Author Archive for Nick


This is the second four panel strip in the exercise/practice I’ve started based on Lynda Barry’s Syllabus. Converting from straight prose to comics is a challenge, especially within four panels. Prose has the possibility of being chatty (at least my prose is). You can really get into the thoughts of the narrator/character. While you can do this in comics, the space limitation makes it more difficult. And so comics force you to pare things down, focus on the essentials. Meanings have to be packed into small details. It’s more like poetry in that respect.

brush pen showdown: the Pentel GFKP versus the Kuretake

In that shipment I just received, I also got a Kuretake brush pen (here or here). I had one before, but I cut the brush and ruined it. I can’t remember what I thought I was doing. Anyway, after that I tried the Pentel GFKP. I think Craig Thompson said that’s the brush pen he likes to sketch with. I like pen-and-ink more than brush, but I love brush pens and sketching with them occasionally. So that’s why I decided to get a new Kuretake. But I still have my Pentel GFKP.

This then leads to the obvious question: which is better?

Well, they are pretty similar. The Kuretake seems to be able to give a finer line and the brush itself seems springier; it regains its shape faster. However, this may be due to the fact that the Kuretake is brand new and the Pentel I have is a few years old. Yet one thing I definitely like better about the Kuretake is that it has a metal body, while the Pentel is plastic. I’d rather grip metal than plastic. This may seem like an arbitrary preference, but I’m sure some of you know exactly what I mean. So in the end, the scale tips in favor of the Kuretake brush pen.

As a side note, I had a Platinum Converter and filled that from a bottle of Carbon Ink I also got in the same shipment. This means I don’t have to throw away little plastic cartridges and the Carbon Ink is very nice and flows well.


I just finished reading Lynda Barry’s new book, Syllabus. As always, she’s very inspiring. The book is basically a list of assignments for and thoughts on the classes she has been teaching, but all done in the style of her last few books, What It Is and Picture This. Anyway, in addition to reading Barry’s book I’ve been listening to podcasts about being a creative professional, Converge and The Creative Freelancer Show.  Almost without exception, every podcast at some point mentions the importance of writing. Ironically, even though I am a writing teacher I have been feeling recently that I don’t have enough reading and writing in my life. All the writing I do these days is for blogs (this one and my teaching one) and for handouts. One of the assignments Barry gives her students is to write for nine minutes on a word taken randomly from a word bag, and then, once four stories are written, to take one of the stories and transpose it into a four panel comic. This sounded really good to me. For one, nine minutes is easy to integrate into my life. Second, I like the idea that it also results in generating ideas for a short comic. So I’ve made a word bag of 280 words and have started doing the exercise this week. The above comic is the first result, based on the word “sharing.”

the e + m pen holder and the leonardt 30 nib

I just received a few fun things from Jet Pens and Paper & Ink Arts.

One thing I got was this E+M pen holder. It looks and feels beautiful. But it also has a unique design. Not only is it longer than most pen holders, it swells behind the ferrule. If you grip the pen at this point, it feels almost like a brush.

This gives you less fine motor control, but it allows for big sweeping movements. I found I really liked the feel of this holder with the Brause 76, the Rose.

I need to play around with this more, but I like the possibilities. I usually tend to noodle around with small lines and that’s probably what attracts me to pen-and-ink, but the bolder sweeping lines possible with the Rose in the E+M holder make me want to explore new ways of approaching drawing.

The holder came with a Leonardt 30 nib. I was immediately struck by the nice lines of its edges. It reminded me a bit if the Hunt 512, but with a better cut.

The line it produces is similar in width to the Hunt 512, but with more possibility of variation. And it has a slightly springier and smoother feel. I think it will be a good lettering nib. Though it’d also be good for sketching.

Speaking of lettering, I also got two sizes of the Brause ornament series, the .75mm and the 1.5mm. To me, these will be special occasion nibs, like when I want to do a specific kind of lettering. But these are a pain to clean.

I also got a Brause 515. Not only is it a tiny nib, it comes attached to a tiny pen holder. It’s like the opposite of the Brause 76 in the E+M holder. The nib itself is nice, as one would expect from Brause. Still, I haven’t played with it much yet.

A new quarter has stared, so I’m getting busy with teaching. But I hope to relax with playing around with my new toys. I also got a few other things, which I may share later.

Best reads of 2014

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. I was really fascinated by this book. The basic premise is that there is a woman, Harriet Burden, who was the wife of a famous art collector and who, after her husband’s death, sets out to be an artist. Yet she gains fame by using male artists as proxies. She creates the art, but they say it is theirs. So the fame isn’t exactly hers, since it doesn’t come out until years later that she is behind it. Obviously, the book is a meditation on gender and the art world, but it’s not a simplistic political fable. For one, the novel really explores what it is to be an artist. Also, it shows the effects of Burden’s plan on the male artists she collaborates with as well as on herself. The novel is told from multiple voices, which is something Hustvedt’s husband, Paul Auster, seems unable to do (but I love his work, anyway). On a personal note, Burden’s son, Ethan Lord, reminded me a lot of my wife’s brother when he was younger.



This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. I think this has become one of my favorite graphic novels of all time, not just of the year. Jillian Tamaki’s art work is gorgeous. Not only does it capture setting and character beautifully, it does so with expressive brushstrokes. It’s a perfect combination of clear content and artful form. The story is incredibly well put together, also. There are so many places in the book where things could have gotten heavy-handed, but by making the narrator a young woman, Mariko Tamaki avoids that. So a lot of heavy plot threads exist around the main character that she is barely aware of, but that comment on the main narrative and create a thematic web. In the end, this is a book that explores the narratives about being a woman, especially about being a mother and a sexual being, and how those narratives get reinforced and the effects of that on real people. This is just an incredible book.


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. You probably know Shirley Jackson because you got to read her short story “The Lottery” in high school. I saw the 1963 film of this a few years ago and enjoyed it. I had heard the novel was good, the classic haunted house story. And I was impressed by it. Jackson does a great job of setting up her main character, Eleanor. Her motivations are clear and we feel sorry for her without succumbing to pity. The other stand out in this book is the dialogue. The four main characters often engage in witty banter which is entertaining in itself, but takes on even more meaning when you realize that they do this to avoid giving in to their own mounting fear. The book ends a bit abruptly, but it’s an unsettling and, at times, delightfully disorienting read. And I think the fact that I keep mistakenly calling the book “Hell House” is exactly what Jackson intended.



Gast by Carol Swain. This is a quiet book and I can see it getting overlooked, which is a crime. Describing the plot would do this book a disservice, because it is so quiet. There is hardly any dialogue here. Mostly, we follow the main character, Helen, as she explores her new home and becomes more and more interested in the man who lived on the property next door. Helen is observant and willing to look at small details, and Swain puts us into this state through her composition and pacing. Like I said about This One Summer, this story could get too heavy-handed, but it stays at the level of lived experience and everything seems real and believable. There are no forced epiphanies here, just the slow understanding of another person’s humanity. It’s a beautiful book.



The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I had never read this before. I had seen the film when I was in high school, but never got around to the book. I love Walker’s essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” and so I decided to finally read this. I didn’t think I was going to like it at first. The point of view being through an uneducated woman’s letters felt too claustrophobic to me. Yet this woman, Celie, is full of observations and philosophies. And her life is claustrophobic at first. That’s the whole point. This book gets at the suffering of life, but also the joys. It really takes you from the pits to the heights. I did find the changes in some characters too easy by the end. In my experience, most people don’t seem to really learn from their lives. And there was a bit too much philosophizing as to the meaning of it all. Still, this is a really great book. It’s nice to read something so well-written and fulfilling.



Just as a coda, here are some links back to artists who I discovered on-line this year: here and here.