Category: Comics

20th Anniversary of Litmus Test 10

After my first mini comic Jack Face came out in July 1996, I started my ongoing title, Litmus Test. This is was my training ground and I did all kinds of stories in this title which I would photocopy, staple together, and try to sell. With issue six, I made a huge leap forward in my art and storytelling. Yet it was issue ten that I was the most proud of.

This issue contained two very different, but self-contained stories: “Holiday Phone-call” and “Kit Kaleidoscope in the Carnal House.” The first was based on my grandmother and so, while expressionist in certain aspects, was a real-life piece of fiction. The second was the second appearance of Kit Kaleidoscope and so existed in a silent world full of fantastical characters. Yet both stories were similar in the fact they both came to me almost fully formed.

I was really proud of this transition that I created for the two stories.

According to the inside cover of Litmus Test 10, it was published in October of 2000. I’m not sure this is accurate, because the notes on the back of “Kit Kaleidoscope in the Carnal House” state that I finished it in November of 2020 with a parenthetical remark that says “a month late.” So I think I intended to have Litmus Test 10 done by October but didn’t quite make it. Still, I’m using this October to recognize that this comic came out twenty years ago.

Holiday Phone-call

While I had a clear vision for this story, as is common for me, it took me a few tries to get something I wanted.

It took me three tries to get the first page.
And three tries to get page three.

According to the notes on the backs of the pages, I started “Holiday Phone-call” on January 9th of 2000 and finished it by August 14th. I was proud of how it turned out and I received some positive responses for the work. While I think the story is a bit thin now, I still really like how I handled it visually. And since it is based on my grandmother and her house, I’m so glad I drew it. She died not long after this story was completed.

Kit Kaleidoscope in the Carnal House

This is probably the most Angela Carter-inspired of the Kit Kaleidoscope stories. It’s not included in the Kit Kaleidoscope collection because it is the most fantastic and doesn’t sit well next to “Kit Kaleidoscope and the Mermaid in the Jar.” Also, I don’t like the story as much as I once did.

It may be hard to see, but it says “Angela Carter” on the cover of Kit’s book.

Still, at the time I felt like this story was a major accomplishment. It was the longest wordless story I had ever taken on. The beginning is concerned with a slave auction and figuring out how to depict the auction wordlessly provided a big challenge. Yet I really liked figuring out how to do it and I realized that I found the struggle to be rewarding. Along the way in the auction, I included some fun references (or “easter eggs,” if you wish).

I put Bill Clinton in the group of slave buyers.
And I had Kit “pay” the auctioneer with the marbles from “Kid Kaleidoscope and the Tale of the Seven Marbles” from Litmus Test 3 and the yo-yo from Kit Kaleidoscope Goes to the Masked Ball.

I started “Kit Kaleidoscope in the Carnal House” on March 14th of 2000 and finished it on November 22nd. So yeah, it was late for my self-imposed October deadline. It didn’t really matter since I just needed it done in time for the Alternative Press Expo, which wasn’t until February. Still, at 32 pages, “Kit Kaleidoscope in the Carnal House” was one of the longest stories I had ever done, next to Jack Face.

So as I said, I felt like when I put these two stories together that this was the strongest statement I had made for my art yet. Litmus Test 10 also had the best cover I had ever done on a mini. Mostly, I just had plain photocopied covers. But seeing all the fancy things people did at the APE, I felt that I had to try a bit harder. Yet I didn’t want to spend too much money. At the time, I had purchased my first color ink jet printer. So this is what I used to make the cover. For the inside back cover I included a pastel self portrait along with a scan from something I had written about myself as a kid. As it turned out, the statements made by the six-year-old me basically applied to the twenty-seven year-old me. Twas ever thus.


You can get a pdf of the full run of Litmus Test through Gumroad.

Someone to Watch Over Me

I’ve had this idea for an autobiographical piece for awhile and I’ve been trying to develop it. Yet as soon as I think I have a handle on it, things spiral in other directions. And in the end, I feel like there isn’t so much a story as there is a catalogue of details. I also worry that the tone will start to sound like a teenager complaining about his parents. Lastly, I’m not sure I want to deal with the potential personal ramifications of doing this story.

Given all that, I’ve decided to stop working on “Someone to Watch Over Me” and sit on it awhile. But here are the first two pages that were completed.

This story isn’t necessarily dead, just this version is. I have many works that I had an idea for one year and got around to many years later, such as “Icarus.” Or I completely gave up on several times, but then finally moved forward on, such as Lounger. So we’ll see.

20th Anniversary of Kit Kaleidoscope Goes to the Masked Ball

I was looking through some old files and realized that the mini of Kit Kaleidoscope Goes to the Masked Ball came out in 2000, twenty years ago. So I thought I’d do a few things in honor of this anniversary.

Because I am a compulsive archivist of my own history, I also decided to trace the origins of the character of Kit Kaleidoscope. So if you want to humor my self indulgence, you can read on…


A History of Kit Kaleidoscope Goes to the Masked Ball

I often refer to Kit Kaleidoscope Goes to the Masked Ball as the first Kit Kaleidoscope story. This may be true in an ideological sense, but it’s not entirely accurate.

Kit first appeared as “Kid” in 1996 and had a masculine appearance.

The next appearance was in 1997 and you can see aspects of their final look taking shape.

This initial version of the character appeared in the third issue of my title, Litmus Test, which came out in August of 1997.

At the time, I was a big fan of Angela Carter and Italo Calvino, and both authors pointed to fairy tales as inspiration and both also edited collections of these types of stories. So I was reading a lot of fairy tales and this story that “Kid” appeared in was based heavily on a Brothers Grimm tale.

So “Kid” Kaleidoscope spoke in word balloons and existed in a fairy tale world that was supposed to be funny and, at moments, satirical. Still, I was discovering who this character was.

As you can see, the “Kaleidoscope” of Kit’s name was literal. Though it may be hard to believe, I wasn’t thinking of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” when I gave “Kid” these eyes.

This fairy tale version of the character appeared one more time in Litmus Test issue 9, August 1999. As you can see, the name changed from “Kid” to “Kit.” I thought “Kid” was too patronizing and I liked “Kit” as a name.

I sent this mini to Dan Clowes and he actually wrote me back and told me that he liked how this gag worked (what a nice guy).

I started drawing Kit Kaleidoscope Goes to the Masked Ball in September of 1999, immediately after the story above came out. So what accounts for the change?

It’s twenty years later, but I recall that my fairy tale phase quickly came to an end. As I said, my initial interest was inspired by Angela Carter and Italo Calvino, so I wanted to do stories more like theirs. I also read a brief story in the August 1999 issue of Harper’s Magazine: “The Masked Ball” by Klaus Mann.

I had also just discovered Jim Woodring’s Frank. It was this work that convinced me to try a wordless story.

The film Eyes Wide Shut came out the same year I started working on this, 1999, but I didn’t see it until years later. So while there may be some surface similarities, there is no direct influence.

Keep in mind that I had no idea how to create print-ready art work and had no idea about things like “live area.” Also, the final intended form of Kit Kaleidoscope Goes to the Masked Ball was a photocopied mini. So I needed original artwork that would fit easily onto a photocopier. So I would buy 11 x 14 bristol board and cut it in half. All the pages above are on 7 x 11″ pieces.

The mini was printed on 8.5 x 11″ pieces of paper– standard photocopy paper– that were cut in half. So 4.25 x 5.5.” The image for the cover came from a vintage edition of The Night Before Christmas that a friend gave me.

And that’s how the character who would later appear in Carnivale came to be. Twenty years ago, they made their silent debut.

new Carnivale pages 175-179

Yes, you read that right.

Back in April, I had an idea for how the sequence starting on page 175 of Carnivale should be revised. I had always felt that the original sequence was too small and short. But back in 2013 I was eager to finish the story, so I didn’t revise it. Well, seven years later I finally did.

Here it is…

What struck me as I went to do this was how much my pencilling has changed in seven years. Not only do I use colored pencils in the process, the drawing overall has gotten tighter.

Old 175 pencils versus new 175 pencils.

“The Betrayal of the Mouse” mini

I recently finished a little semi-autobiographical story about unrequited love for Mickey Mouse. I’ve printed up the story into a single-sheet mini, cut down into fourths. So, eight pages. It’s printed on linen paper and held together with a singe staple. If you would like one, send me a buck and I’ll drop one in an envelope (link below or see the books page).

Give me the mini!

original Carnivale beginning

I started thumbnailing Carnivale: a Kit Kaleidoscope Story in March of 2004. I got to work on the first finished page in August of 2005. Yet that original beginning didn’t feel right. I was trying too hard to force a Toulouse-LauTrec biography on Kit, having them use sex workers as art models. Upon reflection, I felt that it didn’t seem true to their character and the scene itself felt forced. So I re-thumbnailed the beginning in February of 2008 and started the finished pages that March. That meant that I had fifteen pages that I was throwing out. Some of those pages got reintegrated into the finished story, but the ten-page intro didn’t.

I was thinking about those original ten pages recently. While I still don’t think they work story-wise, I like some of the art in them. So here they are.