Designing Characters with Jade Feng Lee Workshop at SMUDGE

We are excited to be offering free art workshops in the Education Lab at Artisphere all day at SMUDGE on Saturday, March 14. This one should be awesome!

1pm-1:50pm – Designing Characters with Jade Feng Lee
With well designed characters, we should be able to tell something important about them just by looking at them. Shape, line, texture, and color are all chosen carefully to tell specific things about a character’s personality and background story. In this workshop, we will examine these attributes in popular cartoon and comic book characters, then design our own characters based on a random trait generator.

bobabarian catprincess_posse dogprince_entourage eggventurer

Smudge 2015 Expands to the Dome Theatre


This year’s SMUDGE Comics Arts Expo will expand to include animation and documentaries in Artisphere’s Dome Theatre. Our featured full length doc is Root Hog or Die – The John Porcellino Documentary.

Shot over five years, ‘Root Hog or Die’ is a full length (108 minutes) documentary about independent cartoonist John Porcellino. For 25 years, John has self published his ‘King-Cat Comics & Stories’, and has steadfastly held to his DIY roots. This film includes interviews with over twenty of his fellow cartoonists, friends, fans, and loved ones, and digs into how an independent artist attempts to live and work in our modern world.

This documentary is being show courtesy of Kilgore Books & Comics.

Smudge JR Interview #6: Rafer Roberts

We asked self-publishing superstar Rafer Roberts to share some of his childhood drawings with us. Rafer is the mastermind behind the long-running comics series ‘Plastic Farm’. Rafer not only shared drawings from when he was 9, but also a redraw of the book that he did recently. The comparison is fantastic.
From MONSTER MASH #1 (age 9)

From MONSTER MASH #1 (age 9)

Tina: Do you remember doing these drawings when you were a kid?
Rafer: Kind of. I have memories of going with my dad to work and his letting me use the copier to print out a few copies. This was MONSTER MASH #1. Starting with issue #2, a friend and I started our own comic company and drew maybe a dozen or more books under the TABLET COMICS banner.
From MONSTER MASH #1 (age 9)

From MONSTER MASH #1 (age 9)

From MONSTER MASH #1 (age 9)

From MONSTER MASH #1 (age 9)

Tina: What were your first thoughts when you saw them again?
Rafer: I actually pulled these out a few years ago in order to redraw them. That was a fun experiment and gave me good insight to the frame of mind I was in while making this comics as a kid. [I'm attaching 2 pages of the redraw.]


Tina: Did you draw a lot as a kid and what kind of a support system for making art did you have?
Rafer: I drew all the time. Even after TABLET COMICS stopped being a thing, I kept drawing. I put out my first “real” comic in high school, printing it on the school’s little chief 17 duplicator. My folks were very supportive, even if some of the stuff I was drawing was dark and creepy.
Tina: Was there a time in your life when you stopped drawing or making art and if so, how did you start again?
Rafer: I never stopped completely, but my last semester in college was probably a low point in the amount of comics that got drawn. I had been doing a weekly comic strip for the college paper before that, but had stopped or reasons I can’t quite remember. Money probably. I started drawing what would become PLASTIC FARM about a month after graduating, though output on that was slow going at first. I think I’d lose my mind if I stopped drawing completely.


Tina: Advice for people who want to tell stories through comics?
Rafer: For artists: Learn to draw. Take art classes and study from real life. Draw things you’re not comfortable drawing and draw them a thousand times. Study the narrative stylings of comics masters, not just the way they draw, but the way they design a page and panel to panel transitions. Will Eisner, Dave Sim, Jack Kirby, Al Williamson, Frank Santoro are all good places to look.
For writers: Learn to write. Take writing classes. Find a writer’s group, either online or in real life, to do group reviews. Find a good friend who will tell you the truth about your writing. Trust your artist. Study the scripts of comic writers you like, and the ones you don’t like.
For both: Short stories first. Finish something and publish it somewhere. Then finish something else and publish that. No one will ever read the comic you never finish.
Rafer will be at the first Smudge Expo on March 8, 2014. You can find him online at

Smudge JR Interview #5: Michael Bracco

The Creators

The Creators

Michael Bracco is a staple of many communities having exhibited his work in craft fairs, conventions, stores and galleries all across the country over the past 8 years. His original graphic novels, The Creators, Novo, Birth and Adam Wreck as well as his a line of apparel that features his sci-fi and fantasy illustrations are all original, cool and frankly kick ass. I was interested to see his childhood drawings considering he has such a unique style.
Tina: Do you remember doing these drawings when you were a kid? What were your first thoughts when you saw them again?
Michael: Strangely enough, I do remember doing most of them.  On one hand, looking back on them was really nostalgic.  I remember sitting in waiting rooms while my mom was at the doctor or hiding out in my room and blazing through sketchbooks.  On the other, it’s really embarrassing to see some of what I thought was cool at the time.  Trust me when I say, of all the stuff I found, there is WAY more embarrassing stuff than what I decided to share.
Tina: Did you draw a lot as a kid and what kid of a support system for making art did you have? Encouragement, tools, etc.
Michael: Both of my parents were amazingly supportive and worked to channel my compulsive drawing.  I really NEVER stopped drawing.  They were the ones who pushed me to take it seriously, take classes and eventually go to school for it.
Tina: How does your art as an adult compare to what you did as a kid?
Michael: I drew comics as a kid and abruptly stopped in High School.  I didn’t read another comic again until sometime in College and then the interest came flooding back.  The difference in my interest now is that I have no interest in doing superhero books which is what I loved as a kid, Spiderman especially.  Similarly though, I would have killed to draw TMNT as a kid and I still would.
Tina: Was there a time in your life when you stopped drawing or making art and if so, how did you start again?
Michael: I never stopped drawing but I did have my interests split between art and music for a while.  Music is pretty alluring since there is a performance element and a live energy that I love but when it came down to it I really just couldn’t not draw.  That said, I totally get my performance fix now with Super Art Fight.
Tina: Advice for people who want to tell stories through comics?
Michael: Start telling stories with comics.  Seriously, just start doing it and be your own harshest critic.

Tina: Advice for parents who want to support their kids to tell stories through comics?

Michael: Push your kids interests but direct them to be well rounded.  Make sure they know the life ahead of them and to prepare them for just how hard they are going to have to work.

Recent work

Check out Michael Bracco online at , in person at Smudge this weekend or at a Super Art Fight (100th show also this weekend!).


New Books at Smudge

Many of our exhibitors will be debuting new books and works at Smudge on Saturday, March 8, 2014. Two that we know about (so far!) are Ben Hatke’s Return of Zita the Spacegirl. Ben will have a very limited number of copies since this book doesn’t come out officially until May!


Steve Conley will premiere the 6×9 edition of his wonderful, full-color comic ‘Bloop’ at Smudge . So come to the show at the Artisphere in Arlington, Va., and get your copy signed!!


Smudge Expo
March 8, 2014 from noon to 6 p.m.
Where: Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington VA 22209



Smudge JR Interview #4: Chris Flick


Strip 928 - Friend Request

Chris Flick writes and draws Capes-n-Babes, a comic about a strip mall, a comic book shop and one crazy werewolf. Chris will be exhibiting at the first Smudge Comics Arts Expo on March 8, so we asked him to share some art he did when he was a kid. He couldn’t find anything that far back, but was able to share the comic strip he did when he was in college.

Cahoun Intro Characters

Cahoun More Intros

Tina:  Tell us about the strip that you did in college.

Chris: My strip was for an alternative newspaper that was distributed around the Radford University campus. The strip was called “525 Calhoun Street”. The title was based on my actual off campus address. I just thought “525 Calhoun Street” had a TV sitcom sounding name so I decided to run with it. Due to the demands of my art classes and school schedule, it ended up being a very short lived strip as it was also my very first adventure into actually created a comic strip with a deadline attached to it.

The basic plot of “525 Calhoun Street” basically centered around my college experiences around campus. All the characters in the strip were based on actual people… the people I hung out with the most during my college years. As you can see from the strips I provided, they were all pretty raw. I like to think I might have come a long way since than, but being a self-deprecating cartoonist, who can say for sure?

Calhoun Bus Stop Strips

Tina: Did you draw a lot as a kid and what kid of a support system for making art did you have? Encouragement, tools, etc.

Chris: Oh yeah. I probably started drawing when I was around four. One of my favorite stories is that my grandmother used to collect Arby’s glasses with all the Warner Brother cartoon characters on them… Bugs, Daffy, Porky Pig and so on. So, when she watched me, she would let me borrow some of her very precious typing paper and sit me down in the living room table, put one of the glasses in front of me and ask me to draw whichever character was on that glass. Somewhere in my garage, I have a three ring binder with many of those cartoons. My grandmother always kept them for me. I really wish I could find it because I would love to add it to my Capes & Babes website somewhere.

As far as encouragement goes, I always got that from my mom and dad. My dad is a doodler and I remember him doodling and sketching as far back as I can remember. Every Christmas, he would paint some kind of Christmas scenery on our front window using poster paints. My brother and I picked up a lot of our artistic talent from him. My brother is an art teacher for an elementary school in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As for favorite tools, I LOVE design markers – always have. I have always been a “pen guy”… rapidiograph pens, brush pens, design markers, Sharpies. My drawing table is covered with all sorts of different pens. But put a paint brush in my hand and I completely lose it. The paint brush and I are mortal enemies.

Tina: Was there a time in your life when you stopped drawing or making art and if so, how did you start again?

Chris: No, not really. There were lots of times when I was doing things such as playing high school sports or participating in high school plays where I wasn’t constantly drawing but I have never actually quit. In fact, I took to caricaturing very early in high school and it wouldn’t be unusual to find me at a high school party sitting off in a corner drawing caricatures of everyone else in the room.

My dad also used to drive tractor trailers for a short period of time so it was not unusual for my family to take VERY LONG road trips during the summer. When that happened, I always brought a sketchbook, pens and pencils and would draw all sorts of things during the long hours on the road.

Later on in high school, when the drama department found out I could draw, I would always get recruited to draw and design the programs and publicity posters for whatever play we were putting on at the time. So, even though I would be involved in lots of different things, I always somehow managed to incorporate my art into those other interests.

Calhoun Parking Ticket

Tina: How does your art as an adult compare to what you did as a kid?

Chris: From a subject matter stand-point, not much! Being a cartoonist, I’m still drawing super heroes and talking animals – just as I did as a kid. The biggest change from a kind to adult though is that I have long ago quit trying to draw “like someone else”. Back in high school, I would spend countless hours trying to emulate John Byrne, George Perez or Walt Simonson – some of my favorite comic book artists. But I’d get really frustrated because my stuff would never end up looking like theirs or as good as theirs.

It wasn’t until my college years when a light suddenly went on and I realized why I would get so frustrated. Only John Byrne can draw like John Byrne and the same thing with George Perez and Walt Simonson. Somewhere along the way I realized I wasn’t them and I was never going to be THEM. But what I could be was Chris Flick and Chris Flick was a cartoonist and caricaturist. Once I FULLY embraced that idea, my cartooning – I think – REALLY took a huge leap forward.

It used to be, as a kid or teenager, whenever I wanted to draw a super hero, I’d start by thinking “how would John Byrne draw this guy or gal”. That’s not the case any more. Now I’m only thinking of how I should draw the character – so that’s really been the biggest change from a young artist to an older one.

You can meet Chris in person at the Smudge Comics Arts Expo at Artisphere on March 8, 2014. You can check out his work online at

So, You Want to Animate? Essa Neima Joins Us at Smudge

Essa Neima will join us in the Black Box theater at Smudge at Artisphere on March 8, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. Animator/educator Essa Neima shares his experiences in animation, from working with companies to understanding what it takes to make a good cartoon. He’ll share examples of his own work, as well as provide some simple exercises that you can do at home to make your own animation using a spinning disc and flip books.

Read this recent chat with Essa.

Check out the complete programming schedule for Smudge. Plan your visit.