On average, Americans read, something like 1.5 books per year. Odds are the cover and title is the only experience with your book most people with have. That title has to connect like a pop song. 

Caroline and I are making a book. The first thing we did was pick a title. This might seem backwards, naming something that doesn’t exist. Unless that name is the inspiration to kick off the project. Which it is. So, here’s the title:


And here's the story.

PART 1, told by Ira

About six years ago I was at a craft show in New Hampshire selling my art and comics. Late in the afternoon, when the crowd thinned out, I had a chance to browse the other vendors. At one booth I saw a strange juxtaposition: A table of homemade soaps, lip balms and lotions arranged neatly next to a framed illustration of a pelican. An old woman stood behind the table, I smiled at her and pretended to browse the soaps, but it was clear to her I was looking at the pelican. 

“This is the only drawing I’ve ever made. I don’t know where it came from.” She said. As someone who is both a self-reflective thinker and an illustrator, her statement struck me in a weird way. 

“You’re selling it?” I asked.

“What am I going to do with a drawing of a pelican?”

To be clear, I am not normally an ironic art owner. Still, I bought the picture for $6 and she was happy to be rid of it. I am not in love the drawing but I am in love with it’s strange existence. For her it represented an unremarkable moment in her life she’d chosen to forget. To me, the drawing was an object without a history, like a thing from another world.

PART 2, told by Ira

For a year or so I was a regular contributor to the seminal horror pulp Weird Tales. I created a story about a catalog of merchandise, modeled on the old Sears and Roebuck Catalog from the 1930s. The catalog acted as a journal by a man who lived in the catalog’s merchandise warehouse. According to the man, all the merchandise appeared in the warehouse, as if out of nowhere, revealing details of a parallel universe. The project was inspired by the pelican drawing from the craft show. So I named the catalog, Harvey Pelican and Co.

from the Harvey Pelican Catalog courtesy of Weird Tales Magazine.   Ira Marcks, 2004-6

PART 3, told by Caroline

"The other night Ira and I asked Ira about the book title and he said, 'I wanted to call it Harvey Pelican but I’m not sure anymore. I like the Pelican part but I don’t know about the name Harvey.'  I really liked the name, though, it immediately made me smile, because both names connect to a different grandparent for me.

When I was little girl, my grandfather, Barney, used to tell me and my brothers that a giant rabbit named Harvey (Guessing it's a Jimmy Stewart reference from his era?) hiding behind this wall in his basement.  Harvey would leave little gifts for us, and we would leave him notes, drawings, and really anything just in hopes that he might come out. He never did, and by the time I was old enough to realize that there wasn't a rabbit living behind the oil burner, I was just so in awe of how adorable Barney was with us."

PART 4, told by Caroline

"My grandmother's maiden name is "Pelicane," and she always wore a fancy gold pelican pin when we were growing up. So I always think of her when I hear the word. After that we decided Harvey Pelican was probably meant to be."

AuthorIra Marcks

Recently, I came to work with a 9th grade English class who had just read the young adult novels, Speak and Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Both are books about learning to express yourself when everyone around you has already decided who you are. I was asked to help/inspire them to create a short comic based on the reading. I didn't want the students drawing plot points or quoting from the stories, I wanted their comics to deal with a bigger picture. I had to find a common theme.

I settled on the INVISIBLE PRISON. A phrase swiped from the culture blog, HiLoBrow with full credit to Joshua Glenn for creating this striking motif. As I understand it, the Invisible Prison appears when a character is overwhelmed by social, cultural or financial restrictions. It seemed to fit both Speak and Part-Time Indian. I presented the idea to the class and, without a formal definition, the kids immediately found a point of reference. They found something they wanted to say.

The results were mixed. Some were caught in plot tangles that muddled their work. While others, despite a good idea, were drained from the drawing. Comics take stamina, you know? A few of them, already versed in illustrative art, did great work. In the comics that came out of the project I saw lonely moments and yelling teachers, mean words and hashtags, messy bedrooms and wrong answers. I saw teenagers being honest.

One day, I walked into a room of 9th graders holding a lunchbox full of non-photo blue pencils and Micron Pens. I asked a class full of busy high school kids to take time of out of their lives to draw me their Invisible Prisons and they were cool enough to do it.

AuthorIra Marcks

As a kid in school, I wrote a bunch of essays where I was asked to express an opinion on pretty serious topics like endangered animals, climate change and social justice. I remember reading back over those papers and thinking about how cold and assertive my words felt. I remember thinking, is this what writing is supposed to feel like? Of course not, but for lots of people, language can feel like a cold and complex tool, especially if you're a kid who's just starting to figure things out.

The comics in these pictures are from students I've worked with. They are about serious things like peer pressure, education and health. They express serious opinions, but they are also warm, inviting and hopeful.

For some of us, our words are strongest when they have drawings holding them up.

AuthorIra Marcks

I've been collecting photos of drawings by the awesome kids in my visual storytelling workshops. I get inspired by the energy these young artists bring to cartooning and this is the best way I can think of to share that inspiration. 

Everyone of these is a GEM: http://todayincomicsclub.tumblr.com/


AuthorIra Marcks

Growing up, I'd get lots attention for my art. I'm not bragging! I was bad at band and I was horrible at sports. I was good at drawing because it was the only thing I practiced. Grown-ups would say to me:

Font: Mission Script by JAMES T. EDMONDSON @ Lost Type Co-op  

Font: Mission Script by JAMES T. EDMONDSON @ Lost Type Co-op

To a kid, UNIQUE means DIFFERENT which means sitting alone at lunch. I could tell I left an impression, but what were these people really trying to say about me and my art?

I think I figured it out. As an artist and teacher, I spend the work day leaving impressions on people. Sometimes those impressions get forgotten seconds later. That comes with the trade. But sometimes, an impression sticks. Why? Because it's new and exciting. Unique isn't a type of person, it's an experience.

A creative person can create these experiences. Yeah, it takes practice. But it is not a rare skill. Go be creative! Make something, teach something, share something with the people around you. Sooner or later, someone will realize they just had a moment that was truly unique. Which is a good thing.

AuthorIra Marcks

Since I studied graphic design in high school and college, the elements and principles of design are major factors in how I perceive and create art; particularly the relationship between positive and negative space. While thinking about the way I would illustrate my new book, I wanted to find a reason to play with positive/negative space in my illustrations. One of my favorite cartoonists, Jordan Crane, does amazing prints that really utilize the medium of screen printing. CHECK HIM OUT. With Mr. Crane as an inspiration, I signed up for a screen printing class with the guys at Design It Together in downtown Troy, NY. If you’re reading this, you probably think screen printing is pretty cool and fun. You are right! But, like any technical skill, there are a number of unforeseen hurdles that will hold you back from creating a good print. I wanted to share my experience, hopefully you’ll be inspired to try screen printing your own designs too!

The first step was creating an illustration to be used in a 12" x 15" single color poster. I think of myself as a storyteller who works best in the context of a comic or illustrated story. So, when it came time to draw something for my poster, I was stuck for a good idea. I went through my archives and found a map I'd drawn awhile back. In the corner was a little moon with an Arabian Nights style palace on it. Perfect!

Moon Palace, version 1

The poster was going to be pretty big and the original Moon Palace design was only about 2" square. I wasn't sure it'd scale well, so I decided to redraw it. Poster design is an art unto itself, and for me, large format art needs to have a good sense of symmetry. I could tell right off that if I blew up the original Moon Palace drawing to poster size, it wasn't going to give me that symmetrical feeling I liked. After scanning the Moon Palace, 

I turned to Adobe Illustrator to sketch up a more balanced design.

Using one of my favorite animated films, The Thief and the Cobbler, as inspiration, I mocked-up a Moon Palace with some finer details and removed the weird Sci Fi Star Base on the moon's underside. Sorry, intergalactic travelers! After printing out this design, I set myself up at my favorite work station: the light table! I love tracing things and I love finding reasons to not use a computer. When the occasion arrises, I spend as much time as I can there. Next came the inking. Back to the light table!

              Moon Palace, Adobe Illustrator mock-up

              Moon Palace, Adobe Illustrator mock-up

Moon Palace, version 2

Moon Palace, version 2 inked!

Now, it was time to prepare the Moon Palace to be screen printed. In a way, screen printing is like spray painting over a stencil. The design is represented by the openings in the screen. Ink is pushed through a fine mesh and onto a flat surface (probably paper or fabric). This means the edges of the art work need to be super crisp. No blurry pixels. There are a bunch of ways to get rid of unwanted pixels. To do this, I scanned my final illustrations and used Adobe Illustrator's 'live trace' function. Take a look at what it does:


Here's a pretty good (and short) tutorial on 'live trace'. Like I said, there are other ways to do this, but this is my favorite. Now, off to the print shop! WOO! 

Design It Together is a print shop in downtown Troy, NY run by two local artists, Taylor and Ben. They are super friendly, helpful and encouraging. If you have the opportunity to learn by working along side a pro, DO IT. Most artists are happy to share their knowledge and you'll save A BILLION HOURS of trial and error. 

Moon Palace, screen

Once you've got your design digitally cleaned up, you need to create a transparency. This can be done from an inkjet printer, as long as you can get a really opaque black print. Here's why: The screen is coated in a light sensitive emulsion in a dark room. When it is dry, the transparency is placed over the screen and exposed to light. Wherever the light hits, the emulsion is hardened. The black ink on the transparency blocks the light in the shape of your design. When the screen is washed off, the unexposed emulsion washes away. If the transparency isn't dark enough, light will get through and wreck the design.

Design It Together has a whole section of their shop dedicated to students and folks who want to print their own designs. I've done the DIY home screen printing thing in the past so, for me, it was an amazing luxury to work on a press that was 1) well built and 2) not in a basement. The actual printing can be tricky, there are a number of reasons why you might end up with a blurry or otherwise imperfect design. Ben and Talyor are total pros and gave great tips on how to get a perfect print.

One of my big plans for 2013 is to release a series of limited edition, hand pulled prints. While my Moon Palace print looked PERFECT, I'm not ready for the Moon Palace to go public. I made a few beginner mistakes. For one, I underestimated the detail I'd be able to achieve in the print. My line work can get pretty skinny and I was worried the screen wouldn't pick it up. I unnecessarily thickened the whole design and lost a bunch of the little hatching details. OOPS. Like I mentioned at the beginning, I wanted to play with positive/negative space more. It's important to experiment but sometimes- if it ain't broke, don't fix it! I definitely need to keep my line work as a dark color. The inverted contrast of my print obscured the Moon Palace a bit much. The whole experience left me confident that my next print was going to be great. I can't wait to head back over to Design It Together and make more awesome stuff. Prints coming soon! Here's a desktop version of Moon Palace for your personal enjoyment. Download it here!

Moon Palace, wallpaper 1920x1080

Moon Palace, wallpaper 1920x1080

AuthorIra Marcks