Oct 222017
 

Late 1996, I resigned from Colossal Pictures, the only full time staff position I’d ever had. By then I’d been working in animation for 15 years, but recent job disasters had soured me to the industry, and I was unsure what to do next. After traveling for a few months, I’d decided to focus on the enjoyable aspects of being a cartoonist by creating some projects of my own, and by February 1997 I came back to San Francisco to draw. Although my plan was to save money by working at my kitchen table, Robert Valley suggested that I sublet some space at an animation studio he’d founded in 1995. I did, and it represented a turning point in my creative life.

For several months I didn’t think about paid work, but came up with silly characters and goofy situations for them to be in. I’d recently created some characters for a company and loved the creating part, but the process of getting it made wasn’t a fun experience at all. To rekindle the joy I once felt at being a cartoonist, I resolved to make something primarily for fun. My own thing, not tied to schedules, budgets and the whims of others. I started doodling in the solo medium of comics, and gradually, I began enjoying drawing cartoons again. ROCKET RABBIT, SEPHILINA, and many other personal projects, were all born out of this period of play.

Rocket Rabbit Rocket Rabbit Rocket Rabbit

At around the same time, more freelancers moved in to Robert’s studio; Bosco Ng, and Steward Lee, two more colleagues from our Colossal Pictures days. Maverix slowly became a shared workspace for a loose collective of freelance artists, each working on their own professional or personal projects, while sharing resources and sometimes collaborating on certain jobs, and my American freelance career had begun. More artists joined; Sho Murase, Derek Thompson, Vaughn Ross, and Robert’s brother, John. I’d been on staff continually since arriving in the USA, but once Maverix became my base of operations I could try my hand at a variety of different projects at many different studios, both in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Following various leads (from ex-Colossal Pictures colleagues) I worked for ILM (‘Frankenstein’) Pixar (‘Finding Nemo‘) PDI (‘Tusker‘) and on various commercials and shorts projects at Wild Brain.

The balance between my career, private life, and personal projects had always been hard to manage. When working in a professional studio, I’d get wound up in the cogs of production and think of nothing else but my job, but working at home as a freelancer didn’t give enough structure and I’d waste my downtime. At Maverix Studios however, I had the freedom of a freelancer with the routine and inspiring camaraderie of a studio, allowing me to do my personal projects for the first time. The studio changed its spelling from MaveriCKS  (initially named for the NorCal surf spot) to MAVERIX, to mark the transition from the commercial studio it once was to the collective it had become (besides, that domain name was available). Around 2000 we bought a shared G4 computer (the first time I’d ever used Photoshop) and soon after got a shared website:

Maverix at times became a hive of industry, that expanded from the core membership to include friends helping with various animation projects (commercials and the like) and this meant that it was often a raucous place to work, with loud music, people playing video games, a barking dog running around, and friends of friends dropping by with beers. It could be a difficult place to concentrate in, and ironically I sometimes had to work on my kitchen table at home simply to get away from the noise in my paid workplace, but it was always an energetic and inspiring place to brainstorm, despite those distractions. When we were buzzing with activity, we’d take breaks by playing video games. I remember those competitions fondly, even though I was the loser every time, and the brunt of good-natured smack talking that was a fun feature of these bouts of digital fisticuffs.

During a slow spell at the studio in early 2001, Bosco Ng, Derek Thompson, and I were sitting with nothing to do, and somebody suggested that we should each make a comic for that year’s Comic-Con and actually exhibit. We’d all been attending and submitting portfolios for years, but actually making something to sell had never occurred to us before. We were perhaps inspired by the recent example of a colleague from ILM, Steve Purcell, who had a Comic-Con table the year prior to sell his own artwork. We decided to do something similar ourselves and just make something for a change, instead of getting raked over the coals by snotty art-directors at portfolio reviews. Many times throughout my career, in eager beaver conversation in pubs or coffeeshops, such notions had been mentioned before (“let’s make an animated short!” etc) but this was the first time we followed through, and made the things we said we’d make: three separate comic books.

We knew nothing about printing or exhibiting, but it was remarkably easy to exhibit at Comic-Con in 2001; there was no waiting list, and in February 2001 we booked a table for July that same year, which would be unthinkable now. We’d committed to exhibiting and the ensuing period of making stuff remains one of the most pleasant stretches of several months in my entire career. Each day, the three of us would come in to the studio, jazzed to draw our comics, excited about what we were each doing, and what the other two guys were doing too. My effort was NERVE BOMB (my first Rocket Rabbit book) Derek made BINDU (a collaboration with Brian McDonald) and Bosco made METALUSION. We got them printed just in time. It is quite common for a group of artists to self publish these days, but it wasn’t as common back then, and we got a good reaction simply because of the novelty of a booth containing three artists selling their own stuff. A high point was when Mike Mignola visited our table and bought our books.

I got a rude shock when I finally got my bill from the printer. I’d cut the print deadline very close, and asked the printer to ship a few hundred of my comics expedited direct to San Diego, so they’d make the convention deadline, and ship the remaining 1800 books to San Francisco, at regular rates. They instead sent ALL the boxes to San Diego. The bill for expedited international shipping (from Canada) for 2,000 books was brutal. As that last minute transaction had been all arranged on the phone, I had no paper trail as to who said exactly what & when, so when the printer sicced a collection agency onto me I had to pay up. This was my first lesson that getting things printed was often the sour note in self publishing..

The next few years saw all Maverix members exhibiting their own projects at Comic-Con. There was the annual drama of getting various personal projects drawn and printed in time for the show, shenanigans with printing companies, Kinkos, or ink-jet printers. Hare-brained money-saving schemes to drive to the Con, all Maverix members crammed into a rented van, like the Scooby Doo gang or some lame rock band. Several years of fumbled bookings in shitty San Diego hotels, and assorted shenanigans; Robert accidentally drinking Sho’s contact lenses (twice) or getting stranded in Tijuana without his passport. Oh, such tales could be told (and might be one day.)

Maverix was a chaotic band of loons that nevertheless helped me break the cycle of my own creative lameness. I am not sure why it took me so long to actually make something of my own, except that when younger, I had no idea how to get things printed or made. Researching the means of production wasn’t easy in the 80s and 90s, and it’s only relatively recently that those technologies have been accessible to your average Joe & Jane. Even so, I deeply regret not getting off my arse many years earlier and making something. Anything. I always thought about it, but somehow had the feeling that I needed permission or validation from someone else to move forward. The younger generation of artists today do not make that mistake, and self publish books and make short films right out of school. This is definitely the way to go. When you’re young and before you have a family, you should make stuff of your own as much as you can, as personal projects are the gymnasium where professional artists get to train their creative muscles and stretch themselves.

Maverix became known as a fun place to hang out. The studio was not far from San Francisco’s South of Market club scene, and would often serve as a staging area for night club away teams, and after-parties. There were themed movie nights (“Ape Night” or “Monster Night”) or we’d simply gather to watch the latest anime blockbuster or foreign hit film on Bosco’s groovy projector. Maverix knew how to throw a very fun party on any pretext at all, and members of other bigger studios would all mingle on our common ground.

On the fateful day of September 11, 2001, I was the only person working at Maverix. This was before the era of carrying the internet in your pocket, and I was unaware of the world-changing attacks on The World Trade Center. I walked into work early that morning, and assumed that the police vehicles surrounding City Hall were there for another episode of ’Nash Bridges’, and continued to the studio, where I was working on paper and therefore not connected to the internet. By mid-afternoon, no one else had come to work but I didn’t think much of it, because Maverix was the kind of place where people kept odd hours. Later in the day, I went out to get something to eat at a nearby deli, where the the radio broadcasted something hectic in Korean. The guy making my sandwich was agitated about something in New York, but didn’t speak clear English, and I assumed it was a sporting event. After I walked all the way back home at about 11PM that night and turned on my TV, I finally saw the nightmarish images of airplanes dissolving into the Twin Towers. It still took 20 minutes for it to sink in that this was NOT a movie. That this was real. For the next 24 hours I stayed glued to the TV trying to make sense of it all. Al Qaeda who? Osama Bin What? Why?

My girlfriend at the time was in Europe traveling with her family, stranded by the USA flight ban imposed in the wake of the attacks (for everyone other than the fleeing Bin Laden family). It was a stressful and gruesome time. At the national level there was great distress, but many things in my own life started to fall apart after 9/11. Freelance work started to dry up almost immediately, and most of my friends were out of work for a long time. As the disasters stacked up – political, personal, professional, financial, psychological – it was almost comedic, like a sequence from a movie where a shlub (a Jerry Lewis or a Jim Carrey) is subjected to one humiliating pitfall one after the other, to teach him ‘a lesson’. The difference being that everyone was experiencing this spiral of disaster at the exact same time. For me this grim period culminated in a bitter break up with my girlfriend in September 2002, leaving me dejected about life in America, about relationships, about work, and human beings in general. It took several years to find my optimism again.

The original 9th Street address of Maverix Studios was in a seedy part of town. My memories of Maverix itself are overwhelmingly positive, but any negative memories come from that low-rent tawdry neighbourhood, rife with petty crime and scuzzy ne’er do wells prowling about. I had two different bikes stolen from inside the studio itself within three months, and I wasn’t the only Maverix member to have issues with theft. There was a strange ecosystem of Fury Road shantytowns in the alley behind the studio near our dumpsters, ruled over by a semi psychotic Hobo Warlord in camouflage combat pants, stripped to the waist. This methed-up alpha hobo was known to us as ’Hatchet Man,’ because we’d often see him out our back window flexing his muscles and practicing tossing his tomahawk into a telephone pole; wzzzz THUD! We’d have to thread our way gingerly past Immortan Joe and his underlings to put stuff in our own dumpster.

The back alley shanty town would grow, and periodically the city would swoop in to roust the squatters, and steam clean their paste off the alley. Then another shanty would slowly re-assemble, only to be purged when it too became a festering sore. The City wanted to offset costs for these frequent cleanups, and clearly the hobos had no money, so The City would attempt to send US the bill for these cleanings. One time I was at home in the shower in my own apartment when there was furious rapping on the door, with an officious voice demanding; “Open up! City Trash Police!” (or some such). I opened the door in my bath towel to be confronted by a guy we came to call ‘The Garbage Nazi‘, an enforcer with the city who’d found a scrap of rubbish in the alley bearing my name and address, and this was to be the justification for a BILL from City Hall; if any of our trash was strewn about by the human racoons that lived in the alley (as it often was) we’d get hammered by The City for alley cleanup. There were already stiff penalties for not having a padlock on our garbage can. However the entire system broke down when the guys driving the garbage trucks and emptying our dumpsters wouldn’t put the locks back on after emptying our trash. Then our garbage cans became prime scavenging sites, and even impromptu porta-potties for Hatchet Man and his homies (yes, not kidding).

The initial draw to the area was cheap rent, when most businesses around us were fabric sewing sweat shops, likewise taking advantage of low costs. The first wave of internet start ups happened around that time, and when the tech boom hit the neighbourhood, suddenly those crappy sweatshops were turned into tech lofts and the area was awash with hipsters on scooters. But the .com boom of San Francisco wasn’t all glamour. Sometimes, when working late, we’d overhear tawdry transactions taking place in the medieval monkey cage in the back alley below the studio. It’s a strange disconnect to be working on a child’s cartoon at 2 in the morning, when you hear some drunk tech-nerd stumble out of a nearby bar to haggle a drugs-for-sex swap with a hobo-junkie. This sleazy Blowjob Bartertown was an aspect of the SF tech boom not covered by WIRED magazine.

Maverix soon lost its lease due to the escalating crazy rents brought on by this .com boom, when our landlord suddenly wanted us to pay something like $10,000 a month for a space that cost less than $2000 a month previously, which was very indicative of the greed of that time. The combo of tawdry sleaze & crummy infrastructure and high prices was brutal (and became the problem with San Francisco in general). When it was time to renew our lease in 2003, we couldn’t afford to be in the area any more, so the studio moved to 17th street and the new space was infinitely better than the original place. By that time, some of the members chose to become a proper LLC company, and the loose collective dissolved, and I left Maverix (thinking that we could barely manage the studio trash cans, let alone file paperwork for an actual company). This separation was 100% amicable, it was simply that our different goals for the studio had changed. Although I was no longer officially a member, I still participated in many Maverix events, and often dropped in on my old studio mates. We are all still good friends to this day.

One of the things I was most happy to collaborate in were the Maverix charity art auctions. The first was held out of a desperate need to express our love and support for our friend Mike Murnane, who’d been brought low by a tragic accident. He required surgery but had no insurance, and thus no funds to cover his ballooning medical expenses. The broader Maverix community came together to generate money in the only way we knew how; by making and selling artwork. Organised in a matter of weeks, this first auction raised a significant amount of money, even though many of us were out of work ourselves at the time. It became the first charity fundraiser of many, and such auctions became regular events at the studio. People from Pixar, PDI, ILM, Wild Brain, Ghostbot, and other studios in the Bay Area all assembled for good times and good causes.

This was my first experience of artists doing what they do to raise money for charities without any goal of self-promotion. I have seen similar things since, but for me the Maverix auctions were always the best. They may not have raised the cash of bigger art auctions that came later, but they were always all-inclusive and immensely rewarding to be part of. Lately, I’ve had a visceral sense of what such fundraising activities can do for a person who’s been medically devastated, when I was a beneficiary myself (in 2013). Though the money is very welcome, I found the support from the community to be the real force for good.

I’d recommend any freelance artists who work at home to find like-minded friends to share a workspace with, at least once in your career. In my opinion, an essential ingredient to make the whole thing work is a sort of rulebook (or ‘manifesto’ if you prefer) to ensure that the day to day nitty-gritty of bill paying and trash removal happens smoothly, and it it’s clear in everybody’s mind’s to what extent the studio is a workspace, and to what extent it is a fun space. If you can get those things mutually understood, this is one the most satisfying ways to work as a commercial artist.

When I first fell in love with San Francisco in the early 1990s, the Bay Area had a healthy cross-section of big studios, medium-sized studios, and small studios. Over 25 years later, the middle of that ecosystem has died. There are still a few big places (impenetrable fortresses like Pixar, and ILM) and a few tiny studios too, but the mid-size studios are gone (perhaps because animated commercials are neither so common nor lucrative as they once were). Mid-sized studios were my favourite places to work, providing the bulk of the freelance jobs for people doing what I do, while taking more chances on younger talent than bigger studios. I miss these mid-sized studios a great deal. A lot of innovation is happening in the South Bay in GAMES, but my focus has always been on animation for broadcast or film, and in that respect San Francisco is not the vital town that it once was, sadly.

In 2011, MAVERIX STUDIOS finally closed its doors, marking the end for this fantastic collective of independent, Bay Area animation artists, though ex-members have gone on to work on many high-profile projects in a wide variety of media, from comics & games to film & TV. All members look back on the studio with fondness, despite some setbacks here and there. It was quite an achievement that such an unwieldy group of screwballs could operate so well for so long, during some very difficult years in the Bay Area media community, when many studios with ‘business plans’ and MBAs all went kaput. For many years I’d toyed with the idea of making some projects of my own, but it wasn’t until Maverix that I actually did it, and interestingly, it made me a more professional worker for others, when I had an outlet to do my own thing. Becoming a self publisher led to exhibiting at comics conventions, which I did for about 10 years and got a lot of satisfaction from. Being a member of Maverix Studios remains one of the most fruitful periods of my career.

Founders of the Maverick commercial animation studio: Robert Valley Jeanne Reynolds.

Initial members of the Maverix Studios collective: Robert Valley, John Valley, James Baker, Steward Lee, Bosco Ng, Sho Murase, Vaughn Ross, Derek Thompson.

The 3rd wave: Tom Rubalcava, Osamu Tsuruyama, Tony Stacchi, Sergio Paez, Ted Mathot, Chris Petrocchi, Garett Sheldrew, Ed Bell.

Other friends who collaborated, or hung out: Patrick Awa, Mike Murnane, Gennie Rim, Granger Davis, Lyla Warren, Charlie Canfield, Dan McHale, Chris Carter, Charlene Kelley, Victor Gascon, Sam Hood, Dedan Anderson, Joel Hornsby, Jamal Narcisse, Lance Hughes, Ken Kaiser (and many more!)

Aug 292017
 

One of the first colour images I ever drew of Rocket Rabbit was of being chased by a big blue robot, who came to be called THE BLUDGEONATOR.

Although that image became the cover for my first ever Rocket Rabbit comic book, I never drew any continuity for this robotic showdown back then, but I’m roughing out the story of their confrontation at the moment, in a short 6 page story called ROBO-BRAWL.

This will be part of a 20 page prolog story that explains why Rocket & Professor abandoned their vagabond lifestyle, and came to work in San Fiasco as do-gooders working for THE COMPANY.

I have a BIG book planned with over 100 pages of story, about half of which will be existing material and the other half completely new. ALL of it needs to be coloured, so it’s a lot of work, especially in my current condition, but it will mean so much to me to finish this project, especially if I can seamlessly integrate my new left handed art with the pages I drew with my right hand.


I hope to chip away at it over the next few years with small, 6-10 page stories. So stay tuned!

Oct 182016
 

Since 2001 or so, I’ve occasionally published silly comics about ROCKET & PROFESSOR, but I’ve doodled the characters even longer than that. The few comics I’ve actually completed belie the fact that I’m always drawing the characters, and thumbnailing & planning stories. Real life sometimes got in the way of following through, but lately I’ve been trying to assemble a fraction of these scribbles and notes into a plan for a 96 page full color book.

yotr_thumnails

To call it a GRAPHIC NOVEL is way too grandiose for the silliness I have in mind, but hopefully it will have a somewhat coherent narrative shape. Taking all the pages I’ve published so far and combining them with new material, I hope to weave it all into a meandering story, telling how Rocket & Professor came to live and work in San Fiasco. Even at my best, a 96 page full color book would have been a massive undertaking and in my current reduced circumstances it is a very ambitious project indeed, but will make a wonderful physical therapy project so I’m committed to working my way through it. Comics are a fiddly and demanding medium, requiring many skills together; writing, drawing, composition, design, acting, coloring and so on. If I can pull this off and manage to make new left-handed artwork that is compatible with old pages that I drew years ago with my right hand it will be huge, and I’ll consider myself well and truly back. As a professional cartoonist at least.

yotr_pages

The old stories were laid out on a 3-tier page of typically 6 panels. When I did my Sephilina color comic book a few years ago I found that a FOUR tier page worked well, because by cutting each page in half they could be cleanly displayed online. I’m planning to do the same thing with this book. The RE-laying out of pages is fiddly but I think it is worth the effort, and gives me a task I can do while my drawing skills return. Hopefully by the time the layout and coloring of the old B/W pages are complete I will be ready to tidy up the thumbnails of the new material.

yotr_colour

It will take me years to chip away at this project, and in the interests of getting something complete sometime soon, the 96 page tale is broken down into 6 parts, and they are sub-divided into 6 to 8 page chapters. So with any luck, I may get something short completed within the next year.

Feb 272011
 

For the EMERALD CITY convention in Seattle this week, I have a “new” book to sell; a 56 page collection of all the Rocket Rabbit stories that I’ve published so far.

Rocket Rabbit

KENESS has really come through with yet another fantastic print job. At 8.25×10.5 inches, this format is much bigger than any of the earlier Rocket Rabbit books and the print quality is much better too. Some of the earliest stories were out of print so this was a way of bringing them back to light and they have never looked better.

Rocket Rabbit

I still plan on getting NEW Rocket Rabbit stories done by the end of 2011 but frankly it has been hard to find the time in what has been a busy work year so far, so this collection is a good place-holder till I generate some new pages.

Rocket Rabbit

Starting this Friday 4th of March and through Sunday the 6th, I will be sharing booth Space #606 with the same two gentlemen who gave me a spot last time around; DEREK THOMPSON & TED MATHOT. Emerald City is a wonderful show and I hope to see some of you there!

Feb 072011
 

Gung Hay Fat Choy, everybody! In the chinese zodiac, 2011 is the year of the Rabbit. Coincidentally, it is also the 10th year of my self-publishing efforts, which started with Rocket Rabbit back at Comic Con in 2001. If I can find enough spare time, I intend to publish an anniversary ROCKET RABBIT edition (collecting old stories plus new material) sometime later this year. The working title is YEAR OF THE RABBIT.

Oct 142010
 

I just bought some portable lightweight stands to hang my CONVENTION BANNERS from. It was a bit of an intelligence test trying to figure out how they work but I prevailed and will use them for the first time at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) this weekend. Mostly these book-shows and conventions provide a backboard behind the exhibitor spaces to hang stuff from, but not always. So I thought these would be a good investment. I also bought a velcro banner to display my PRINTS, of which I will have a couple of new designs. The SEPHILINA book I launched at COMIC CON will also be on sale. This year my booth Number is #108 and looking at the exhibitor map, I am surrounded by some pretty awesome neighbours: Julia Lundman at #102, Derek Thompson & Ted Mathot at #106, John Hoffman (Anthology 451) at #107, and Steam Crow (Daniel & Dawna) at #100. And there are many other friends exhibiting as well in OTHER parts of the hall (Jennifer Chang, Ghostbot, Charlene Kelley, Michael Aushenker, Rafael Navarro, Ben Walker and many more!!). I hope to see the REST of you there too!

Sep 302010
 

Lately, I’ve been planning my self-published books for next year. 2011 will mark the 10th year of my self-publishing efforts, which began at Comic Con 2001, when I exhibited for the very first time (sharing a table with Bosco Ng and Derek Thompson).

Rocket Rabbit

Although there has been a steady flow of comics and minis in the interim, my output of published pages has not been as much as I’d wanted. Based on the amount of time I spend thinking about, and planning for this stuff, it should have been 5 times as many pages by now. I’ve been scribbling away on ideas for that entire decade (filling ring-binders with thumbnail layouts and story outlines) but lacking in the follow-through on some of the half-started ideas, which is partly an issue of TIME but is more accurately a lack of SELF-DISCIPLINE. So I’ve decided not to work on any NEW ideas until I’ve sifted through this pile of stuff to see if any of it can be made into something.

With that resolution in mind, I’m planning a big collection of Rocket Rabbit stories, probably broken into 2 books (possibly even 3). I hope to have the first collection coming out for Comic Con 2011, containing ALL the Rocket stories I’ve published, PLUS about the same amount of NEW material. A 10 year Anniversary Rocket Rabbit collection is in order, as HE got me started with all this self-publishing silliness in the first place. I have bashed together an outline for all (well, most) of the ideas I’ve ever had for that character, so that they can be combined under some sort of “story arc” though that is a grandiose term for what I hope to be a very silly book.

Now I just have to start the process of tidying it up…

Apr 142008
 

Rocket RabbitThese are some sketches from when I was trying to figure out what Rocket Rabbit looks like. They must be from around 10 years ago. I have some even earlier doodles some place but I can’t lay my hands on them at present. I will post them when they turn up.

Mar 092008
 

When I am doodling away on my self-published comics, I can really disappear up my own creative tail-pipe on the preparations sometimes. I may spend days and days designing a character who only appears in one or two panels, drawing pages and pages of thumbnail sketches, and spending hours and hours thinking up names and back-stories and all that stuff…. none of which shows up in the final book.

Case in point, an airborne adversary for Rocket Rabbit, THRUST MONKEY. He’s a jet-pack powered bad-guy who, by the way, rolls (and flies) with JUMP CHIMP (posted earlier) a rocket-boot sporting fellow flying simian, both of whom are members of the APES OF WRATH, a freelance co-op of hairy marauders, each of whom got way more pencil mileage than was really required.
Rocket Rabbit
But on the other hand, playing around with all this stuff is the fun part of doing personal projects. And I get to post the left-overs in my blog.