Friday, December 24, 2010

First-Look Friday--Pg. 74

On page 74 we join Velma at her favorite watering hole with her best friend, Dottie Cento, and her trusty bartender, Fox. These guys came out of Velma's journals from her Barnard days in the early 30's which were being blogged by yours truly (someday yours truly will actually finish them). Dottie was Velma's fast-talking, hooch-swilling roommate from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn (now a lawyer). Fox was a bartender at a speakeasy near their campus who, after Prohibition, went on to legally tend bar downtown.

They were characters created long after the first book was written but their strong personalities found their way into this story too. Basically when I looked at the first script in its entirety I realized Velma needed a little friendly relief from all the chaos that was going on around her. Fox and Dottie seemed to be the perfect anecdote.

So with that a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all from The Wonder City.

Friday, December 17, 2010

First-Look Friday--Pg. 42

So we're jumping around here with the page order. This is one of my favorites so far and it's not hard to see why. We're back before Velma goes down to her office.

Next week: Ring in the holidays with Velma at her favorite neighborhood gin joint.

Friday, December 10, 2010

First-Look Friday--Pg. 46

After reading a part of a prophecy in the Tovernboak, Velma comes to one of the most important realizations here. It's actually one that will change the course of the entire book. Of course, I'm not telling you what it is. You'll just have to find out when the book is finished.

Note the staircase from Velma's office. It made a guest appearance in a blog entry last spring:

  Velma dragged me down the right passageway behind the choir and stopped abruptly at at a black iron gate. It was the gilded entrance to a dark spiral staircase. Velma swung open the gate and darted down into the shadows. 
  "How do you not kill yourself going down these things?" I was cautiously placing my left foot onto the first stair.
  "I count them. You know how many years I've been doing this? Close the gate behind you."
  I did as I was told. "No flashlight? Nothing?" I had never been to her office before and I was brimming with anticipation for the opportunity. I just knew it would be a treasure trove of historical artifacts.
  "Quit the whining, fancy pants. Just count! There are 28 steps." She was already at the bottom jingling keys.
  "Well I don't know which step I'm on now." I honestly didn't get very far. "Now I have to go back up and start all over."
  "By the sounds of it, you're on 8." I heard a key click into the lock and then a slow turn was made. It sounded like she was unlocking a massive bank vault.
  In my mind I counted from 8 and once I labored to 27 I took one more step and cautiously felt for another, but there was only floor. She was spot-on. The very second my foot made contact she flung open the door and light quickly spilled out onto the staircase. "You couldn't have done that sooner?"
  "I wanted you to know how right I was," Velma said smugly. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

First-Look Friday--Pg. 45

Velma's a gal who loves her books especially the one she's looking at on this page. It's called the Tovernboak which is an important document handed down from the Dutch New Amsterdam era of the city. It's the primer Velma needs to solve one of New York's greatest mysteries (That's all I'm going to say on that). When I told Courtney the page Velma was looking at was in 17th century Low Dutch, she just rolled her eyes and wondered why she ever got involved with my historical shenanigans.

In other news, Courtney has set to work inking the last 18 pages of the book and  I just recently started doing Photoshop work on the pages she's inked. Basically where getting to the "almost done" phase of The Wonder City. Wooohooo!!!

Last but not least, we had a knod in the Kickstarter blog yesterday. Thanks to them and to all our backers for the continued support. You're the best! 

Friday, November 26, 2010

First-Look Black Friday--Pg. 44

Velma doing some research in her swank office. For all you history nerds, take note of the Castello Plan map (c.1660) on her wall in the first panel. Courtney's attention to detail is amazing.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

First-Look Friday--Pg. 43

Page 42 is still in production. It's a really cool page, but not ready for a preview, so hang tight.

Velma's office in the basement of St. John the Divine is one of my favorite settings in The Wonder City. It's sort of my idea of a dream office and I think Courtney's done a great job with it so far.

Poor Velma is not happy on this page. You'll find out why soon enough.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Behind the Scenes Sketches

Some of Courtney's practice sketches for page 41.

Friday, November 12, 2010

First-Look Friday--Pg. 41

JR here: Every Friday we're going to let you preview a page in progress. This week's page is 41.

Courtney is currently in the process of inking the last two chapters of our first volume. This page here is hot off her drafting table. In the next couple of days (fingers crossed) I'll begin to clean these guys up in Photoshop. I'll go into a little more detail about that when I start.

Here we see Velma returning to St. John the Divine where she is based as the cathedral's archivist. She also  freelances as a gal Friday for one of New York City's oldest secret societies which plunges her into the action of this first book. 


Monday, November 1, 2010

For Posterity

As Justin previously wrote, we were recently very lucky to speak on a NY Comic Con panel with the awesome folks from Kickstarter, and some very inspiring project creators: Jamie Tanner (Aviary) and James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot (Indie Game The Movie). It was a great experience and very cool to hear questions from audience members plotting out their own Kickstarter projects. Lo and behold JR emailed me a link to a video of the panel (which the thought of watching all the way through causes a butterfly riot in my stomach) made by Mary Nichols (DJ Fusion).

My parents assure me we both look professional and neither of us have weird hair.

In comic drawing news, we are getting so close to beginning some photoshop work on two completed channels, I could cry golden tears of joy! I love the part where I can drag my laptop to the coffee house and pretend I'm a freelance something-or-other. I'm also starting inking on the last couple chapters, so we'll have several new characters to introduce soon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Wonder City At 2010 NY Comic Con

Courtney and I were fortunate enough to contribute to Kickstarter's Comic Con panel discussion yesterday. Here are some pics from the day and many thanks again to Kickstarter for the amazing opportunity. We really had a blast.

 From the panel:

This is with red-eye reduction. Me, Courtney, and Kickstarter co-founder, Yancey Strickler.

We also welcomed the white spot in the far right-hand corner to speak but he didn't have that much to say. He's hovering over Cindy Au who put together the event for Kickstarter.

Sitting next to graphic novelist, Jamie Tanner creator of  The Aviary. On the far-left were Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky from the upcoming film Indie Game: The Movie. Check these guys out, they are all doing really interesting projects.

How cool did we feel with these?

This wasn't even the crowded section. It was a sold-out show.

Biggest. Nerd. Ever.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Our Coney Island Walking Tour Featured on Kickstarter's Blog

Take a look at the link below! We think it looks awesome. Many thanks to Daniella Jaeger and all the staff at Kickstarter for their incredible support.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Adventures in Lettering 2

Just to keep you up-to-date on the hilarities that ensue when I letter.

That's the page I'm up to (above):

This was a mistake on said page I'm up to. Ironic that the text reads: "I'LL NEED SOME HELP." Oh and after I drew that, I realized I used the wrong pencil. HOT!

With the correct pencil in hand and my trusty Ames guide flying across the panels, I hit it right on the first try. 

My lettering moment of zen.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Case Files of Tobias Finch--Note & Chapter 1

Editor's Note

As you've read, Velma gave me a manuscript written by an investigator for hire named Tobias Finch. From what I can tell he operated in New York City from the mid-20's until the late 50's. Although he could have had a longer career, I am not privy to any of that information at this time. 

I'm not exactly sure if any embellishments have been made on his part, but this particular case he calls, The King of the Empire State involves his initial meeting and partnership with our good friend, Velma Graydon. According to her this is the first in a series of case files he wrote but never published.

His chapters are on the short side and my plan (fingers crossed) is to post a chapter every Friday. I have taken a couple of editorial liberties with the spacing and paragraph structure to make the chapters easily readable on a blog. I'm also psyched that Courtney volunteered to do an illustration for each chapter, when she can, which will help to make the whole thing more appealing to the eye. This is Tobias's own blog Each chapter will have a direct link to that entry on the Tobias Finch site.



The Case Files of Tobias Finch: The King of the Empire State



Friday, June 11, 2010

A Humid Lunch with Velma-Fin

"Nick, it's always a pleasure to see you," I said stepping into the office. 

It was everything I had imagined with a blue peacock and a whiny 29-year old assistant thrown in for good measure. The room was an ample size for one person's workspace, at least 500 square feet. The walls were buttressed stone and on them where old maps of New York City, ancient maps of Mexico, South America, and Europe, a framed diploma from Barnard dated 1935, an assortment of black and white photographs with some framed and others just tacked up. Where ever there weren't maps or photos there were bookshelves. Volumes upon volumes of books in all shapes from all ages and stacked up at least 7 feet high. 

Nick had his own desk. It was flat and white, very sparse, most likely from Ikea and on it was a silver iMac with a ridiculously large screen. Velma's desk was directly opposite Nick's and it couldn't be more contrary: huge piles of scattered papers, two weighty volumes of who-knows-what opened with post-it notes wedged in over a dozen spots. No computer. No phone. Just a green bankers lamp. I couldn't even see what the desk was made out of it was so blanketed.    

"The pleasure is, of course, all mine," he said sipping on an iced-tea, no doubt left over from lunch. 

"So what do you think?" Velma said throwing her arms up. "A real dump huh? But it's my dump." 

"No I love it. It's so... you." I pointed to the vaulted ceiling which was covered in maps of the cosmos. "What is all that?"

"Those are the stars, sweetheart."

"I know that, but what are they there for?"

"Stargazing is a hobby of mine." Nick choked a little on his last sip of iced tea. "You alright there, chief?" She said beating his back with her flat palm. 

His shoulders cranked up in discomfort. " Yes alright, alright. I'm fine." 

Rudy, the blue peacock, was hovering close to Nick's desk chair. He seemed to be in a defensive posture against me. I guess Nick had told him a couple of tales. "Is that Rudy?" I said pointing.

"It is," Velma huffed. "He's more Nick's bird now. Barely pays attention to me anymore. Did Mimi come back?" She asked Nick.

"No she left a little after you went to lunch."

"She's probably flirting with some tourists," Velma grunted. 

I stood quiet gazing at the star maps on the ceiling. It looked as though someone was taking notes on them. I was trying to make out the handwriting when Velma clamped down on my left shoulder, "Alright, time to give you a new job." She walked over to a book shelf in the far corner of the office and bent over to pick up a brown file box. It looked ancient. In faded black ink I spied the words, "TOBIAS FINCH." I recognized the name. That was the detective who was trailing her in the journals. "So good ole Toby. He was my first and favorite mentor. The man I spent a couple years on the tail of and right before he died, he handed me this box." She passed it over to me. 

I opened the lid and dust erupted into a cloud that washed over my face. After it cleared and I took a hearty sneeze, I discovered a mound of yellowing type-written pages.      

"Who knew he fancied himself a writer," Velma said in a laugh. 

"What are these?" I asked scared to touch the papers for fear they might disintegrate. 

"Finch wrote out some of our cases together. They're pretty good, that old dog."

"And so I'm..." 

"Puttin' em up on the computer."

Nick chimed in: "We all know how well that worked the first time."

I wasn't about to let that slide, "Yeah. It seems NONE of us were able to keep that up."

Velma jumped in quickly, "Who cares? The journals we can do later. These are fun. Real fun. He was a character."

I slid the box closer to me in a vain attempt to lift it. It wouldn't budge. There had to be thousands of pages all shuffled about and out of order. "Velma, I can't carry this whole thing on the train." 

"Well, boy genius, thankfully Nicky arranged the first manuscript for you all nice and neat."

He pulled a substantially smaller shirt box from under his desk and waved it at me quite disrespectfully. "Because I didn't have enough to do."

"I'm pretty sure you can handle that right, precious?"

I stood up and snatched the box out of Nick's terribly small hands, "Yeah this I can do." I tucked the box under my arm.

"Good. So go. Read 'em. Post 'em-"

"Sometime this century," Nick interjected.

"Do you ever get tired of hearing yourself?" Velma spat.

"Not really," he smirked.

"I'll try my best. Just for you, Nick."  

He faked an awful smile. And Velma punched me in shoulder. "So you can find your way out right?"

"Yeah just up 28 steps in the dark. Or you could leave the door open so I have at least a little light."

Velma opened her oaken office door and shoved me out. "Practice. Practice." She slammed it shut leaving me in complete darkness. Clutching the shirt box and counting slowly with each step, I kept wondering how I always seemed to find myself in these situations.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Humid Lunch-Part II

After I scarfed down my tuna sandwich, we both packed up our trash and headed toward the cathedral. Velma said my next project would be waiting in her office. I  couldn't imagine what she had cooked up this time and whatever it was, I doubted that either one of us would be able to see it through to completion. I noticed that trend with all of our projects. They sounded good in the beginning but neither one of us could devote the kind of time needed to get them done.

As we climbed the stairs to the main entrance, a large maroon bus with high tinted windows was slowly spewing out tourists. It was a real weekday crowd: A steady stream of older men and women in bright colors wearing assorted head coverings, some visors, others baseball caps. Somewhere on their person were pouches for their cameras and stainless steal water bottles. The cathedral was a logical stop for many who came to the New York City. Not only was it one of the largest cathedrals on the planet but it was also an architectural oddity being constructed in a half Gothic and half Romanesque style. Put simply, it was a gargantuan stone mish mosh. 

I had visited St. John the Divine at least 3 or 4 times before and every time the initial height of the Romanesque knave always caught me by surprise. This time was no different. It was by far the highest indoor expanse I had ever been in with its  hundreds of uninterrupted footage soaring into the air. The top of the vaulted ceilings were nearly undetectable because they were so high. Since the Romanesque windows in the front were so high and comparatively small, it was almost completely dark with the exception of a few lone shafts of light. Velma didn't even slow down to let her eyes adjust to the darkness that enveloped us. She didn't even look up to pay homage to the enormity of the space. This was her office and her everyday routine.

I, on the other hand, was stumbling through the dark with my mouth open like a baby bird. "Come on, sweetheart, we don't have all day."

"I haven't been inside since they finished the repairs." The knave was damaged by a bad fire back in 2001 and subsequently closed off to the public for 7 years.

"Yeah, yeah, come on. We get enough tourists around here." She said this as she breezed by an older couple standing in the middle of the transept admiring the blue rose window. They overheard her barb and looked at each other in horror.  

"Ignore her. She has bad gas today. It's making her cranky." I said to them. They giggled.

When I turned around a paper airplane made of a "Music at the Cathedral" pamphlet hit me square in the forehead. It dug into my skin like with its razor-sharp nose. "OOOWAH." The couple started laughing hysterically at my misfortune. Turn coats.

"I'll give you gas," she hissed.

"How did you make that so fast?"

"There's more where those come from so stop giving lip." She shouted right passed a group of singing children. They stood in a perfect arc at the foot of the cathedral's massive choir. Some of the people who had crowded around them turned to look at our little sideshow in disapproval.

I stopped to listen to the music. Not just to agitate Velma, but also because it was eerily beautiful and... I swore I could place the melody. It was a heavenly combination of major piano under the minor harmony of those 15 or so cherubic voices. Then I did, indeed, recognize the tune. It was John Tavener's piece "The Lamb" based on William Blake's poem. Dissonant but really quite bright in spots. Full disclosure: I had a John Taverner station on my Pandora. Creepy choral music helped to focus me. 

Suddenly a bony hand grabbed my arm. "Move it! We both have things to do and these brats are here every first Monday of the month." She dragged me down the right passageway behind the choir and stopped abruptly at at a black iron gate. It was the guilded entrance to a dark spiral staircase. Velma swung open the gate and darted down into the shadows. 

"How do you not kill yourself going down these things?" I was cautiously placing my left foot onto the first stair.

"I count them. You know how many years I've been doing this? Close the gate behind you."

I did as I was told. "No flashlight? Nothing?" I had never been to her office before and I was brimming with anticipation for the opportunity. I just knew it would be a treasure trove of New York historical artifacts.

"Quit the whining, fancy pants. Just count! There are 28 steps." She was already at the bottom jingling keys.

"Well I don't know which step I'm on now." I honestly didn't get very far. "Now I have to go back up and start all over."

"By the sounds of it you're on 8." I heard a key click into the lock and then a slow turn was made. It sounded like she was unlocking a massive bank vault

In my mind I counted from 8 and once I labored to 27 I took one more step and cautiously felt for another, but there was only floor. She was spot-on. The very second my foot made contact she flung open the door and light quickly spilled out onto the staircase. "You couldn't have done that sooner?"

"I wanted you to know I was right."

"How does Nick do this everyday?"

Velma said, "He counts. Like I do."

I quickly heard a second familiar voice from the other side of the door blurt, "I use my cell phone."

Velma jumped a smidge at the sound of his voice. "Oh Nicky. You're home." I was still standing at the bottom of the stairs anxiously waiting for my invitation in. "Well, come on. This is where all the magic happens, sweetheart."

Friday, May 14, 2010

A humid lunch with Velma

I had lunch with Velma on one of those unbearably humid afternoons last week. That morning I spent the entirety of our phone conversation trying to convince her that we should go out for lunch instead of sitting by the peace fountain in the soupy air (I honestly didn’t want to go all the way up to Morningside Heights). But she insisted and so there I was that very 1 PM eating her infamous tuna sandwiches and slurping down her homemade iced coffee which, I should add, was very tasty.

I told her so: “Velma, this iced coffee is delicious.”

“There’s a secret to it.” There’s always a secret to it with her.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep. Vanilla extract. Just a couple of drops.”

“Good idea. It really makes the grade.”

She smiled ramming my shoulder with her flat palm. It almost caused a spill, “Good, I know what a coffee snob you are.” 

She’s right. I am. “Have you gotten Nick to start drinking it yet?”

“Who, that princess? He started drinking tea just to piss me off.” That sounded like Nick. “He’s a real ball-buster.” There was a pause. Dottie was fond of that term.”

“It’s consummately Brooklyn.” I said.

“It’s consummately, Dottie.”

I couldn’t help but notice the sweat droplets running down her forehead, but I graciously ignored them as I was fairing no better. “Where is he?”

“Who Nickie?” Running some errands.”

Then I just couldn’t help it. “It’s hot,” I blurted.

“This? Nonsense! This isn’t heat.”

“Well no, you’re right it’s humidity.”

She grimaced. “Don’t be a little smart-ass. I know the difference.”

“Velma that mouth,” I smirked. There was no customary return. She seemed more sensitive than usual. There was something going on with her. “Velma, what’s up?”

“How do you mean?”

“You’re a little testie.”

“Really?” She started fidgeting. “I’m just busy, sweetheart.” She went quiet for a good thirty seconds. “I’m too old to be busy. I want to slow down a bit. Spend some time with loved ones and all that.”

“Are you feeling ok? Physically?” It was a valid question. She is in her nineties.

She seemed to drift off again for a split second but whipped back right into place, “What? Me? Oh yeah I’m an ox. Look, don’t worry about me.”

“Are you sure you don’t need anything?”

“No. No, I’m good. But I did have you up here for a reason.”

I figured as much: “Oh yeah? What for?”

“It’s the journals.” I figured. “It seems like we’ve all tried to get them out there and keep them going but—“ She was cutting me loose and as well she should I really wasn’t consistent with them. “—it’s time to stop them. And I figured out why.”

“You did?”

“Oh yeah. Sweetheart, they just don’t make sense without any context.”

I gave the confused look, “What do you mean?”

“There’s no frame of reference. No one really knows what’s going on. So let’s put the entries on the backburner. We can revisit them when people get more of a hold of the story from your graphics novel.”


“Right.” With that, out of the thick curtain of air, Velma’s white peacock (I couldn’t distinguish which one was which) came running down toward the fountain and perched itself on the bench next to Velma.

“Oh Christ, Mimi’s out.”

“Is that bad?” I asked half expecting her to run out onto Amsterdam Avenue.

“She’s just being nosey.”

“Nosy?” I didn’t know peacock’s had a penchant for gossip.

“Yeah then she’ll go and tell Rudy (that’s the blue peacock) that I was having lunch with a handsome young gent and they’ll both give me attitude because I wasn’t with them.” Velma turned her head toward Mimi and shouted. “BECAUSE THEY’RE TWO LITTLE BRATS!”

Mimi whipped her head around and glared at Velma. My eyes grew wide.

“Now she’s going to prance off and tell Rudy. Watch.”

Mimi did just that. After giving Velma the meanest evil eye I’ve seen since my Sicilian great aunt Agnes, the white pea fowl trotted off toward the cathedral.

“So…” Velma sighed.

“So you’re letting me go.” I huffed.

She pulled back in terror, “WHAT?” Not at all!”

“With no journals to type, what’s next for me. Well besides finishing the Wonder City.”

She flashed that patented Velma smile. “We’re switching gears, sweetheart. Eat your lunch and I’ll show you what I mean.” 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

St. John the Divine

Since the name of this blog is Building the Wonder City  I thought it would be fun to take out my trusty (cheap) digital camera and shoot some structural works in progress.

The perfect place to start is St. John the Divine Cathedral on 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Not only is it the base of operations for our heroine, Velma Graydon,  it's also New York's longest ongoing building project. Its charter was drawn up in 1873 but a turbulent economic climate put the venture on hold until 1892 when the first cornerstone was finally laid. From that point on it was a roller coaster of financial woes and untimely key player deaths that made completion of the cathedral a near 125 year work in process.

The plaque near the main entrance says it nicely (like Sarah Vowell, I'm a sucker for a good plaque):

Because architects were replaced mid-stream, the nave was started in a Romanesque style whereas the choir, crossing, and apse were later constructed in the Gothic tradition making it an architectural patchwork of form. To this day, many New Yorkers refer to cathedral as St. John the Unfinished.

In 2001 a fire severely damaged the nave and north transept. It also left the organ unusable. After seven years of restoration the cathedral reopened the area in 2008 and the result is truly awe inspiring. Also after an extensive scrubbing the organ is now fully operational.

A little known fact: Madeleine L'Engle, author of the beloved classic A Wrinkle in Time was a volunteer librarian at St. John the Divine and then the cathedral's writer-in-resident. She was laid to rest there after her passing in 2007.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Here's some further progress on page 39. After some work on the water and the whale swimming away, I think it'll be finished. This page took a week to ink (with a very stiff, small nib), but I think I can now say I'm an expert at drawing tiny people in a crowd!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A page in progress

A full page panel I'm working on of the crowded Coney Island beach.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chpt 1, Page 21

This quilt is probably the crowing achievement of my 20s.
And...that's the last of the colored, photoshopped pages from Chapter 1! Chapter 2 is currently being inked and I'll continue to post photos of my progress.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chapter 1, Page 20

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Insomniac Inker

I was looking up a word to explain why I am writing a blog entry at 6 a.m., I just learned that the word insomniatic means someone who is addicted to sleep deprivation. This is according to urban dictionary, but still....Who knew?

What I was really trying to do was preemptively apologize for this entry sounding weird/crazy/rambley since my body decided to start my day at 4:15 this morning. So to pass the time I thought I'd post some pictures of my [very rough] inking progress over the last few weeks. Guys, I forgot how messy and humbling the inking is. Each page is averaging about 6 or 7 hours, and if you look closely, you can probably tell what my blood sugar level is based on how shaky the lines are. Then, you can see just where I gain some confidence and start entering bold swatches of black until "SPLOTCH"--huge smear, which results in some cursing and pouting, then I'm humbled and begin working at a snails pace again with a brush so small, it has approximately three bristles. In the end I think I'll be using a bucket of corrective white paint but I'm happy with the way is shaping up so far.