anatomy of a comic

names matter

The reason I love toy photography is that it appeals to my desire to tell stories. Sometimes it’s as simple as sticking two figures in a scene, whether they’re dinosaurs fighting or superheroes. There’s enough in the picture that what’s happening is either clear as day or offers enough clues that you can find your own interpretation.

Sometimes, that’s not enough and you have to bring in panels and word balloons. Which is where the real fun begins because now it’s more than just a picture. It combines my favorite parts of writing (I love dialogue, can’t stand writing all the descriptive bits and “he said excitedly” and whatnot), photography, composition and design into one usually quick and dirty project.

So I figured I’d discuss how this comic came together, from concept to completion.

The idea first came together when I saw that there would be a Clock King in the next wave of Lego Batman figures.

That’s how I look at most Lego, as a story telling tool. Whether it inspires on its own or gets filtered through my ever expanding collection, that determines my interest in buying a kit. I mean, as cool as the mondo-uber-deluxe Millennium Falcom is, it doesn’t do much for me. But the Lego book that came with Emperor Palpatine? Oh I can work with that.

Same thing with the Clock King.

I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, so I already had the TARDIS set from a couple years ago, which is all about Time Lords and… well that’s the first glimmer. Throw in the Calendar Man minifig that came out last year and there’s definitely something there. I hit Bricklink for the Calendar Man figure, waited for the new wave to come out and then waited for a semi-nice day to pull something together.

Which happened to be today.

Next up: I have my characters and a rough “setting”. What’s the story?

Two villains, one Doctor. Probably nothing good. Did I want to show that? Have an “unconscious” Doctor in the scene? Not especially. I want these comics to be relatively streamlined, especially when they’re gags.

So they’re driving the TARDIS? I like the interior set, but I’d done something like that recently. And it was a really nice day today.

There’s still a lot of room here. I wanted a narrative so something more than the two of them standing outside the TARDIS with a caption about the “real” time lords. So a walk and talk (sorry Mr. Sorkin!).

What are they walking and talking about? One of them got the TARDIS, the other is impressed and… then… magic?

Calendar Man. Clock King. Such seriously ridiculous names. Nothing cool as the Time Lords I liked… like… there you go.

I do my comics in an iPhone app called Halftone 2. It’s a funky little program that was clearly designed to be used for tourist pictures and wacky captions of your dog. I figured this out when I contacted them about a glitch involving a comic of some twenty odd pages and they responded with mild shock. So there you go. But it’s super easy. Drop in your images, throw in some speech bubble “stickers” and some sound effects and you’re set.

Before I got to the park I threw some speech bubbles on the layout, which established the pictures I’d need. I took a couple pictures against the low angle of the winter sun, pasted them in, adjusted tails, cropped the images and, lo, I was done. A month of spitballing, fifteen minutes of photography, five minutes of editing.

I dig the hell out of this system. There are some serious limitations, beyond the tendency towards smaller file sizes. Most importantly, while the layouts are varied and you can make your own layouts in a related app, this is not really good at making super complex pages like Art Spiegelman or Alan Moore. I mean, there are options in the app, but I’ve never made them work for anything.

The learning curve on this app is less about learning the app itself and more about figuring out how to make it work for your vision. Or, to put it in a more visual form:
"Tutorial"Yep, that’s the long and short of it. You can have a big clear picture or a lot of words, but not both. Not really.

So yeah. My brain and welcome to it. And maybe you should try it yourself? Tell a dad joke in two panels. Recreate a Far Side strip in minifigures. Go nuts!

And, hey, Juicy Bits software? Call me. I’ve got some notes.


merry kinkmas

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Two things about these images.

First, yes, I know I’m going to a very special hell when I die. Obviously. But there’s something appealing and fun about coming up with such odd things.

Second, this is why I kind of love Lego photography.

I had the idea for the first image, set it up, snapped it and walked away. Then some marketing part of my mind kicked in and thought that, y’know, there’s probably an audience for the same sex/leather daddy version of this image. A quick swap (and no small amount of angry muttering as things kept falling over) later and I took the second picture. And I was done.

What happens next? Eh, maybe cards next year? Or at SEAF? I dunno. But I dug the hell out of the process.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

hard at play…


“So,” she asked as the shoot was winding down, “what’s the deal with the Lego?”

When I’m not playing with fire, pouring paint on models and shooting candids on the streets and cafes of Seattle, you can probably find me stooped on the edge of someone’s front yard taking pictures of Lego. I have a bunch of minifigures that I carry with me, creating tableaus and telling silly stories with them, sometimes simple, sometimes complex, usually silly.

It all started because I was bored. And frustrated.

I love collaborating on studio shoots. It’s such a thrill to bring different creative sensibilities in to one project and seeing what the hell happens. It’s great, I’ve had amazing times running that. But then there’s the matter of scheduling and, worse than that, when you have to reschedule after a cancellation. The reasons are invariably understandable and I’d have to be a complete asshole to not be sympathetic, but it doesn’t mute the frustration of trying to make the social calculus work because I’m free on Fridays, the model works Thursday nights, the make-up artist is busy every day but Tuesday and then there’s Jupiter in the seventh house and… and…



After a steady series of these scheduling tangos, I just wanted a project I could do on my own. Something I could pick up at a moment’s notice, that didn’t require the right weather or the right crowds to finish.

And one day someone left a toy dinosaur on a table at a coffee shop I frequented and, suddenly, I had an idea. I had my iPhone, I could put the camera at a super low angle and… well…

ganging up...

It was so simple, so satisfying and so utterly self-contained. Throw a couple toys in my bag and head uphill to a park and suddenly I’m shooting in Jurassic Park. Eventually I started making a webcomic in my phone called Adrift, which I eventually printed as an actual book.

Last year I rediscovered Lego and, well, this silly thread has continued with different properties, different stories and a lot more freedom than simply staging the same contests between predator and prey that I felt limited to with dinosaurs. There were faces and moods and buildings and you could have Batman interact with the Doctor and robots and… well it was practically a gimme since I love using toys to tell stories and capture moments.

“Houston, we have a franchise…”

It’s my fun. It’s my “stupid” (in the appropriate Doug Stanhope sense of the word (not even close to being safe for work, but hilarious). It’s my area of unfettered creativity where I can throw characters together and see what happens. Or follow a moment of whimsy and be stared at by the homeowner…

Oh yeah, that happens on a fairly regular basis. Nothing bad has happened, but I’ve had a few moments of incredulous stares as I explain what I’m up to: “Really? You do this?” Although the last time, the guy remembered that I’d shown my work in a local cafe a couple months before, so I’ll call that a win and be happy with it.

That’s the thing with the Lego. And it will probably be my thing with the Lego for a good long while to come and I’m really looking forward to the next thing.