Drawlloween 2015: Days 24 and 25

Day 24: SKELETON

Day 25: MUMMY

These two prompts seemed made for each other (to me, at least) as both are antagonists from 80s cartoons. SKELETOR from “Masters of the Universe” was thwarted by He-Man almost as often as MUMM-RA was by his nemeses, the “Thundercats”.

Both seemed awfully ripped though, for never actually being seen in the gym. I decided to show Mumm-ra’s pre-bulked up phase and Skeletor’s more-appropriate-for-his-head body and them fighting over the steroids that they must be taking to get such gains with no lifting or protein powder.

Inked in the sketchbook and scanned in to be digitally colored in Photoshop.

click to make larger

click to make larger

2013 Mountain Xpress Halloween Art

Last year I did a Halloween/Election cover (and inside Halloween art) for the local alt-weekly paper in Asheville: The Mountain Xpress. This year, they wanted another one, so I had to come up with a new idea and it was a little harder to try to combine the two. Here are some of the things I doodled and brainstormed on before coming up with the one we used.

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The final cover ended up looking like this once the heads and subheads were added:

2013 Mountain Xpress Halloween Cover by Brent Brown

2013 Mountain Xpress Halloween Cover by Brent Brown

I thought it was funny using the names of actual candies like Mr. Goodbar and Milk Duds to represent candidates that may be good or duds and having the costumed children/voters have to just pick one and hope for the best.

Some people didn’t think it was an original idea, but I promise if it was not, it was unintentional, as I can’t claim to have read every single other publication in every little or big market in the previous decades to make sure we were using something no one had ever thought of before regarding the common occurrence of these two events being so close together!

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Anyway, I also drew some inside illustrations, the paper said they wanted. They just meant some bats or cobwebs or something, but I thought they wanted more and spent too much time drawing these classic monsters with appropriate Halloween candy to go inside:

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Some of them actually got used!

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And finally, my weekly cartoon in that issue needed to be Halloween-related as well (I thought, anyway) and so it turned out like so:

Cartoon by Brent Brown

Cartoon by Brent Brown

#RIPBeleChere

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Bele Chere, the street festival that began in Asheville during a time of Detroit-level urban blight and downtown deterioration (otherwise known as the 70s) is now coming to an end, due to the city ceasing funding the increasingly revenue-neutral and somewhat now-superfluous event.

It began during my still-under-driving-age year of turning 15 in 1979. Therefore, without a way to get to the big city, and later a lack of desire to drive anywhere at all, I don’t think I ever saw much of Bele Chere during its 35 year existence. I may have gone a few times as a semi-local when the kids were small, but other than participating in a few event-themed 5K races, the one real involvement with the festival circa 1989 when I was a paid vendor.

Me at 1989 Bele Chere, selling caricatures at my booth.

Me at 1989 Bele Chere, selling caricatures at my booth in front of what is now Pack Square Park.

Back then, the booth fee was around $500 and I sold caricatures. Unfortunately, unlike having an inventory of goods that can sell as fast as customers demand, I could only draw so many people at one time, no matter how many (or few) showed up to partake in this service/art form. At $6 each, I would need to convince about 83.333333333 people to have one done before breaking even on the booth fee alone. Therefore, I split the cost of the booth (I only needed room for an easel and two chairs anyway) with my friend Don, who enterprisingly sought to capture the zeitgeist and had several current pop culture phrases (what future generations would refer to as “memes”) printed up on T-shirts to peddle on his half of the booth. I believe he did a pretty good business selling the “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” white on black designs.

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Don selling his “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!” T-shirts before LifeAlert™ trademarked the phrase a few years later.

After the three (very long and hot) days, I think I had made a pretty good profit, surpassing the booth fee and markers, pad and tent, etc. costs and then some. There was some hassle with not being able to park anywhere near my booth space and having to drag all that stuff up a bunch of winding stairs and steep mountain roads every day by foot (or leaving it behind to be upturned and vandalized at night) that kind of stuck in my craw and prevented me from working with the festival again. So, I never did become a Bele Chere vendor at any other time after that one experience. I believe the booth fees went up so dramatically over the years, that there would have been no way to make a profit with such a business model anyway.

Once I started doing a weekly cartoon about Asheville and Asheville-related things, I kind of had to address the Bele Chere festival each year. By this time, the festival had outlived the original need for it. The downtown of Asheville had now become a vibrant, booming and hip place to be. The boarded-up, seedy city center that once needed an injection of life was long gone. Eateries, pubs, coffee houses, art galleries, touristy shops and performance spaces were doing a booming business downtown all year round now. Except for when Bele Chere would happen. Now that influx of out-of-town vendors and unruly, sometimes inebriated crowds (along with an influx of professional street-preaching instigators to mock them) would turn up and crowd out the market and space to the downtown business owners who now felt the festival was something to endure, rather than embrace each year.

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There were also now a number of festivals that proliferated all year long, that were much more inclusive of and embraced by the locals than Bele Chere. B.C. was now seen as an outsider festival for outsider vendors to sell to outsider participants. Even local bands were being booked less often for the musical acts and local brewers (which were also proliferating) were often overlooked for larger, corporate sponsors.

BeleChere2SMSo, the focus of the cartoons took on a more adversarial tone, to reflect the feelings of most of the Asheville (and surrounding) community towards the fest. Making fun of both the crowds and the local business reaction to it, as well as the apocalyptic aftermath of the yearly tempest, was the gist of many of the cartoons.

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MCcartoonBB44BIGIn the end, the “Beautiful Living” festival accomplished (or at least became irrelevant because of) what it set out to do and for that, the community should look fondly on its 3.5 decade run, even if the last few legs of the race were like running in a sweater in July.

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WCU Panel Discussion

Southern Culture on These Kids

L to R: Randy Molton, Brent Brown, Chris Cooper, David Cohen. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca MacNeice)

On March 14, 2013, I was part of a panel of local cartoonists invited to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, to discuss our work as local cartoonists, as it pertained to “Southern Stereotypes in The World of Cartoons” as part of the Universitiy’s “Comic Stripped” exhibit taking place in the Southern Heritage Museum.

Many famous Southern or Appalachian-themed comic strips were displayed in the gallery: Snuffy Smith (with and without Barney Google), Dough Marlette’s “Kudzu”, Li’l Abner, even the more recent animated TV show, “King of the Hill.”

Of course, the creators of those well-known displays are either no longer alive, or too famous to show up for this panel, so the school very graciously reached out to local-grown talent to share their experience of creating comics/cartoons in the South, for the South, and presumably, about the South.

WCU cartoonist panel. L to R: Randy Molton, Brent Brown, Chris Cooper, David Cohen. (Thanks to Rebecca MacNeice for the photo.)

As a weekly cartoonst for the Asheville alt-weekly paper, “The Mountain Xpress” for the last six years or so, I was invited to share my cartoons that depicted such themes. Also on the panel were my fellow Mountain Xpress colleague Randy Molton, former Mountain Xpress cartoonist, and current political cartoonist for the daily paper of record in Asheville, the Citizen-Times, David Cohen; and resident WCU Political Science professor, Chris Cooper.

Brent Brown contemplates exhibit of Southern-themed comic strips at WCU.

It was apparent that the organizers of the exhibit and the panel had gone to great lengths to create a beautiful display of the genre and that genuine enthusiasm and care had gone into making the artwork displays expressive, lively and interesting.

Detail of exhibit of Southern-themed comic strips at WCU.

Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC

I was proud to have my own work put on display in the lobby outside the lecture hall as well, even if it was not in the same iconic class as the well-known comics in the gallery.

Brent Brown with exhibit of enlarged Southern/Appalachian themed comics he has done.

Sadly, aside from me, my fellow panelists, the accommodating and friendly folk from WCU who invited us, and the significant others we brought with us, there may have been about three other people who actually showed up to the discussion.

For those few, we had a lively and sometimes humorous discussion throughout the designated time period in the mostly empty hall. Randy and David gave thoughtful and considered answers in response to questions while I rambled on like a grumpy stand-up comic until time had run out.

I can’t pretend the seemingly apathetic turnout to what I would have considered a must-see event in my youth (REAL cartoonists talking and big displays of COMICs??) was not a bit of a letdown, and can’t help feeling like it was a depressing barometer of the interest in comics in general or my work in particular. It also evoked sympathy on my part for the work the organizers had put into it. Their fulsome enthusiasm contrasted with such apathetic snubbing by the students/public of the event to such a degree that I felt worse for them, than for me.

Maybe comic strips are becoming a relic of a bygone era. I mean, at nearly 50, I am still the youngest of the cartoonists present (you can’t tell by looking, but it’s true), so maybe if it’s not anime or manga, people of a younger generation aren’t interested. Also, print media may not have the allure for a demographic raised on electronic screens and unlimited visual content from limitless sources that it once held for me when the only time you could glimpse a color cartoon was in a Sunday paper or a Saturday morning television block. Comics and cartoons were a rare treat in those days, so they seemed to mean more. With cable networks devoted to them and web comics galore, they are as prevalent, and as overlooked as a kudzu vine.

Local area cartoonists: Randy Molton, Brent Brown and David Coehn at panel discussion and exhibit of Southern-themed comic strips at WCU.

Still, I appreciate their efforts, and enjoyed the time we spent there, even if no one else in the vicinity really seemed interested at all. It was nice to be part of group recognized for what they do, even if no one recognized it happened.

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Afterwards, Paul Clark, a writer for Carolina Public Press did a phone interview with me on the subject. This well-crafted piece debuted on April 9, 2013 to yet another round of intense apathy from the online reading public.