Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day: The Whiskey Rebellion

This Veterans Day, I chose to depict two veterans:

The first, a soldier in one of the first federal forces mustered under the constitutional United States.  The second, a Revolutionary War veteran who he was sent to fight.

The very first United States veterans, soldiers who had fought against the British in the American Revolution, were also the first veterans to be institutionally screwed over.

Paid in I.O.U.s during the war (I.O.U.s accepted on the hope/faith that the Colonies would be victorious), those who returned to their farms or found new land to work discovered themselves high and dry when Pennsylvania (previously a bastion of democratic economic policy) insisted that they pay taxes on their land, but refused to accept the I.O.U.s as payment – a decision enacted by lender, war profiteer, and predatory inside-trader Robert Morris*, the first and last Superintendent of Finance of the United States.  Morris, with the goal of driving up a huge national debt that would force a reluctant congress to enact federal taxes with his bank serving as its operating arm (and middleman), concocted a scheme in which insider speculators would buy the now seemingly worthless I.O.U.s from the veterans for pennies on the dollar and cash them in at face value, resulting in government payouts that would cripple the national coffers and inevitably lead to a universal federal tax, disproportionately paid by the just-swindled non-financial class.  This federal tax (which was to include poll taxes, limiting the poor’s ability to vote in those states too progressive to not insist on land ownership requirements) was not designed to support infrastructure, cover the costs of the military, or do much at all for the public good, but was first and foremost intended to pay the regular six percent interest on Morris’s and his friends’ bonds, which would ever after, by design, account for the majority of the national debt.

The veterans, many of whom had turned to farming, saw clearly how the financial institutions of our fledgling country were stacked against them and rigged so that those making the rules were the ones who benefitting from them, and they wanted none of it.  Opposed in the first place to a binding constitution that was sure to wrest from them their sovereignty and place it into the hands of either conformity-insistent New Englanders, fiscal consolidators in New York, or despotic Southern aristocrats, they simply opted out.  Some, like the settlers in what is now eastern Tennessee, officially seceded, creating the Republic of Franklin.  Kentuckians raised hell in a decentralized and ultimately strategiless fashion like we always do.  Others, like those in western Pennsylvania, simply found their own currency to use, free from the machinations of speculators and market manipulators and beyond the reach of new laws against states creating legal tender:


Farmers, long in the habit of distilling their excess grains, found that whiskey served as a workable medium of exchange.  Unlike grain, it didn’t spoil – it could last virtually forever.  It was easily portable, its quality could be immediately measured, and people always had use of it, both recreationally and medicinally.  Also, because western farmers were prohibited from shipping their grain down the Mississippi to eager customers in New Orleans, it was the most financially feasible way to get their crop to the Eastern ports.

Morris’s protégé Alexander Hamilton*, desiring a national economy similar to and therefore competitive with that of Britain, wanted to remove the individual farmer from the equation, consolidating agricultural business into a small group of conglomerates with previously independent farmers working as tenants and employees, thus driving up prices across the board.  He desired the same for manufacturing… including the manufacture of spirits.  So he proposed and saw enacted an extremely unpopular tax (a tax rescinded as soon as the more democratic-minded Jefferson took office): a tax on the manufacture of whiskey.

Favoring big business, Hamilton offered the large commercial distillers in the east a sweet deal: a flat yearly rate, further discounted by about 25% if it were paid in cash.  The farmers, however, were not permitted this offer; they had to take a per-gallon rate at an estimated 9 cents per gallon (the selling price of which was anywhere from fifty cents to a dollar).  Not an exorbitant amount (roughly 9-18%), EXCEPT that they weren’t taxed for the gallons that they produced.  They were taxed based on their CAPACITY to produce, based on the yield of their stills.  Since these farmers were not full-time distillers, using it only as a supplemental income, this meant that the tax could, for many families, exceed the total cash-equivalent yield of their whiskey.  For those who were still capable of producing, they would find their prices drastically undercut by the commercial distillers who reaped the benefits of Hamilton’s overtly regressive tax.

Add to this that the tax must be paid in coin, and you had a huge and crushing problem.  These farmers, having eschewed the financial system that swindled them and having little access to its yields anyway, didn’t have coin.  Barter and whiskey were their dealings, and with fines for unregistered stills that exceeded yearly incomes and no way of paying the taxes, they were, by design, screwed.  Farms would be foreclosed and scooped up by the eastern financiers, working towards the Hamiltonian vision of the country's resources and output being controlled by a few influential businessmen.

As had been the case in the lead-up to the Revolution, the region, aggrieved and despairing of the rights it had fought for (without pay, thanks to Morris, who steered the wartime funds to his bond-holding cronies) only a few years earlier, banded together to thwart the attempts of what they deemed an outside government to collect a tax they considered exploitative and unfair.

When a U.S. Marshal came to serve warrants on those who hadn’t paid the tax, the farmers protested his arrival at the tax inspector’s mansion and demanded to see him (likely to cover him in feathers as they did with most captured tax officials).  The tax inspector shot one of the protesters, and the farmers mustered more than five hundred armed men in response, burning the mansion.

Long story short, George Washington called on state militias to provide a national force, thirteen thousand strong – the first ever in our constitutional nation to be deployed against its own citizens (though certainly not the last; at least in this instance they were fighting for the principle of national sovereignty rather than the interests of monopolists and mine owners).

Faced with these overwhelming odds, or, perhaps, wary of killing young men whose lives and situations were separated from their own by little more than a decade, the farmers disbanded, preventing what could have become a very bloody confrontation during our nation's early unstable years.

*Whereas Morris was a greedy, swindling toad who did all he could to stymie democracy, exploit the country and its people both, rigidly enforce a class system by removing economic and political opportunities from those not already possessing them, and do his best to prolong the fighting and dying of soldiers in the Revolution in order to better his financial returns, Hamilton was at least motivated by ideological principle rather than lining his own pockets. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Robot Fighting Triceratops

Just finished this commission of a robot fighting a triceratops.  Added some extra trikes to suggest story.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Musician Portrait Roughs

I've been switch-reading between a couple of books on American Roots music and one on the history of Country, and this (coupled with my listening habits) have made me want to do some kind of music-based project, mostly because I can't spend so much time reading about (or listening to) something without turning it into output without feeling like I'm being lazy and self-indulgent.

Doing a project based on whim interest is certainly self-indulgent, but at least it feels like I'm accomplishing something, so it scratches my work ethic itch.  And a project like this has the potential to fulfill one of my foremost goals when it comes to the projects that I undertake: to introduce readers/lookers to something that they may not have encountered before.  Little gives me more professional satisfaction than to hear that a drawing I did got somebody to pick up a book or read about a historical figure, and I'm hopeful that this series might get someone to hit their old record store.

So, anyway, these aren't the final drawings, but compositional roughs.  I've never done square compositions before, and I'm surprised to find that I really like them.  They force simplicity in a way that the rectangular stuff doesn't.

Not sure how I'll handle the final art, but I'm guessing I'll use a brush, something I almost never do on comic pages these days.

Anyway, here are a few.  Doing these in between Creeps pages.

The Coon Creek Sisters

Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys

Lead Belly

Ola Belle Reed

The Carter Family

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Son House

Jimmie Rodgers
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Hank Williams

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In-Story Intros

One of the challenges with each Creeps book is to offer up a formal in-story introduction for each of the main characters to the reader that gives them a sense of their abilities/personality as it'll affect the story.
While on serialized comics, I can appreciate the need/efficiency of having an intro page on the inside cover and a "previously" synopsis to catch the reader up, I feel like books that might be picked up by kids out of order ought to make an attempt to give the kid a full stand-alone reading experience, and not make them feel like they bargain-binned some sequel.
The purpose of these on-page is probably painfully obvious, but I reckon that if I can make the context different each go 'round then it's okay, and it'll always serve new readers.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dad Horse Experience

One of last week’s Sketch_Dailies topics was “One Man Band,” so I used the opportunity to tackle my favorite (or at least the most influential on me) musical performer at the moment, Germany’s THE DAD HORSE EXPERIENCE.

Mostly stripped down banjo/organ pedalboard/kazoo numbers, DHXP’s stuff is a really cool roots hybrid, a mix of early radio gospel (think Woody Guthrie or the Carter Family) and Alpine oompa music, with kind of an old punk ethos underlying the whole thing.  My favorite numbers are probably “Gates of Heaven” (language in that one, if you’re at work), “Dead Dog on a Highway,” and “Too Close to Heaven.”

I’ve never had a chance to see him live, but hopefully he’ll make it through Kentucky or Tennessee before too long.

You can listen to a lot of his music for free at his website, and his album mp3s are quite inexpensive.  Worth checking out:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hopkinsville Goblins - folks involved.

One of the reasons that the Hopkinsville Goblins encounter is such a popular one amongst UFO folk and Cryptology enthusiasts is that there were a ridiculous number of people involved. Here's a series of slides illustrating this for some talks I'm doing next week about hometown monsters.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Rocketeer poster

Still my favorite superhero movie.  I counted down the days to its release when I was ten, and have loved it since June 21, 1991.

Rob Roy

Oops!  Forgot to post a couple of recent posters on here.  First up, my pick for the very best period piece ever put to film, 1995's ROB ROY.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

555 Character Drawings: Stuart Ng Exclusive Hardcover Edition

Stuart Ng Books is one of my very favorite booksellers in the world.  He goes through a great deal of effort to bring some incredible European comics into the country, comics that would otherwise be unavailable to those of us who live stateside (and comics that have influenced me a great deal, especially the work of Pierre Alary and Matthieu Bonhomme).  He also carries a lot of art books and sketchbooks by illustrators and animators, things that you could otherwise only get in face-to-face encounters with the artists.
I'm honored to have done a Stuart Ng Exclusive Hardcover Edition of 555 CHARACTER DRAWINGS.  Limited to 55 signed and numbered copies, each book has a hand-drawn picture on the bookplate page.

This is the only hardcover version of this book that will be made available, and you can get it from Stuart's store website (and make sure you order some other great stuff while you browse) or you can pick it up at the brick-and-mortar location in California.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

When does life drawing turn into cartooning?

Got this question on tumblr:
I have a keen interest in cartooning, and am spending quite a bit of time on Gesture drawings, figure drawing, anatomy etc. Is this a good way to go you think? I guess I'm wondering how much knowledge of the realistically drawn figure is necessary to simplify it into a more "cartoon/comic" representation. Is that how you started out? Do you do those kinds of practice? Thanks!!!

Here's my answer:

I actually kind of did the reverse route, going from really stylized and cartoony to try and get more grounded in reality.  My work ALWAYS suffered when I didn’t understand what I was drawing, and it always dramatically improved when I did.  
When artists recommend doing this kind of drawing (gestures, life models, from life sketches, etc), it’s not that it really helps you so far as HOW you draw, except for that practice always helps.  What it does is help with WHAT you draw, which is usually where people with natural draftsmanship ability have the most trouble.  Understanding anatomy, understanding how faces work, understanding gesture, all of that is info that will help immensely when it comes to cartooning.  But translating that understanding to a simplified two-dimensional line based aesthetic is WAY more difficult than we think, because that’s what it is: translation.  You’re actively reinterpreting what you’re seeing into a form that is incredibly far removed from reality, yet still recognizable as the reality it is distorting.  It requires practice and a very specific thought process, on top of all of the physical-act-of-drawing stuff that you also have to contend with.  
We’re extremely lucky, as a society, to grow up in a world full of cartoons.  It makes drawing much more intuitive because we grow up with exposure to that two-dimensional representation (it also limits most kid artists to grow up thinking in line instead of form, which is something I’ve never seen documentation on but feel must be true).  So we do have a leg up here on our ancestors.
My best recommendation when it comes to getting that translation-to-2d down is to study the way that other folks have interpreted it.  A few years ago I found that my faces could not convey as much emotion as I wanted, so I spent a couple of days just doing my best to copy Glen Keane expression guides from Tangled.  In doing so I learned how to use the brow ridge in addition to eyebrows to double or split different emotional depictions, something I couldn’t ever do before (but something that I could understand because I’d studied facial anatomy).  My hands sucked, and so I’ve spent years on them, mostly trying to copy Milt Kahl, but nothing ever stuck.  Finally, I did some screen shots of a background character in the Canadian TV cartoon Little Bear, the first hands I’d ever seen that completely clicked, that were simplified down in a way that I could wrap my head around depicting the anatomy right.  I’ve still got a long way to go, but in studying the breakthroughs of others and really analyzing how they arrive at their final work (and copying the lines they do as practice) you can really help to get past that translation problem.  And once you understand how to depict something, you’re beholden to no one, you can draw from your head and simplify and alter your approach and grow.  But it really, really helps to stand on the shoulders of giants.