac”, “I’m a PC” commercials. From there they evolve into a series called “After Hours” where various heroes and villains hang out and talk about whatever.

To view them all, click here.

Being Weird

There’s a “tag-your it” game going around the internet. The challenge is to list five of your weirdest habits. I haven’t been officially tagged by anyone, but I wanna play anyway. Here’s my five (as if you needed any more proof that I’m not normal):

1. I like to eat my cereal dry, with no milk. Soggy cereal = yuck.

2. When I’m making conversation and start gesturing, I have this unconscious habit of reaching up with my left hand and giving a quick tug on the seam on my left shoulder. I have no idea why I do this. Maybe I’m trying to shoo away the invisible parrot that keeps whispering cynical comments in my ear.

3. My sleep cycle is a mess. I can’t seem to go more than a few weeks on a “normal” schedule. Eventually I go through a persistent bout of insomnia, and finally I give in and wind up working nights for several days. Then my body “crashes” and I go back to normal. My wife is a saint for putting up with it. The really strange part is that I often do my best creative work during those night shifts.

4. Whenever I’m in a Wal-Mart or Target, I feel a compulsion to browse the DVDs. Even if I have no intention of buying anything, I still have to hover there for a few minutes.

5. I can recite all fifty states alphabetically, in order. When I was in elementary school our music teacher had us sing a song that put all the states to music, from A to Z. For some reason the tune stuck, and I can still sing the whole thing. Although I rarely get asked to at parties.

There you go. Other than those five things, I am completely normal. (Pause.) Quiet, Polly! You’ll get your cracker in a minute.

Online Drawing Groups

Being a freelancer is great, but its also very isolating. Thankfully there’s the internet, which allows me to make connections with other artists, share comments and ideas, and get feedback on my work without ever leaving my studio.

Over time I’ve found a few good websites that are designed to give artists a sense of creative community. Many “assign” projects for members to sketch or illustrate based on a special theme, just for practice or for fun. I can’t take part nearly as often as I’d like to, but when I can it’s a blast! The projects/themes give you lot of creative freedom (more than you would usually get with a client), and the feedback from other members is often very helpful.

Here’s a few I’ve participated in…

DrawerGeeks
Unfortunately this one is pretty much a closed group. I was lucky enough to get on board early on.

Illustration Friday
A word is chosen each week, then you do an illustration inspired by that word. Post a link to your work the following Friday. Open to all. Just sign up to have each week’s word e-mailed to you.

DrawingBoard.org
This website is a fun forum in general, with lots of interesting topics and loads of artwork from artists of all skill levels. Most of the participants are from the animation and comics side of things. If you dig around there are usually several “drawing jams” going on at any given time (warning: some Jams use pornography and/or immodest photos for reference). My most recent contribution was to a Jam about Dragons and a Christmas Cards thread (like I said, I can’t contribute that often). Open to all, but you must register as a member.

Strange Behavior Challenge by the CG Society
I just stumbled on this one recently. I hope I can take part, although I doubt I will have time. Open to all, but you must register as a member.

If you know of any others, please post them.