Maxwell Cunningham

This is Maxwell Cunningham. For those of you thinking that he looks sad or forlorn his eyes are normally kind of sad looking even though hes not always a melancholy character


A few thoughts on writing

First of all I apologize for the lack of posting, things have been a bit crazy for me lately and as such I haven't had as much time to devote to this project. The time that I have been able to spend has primarily been on the train in the mornings and evenings fine tuning a new outline.

As I have said before I'm not the most confident writer, its a process that doesn't come naturally to me, but instead with a lot of labor and constant reworking. Right now the most difficult problem is my connection to the subject matter. The story is closely based on my experiences in highschool, so I naturally have a heavy bias toward the content. Furthermore stories about "angsty highschool comics guys/artists" are so commonplace these days both in comics and even in media as mainsteam as the "OC" that it seems incredibly difficult to maintain a fresh perspective. Keeping these things in mind, my main concern has become writing the story as it deserves to be told without compromising content for popularity and hopefully without falling into the pitfalls of the stereotypical highschool events.

One of piece of advice that has been helpful to me lately was from a photo professors I had who said, 'Don't make the art you think other people will think is good/important, make art that is important to you and the rest will follow.'


Shannon Still

This is a picture of Shannon Still. She appears later in the story but since I have been outlining and writing new scenes, I've been thinking a bit farther ahead and so I wanted to draw her.


Background Imagery

These cars can be found in the forest just off the bike trails I used to ride when I was younger and they provided the inspiration for the car found in the forest background on page two. Whenever I biked past them when I was younger I always wondered who put them there, how long ago they were put there, and why they were there. Eventually they became permanent fixatures in mind when I ever I thought about those trails and I found it only fitting to include them in this story.



The Max and Alex Clones

Some people have mentioned to me upon seeing "Sour Grape Candy" that the characters Alex and Max look very similar. The reason for this was an oversight on my part. I started drawing the final pages for the comic without having drawn detailed character studies for Max and Alex. The visual differences between Alex and Max are that Alex has spikey hair, darker hair, slightly darker skin and wears brighter clothing while Max has lighter hair, whiter skin and wears more neutral clothing. Other than that the characters can often appear to be identical in facial features and body size. In order change this for future versions of this comic I have begun doing quick character studies of each of the main characters in order to have a more consistent and distinct look to each of them. This picture is of Alex Goodwin.


Page 12 and the current process

When I finished the first stage of this project last January I felt mostly satisfied with product but I knew that it was just an exercise in what would eventually be a much longer book. As I have mentioned before it stands now as one 27 page chapter with a be continued at the end. Originally I thought that I would just continue where I left off, but after having distanced myself from the work a bit I have decided to go back and re-write the whole thing. Currently I have outlined the first 50 pages, written 25 of those pages, and thumbnailed six of them. All of this work has been done on my morning commute on the train. Its been a great discipline because every day I can look forward to an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening during which I have nothing on my agenda, making it an ideal time to work out the story.


A Tale of Two Styles (Page 10)

Pages 9 and 10 both have glimpses into the secret life my sketchbook. The style of the comic and the style of the drawings in my sketchbook are very different and I have never been able to combine them very successfully. Max's doodles and day dreams that sprawl across these pages show snippets of very refined versions of the raw themes that rear their ugly heads within the seclusion of my sketchbook.



I just finished the last of the Harry Potter books this Friday (there will be no spoilers here so no worries) and as I approached the last page it became difficult to imagine that this would be the last time that I would hear from Harry, Ron, and Hermione with whom I felt as though I have spent the last seven years trapsing around Hogwarts, learning spells and fighting off Death Eaters. My reaction was one of sadness as the journey finally came to a close and I think that makes sense.
JK Rowling created a world filled with such rich detail and wonderful people, that its almost impossible not to become immersed in it. Rowling shows her ability as a storyteller by creating a world so seamlessly that the reader is no longer focused on the form the author has chosen to use to convey the message but becomes so involved in the story that they feel as though they have walked amongst the characters and know them personally. The feeling of closeness to the characters runs throughout Rowling's books so much so that I almost feel a loss as though I will be losing connection with people that feel as though they were once friends of mine. Its rare that a book, much a less a series of books is able to allow its audience to capture this feeling and its this quality that continues to draw readers to these books and really enables them to succeed as more than just children's stories but as works of art.
As a person drawn to the art of storytelling I find these books to be very inspiring and yet also sometimes a source of huge intimidation. I look at these books and think about the characters and their interactions and the human-ness that feels like it oozes off the page and I want to create something like it, something that will grab readers and capture their thoughts and emotions. At the same time I am torn with the idea of not wanting to create a derivative work but create something unique, something never experienced before and the enormity of that task. Either way Harry Potter has left me with a lot to think about, but mostly I find myself deeply appreciative to JK Rowling for allowing me to share in these Hogwarts adventures.


Page 9 (a different perspective)

Last weekend I meet with Judy Zachs, the person who sponsored the grant that enabled me to pursue this project. It was great to get to meet her in person after having so many great conversations with her on the phone. During our meeting I received one of the best critiques I have ever gotten from her and she is not what some would call "traditionally artistically trained." I was showing her my rough draft to illustrate how far my finals had come and she pointed out that she liked the raw quality and the emotional feeling of the rough pencil sketches. The final pieces felt flat to her. When she pointed it out I saw it immediately.


Page 7

This page is a good example of the silent scenes that I mentioned before. Its tough attempting to create scenes that can stand alone without dialogue and still say something specific.


Mixed Feelings

Page six was a strange one for me. I was the most motivated to draw the first panel and every other panel suffered as a result. As I created the book I chose not to draw the pages in the order that they would appear in the book so that the quality of the content would not appear to shift as the reader approached the back of the book. I drew this page during the beginning stages of the creation of the book. At that point I hadn't learned that it was not only important to vary the order of the pages I drew so that the sequence in which I drew them wouldn't be painfully evident but it was also important to vary the order in which I drew the panels as well. Either way I think the page is a bit uneven.

Also as promised here is one of the reference photos I took to help in drawing the railroad bridge.



As you may have noticed its been almost two weeks since my last post. There are two reasons for this: Moving to a new apartment which doesn't have internet access yet, and getting married. Big life changes=no posts. Hopefully we will have internet access at the apartment by the end of the day and then I will be able to make with the images. Once we have internet again, it is my goal to post at least something everyday or two so keep checking back.


A New Experience

This was the first page in the book that I colored. It was an interesting experience because I had never used a pen tablet to color before. Until last year I colored in photoshop the low budget mouse way.



Originally I was planning on posting some of the photo references I used for the railroad bridge and forest but right now I am in the process of moving and thus don't have access to my external hard drive so the reference shots will have to wait. Instead I will mention something about the rules I set for myself that I used as parameters for creating these pages.

Here are some of my previously unspoken parameters in no particular hierarchical order:
1. No thought bubbles or narration.
A few months before I began to work on "Sour Grape Candy" I had worked on an autobiographical comic about faith for my senior year illustration project. Looking back on it just about every page had large blocks of narrative text. This ended up saving me a lot of drawing time which was absolutely necessary due to the extremely tight deadlines I was pressing up against. The trouble was that it slowed the read significantly and in some ways took away from the overall experience. This was pretty frustrating to me so I decided to focus on writing dialogue and selecting imagery that would enable the scenes to stand without the 'know it all' 3rd person explanation.

2. No black shadows.
The story doesn't have a lot of emotional high highs and low lows it seeks to stay much more in the mid range and I wanted the feel of the pages to mirror that so really contrasty compositions and heavy black shapes were out.

3. Always reference reality.
Drawing is one of those things that I am alright at with reference. Without it my characters often look ridgid and uninspired. Some people can create fantastic realistic looking scenes straight from their heads, I am not one of them.


Silent Scenes

Before beginning to write this comic I took a screen writing class. The first three classes focused upon a single task, writing a complete scene without any dialogue. During these classes it was impressed upon me just how much imagery can communicate without the use of a single word. Comics like film can take advantage of this principle and so I did my best to use the visual component of the art as much as possible, often attempting to subtract dialogue where the scene could stand on its own without it.


The Bridge

On this page, on the third panel I tried to mimic the feel of riding on railroad tracks on a bicycle by creating duplicate line images to elude to the jarring bumps that would happen if someone were to ride on tracks. I think the idea was successful but I don't know about the execution. After having shown this page to a few non-comic/artist people I have noticed that people tend to assume it was a misprint rather than intentional.


Page Two

The Inaugural

This is the first page of a graphic novel titled "Sour Grape Candy" I spent last summer working on it as the result of a grant that I had received. Writing is not my strong suit and I am still learning a lot about the comics medium so I see this as a polished rough draft of sorts.