5 Books That Changed Me

March 23, 2018

  1. The Bible by God
    What if the creator of the universe had something to say to His creation and put it down in a book for us all to read? That would be some book. It would have to cover creation, explain man’s great problem with our nature, offer a solution via salvation and speak of the big ending where the universe is brought to a point of ultimate peace. The only book that can make that claim is The Bible. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m convinced of its high stature among all books. To read it is to witness an epic collection of wisdom that must have come from beyond the human hands that rendered it. No other book has changed western civilization like the Bible. I’ve read broadly on its defenders and its critics and it is the standard by which we argue theology today, as it would if it were divinely inspired. How controversial would an exhaustive book about the existence of unicorns be? Not very. But bring up the Bible and discussions erupt, rightly so.
  2. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
    I read this book after becoming a fan of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and their arguments point back to this earlier source. Chesterton was simply the most influential Christian writer of the last century and nearly all of his 10,000 articles are more relevant today than the day he wrote them. That’s a sign of wisdom, when a thinker can transcend his times to reflect on what is eternally true. Chesterton has a wit that has garnered a generation of fans from Orson Welles to Ian Flemming. To read him is to be both charmed and blown away as Chesterton makes sure you are lost right up until the final sentence of the chapter where everything clicks into place. His primary goal is to re-ignite wonder in a world that is bored with the miraculous.
  3. Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl
    Why did some survivors of the Holocaust choose to die while others chose to live? What can one do with one’s own suffering? These two questions are pondered by Frankl who survived the Holocaust. He faced starvation, betrayal and visited his fellow suffering inmates as each person made choices under the greatest stress a man can endure. His unique take on the ordeal flushes out Nazi guards who acted with compassion and fellow Jewish inmates who betrayed their fellow prisoners. His most important message is that while we can’t control when our freedom is stolen by others, they cannot dictate our response.
  4. Planet Narnia by Dr. Michael Ward
    As an author, I’ve read most of C.S. Lewis’ works, but one lone man might just have solved the greatest mystery of modern western lit. Dr. Ward proposes that The Chronicles of Narnia was not a simple, formulaic allegory of the gospel story but a complex, medieval structure that pays tribute to the cosmos. He unpacks most of C.S. Lewis’ writings to reveal an author who gave a million mile view of life by using Jupiter, the moon, Mercury, the sun etc. to tell his simple children’s fable. Ward posits that if Narnia was a true allegory, then why would Father Christmas show up as winter turns to spring? There would be no “Christmas” in Narnia, as Christ is depicted as the lion known as Aslan. They would have Aslanmas, but not Christmas in Narnia. But if The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was using Jupiter as a template, then Father Christmas would be the perfect carrier of a jovial spirit, Jove being of the words used in medieval literature to describe Jupiter. This book changed me as a story-teller because I was made aware of building a universe using atmosphere, not allegory.
  5. The Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas
    Okay, it was between this or Moby Dick, but I assume most people already know about Melville’s masterpiece while few have tried cracking the Summa. Aquinas was a logician who became a man of faith and wondered if the two disciplines could be harmonized. Was the Bible also rational? He set out to write an exhaustive tome that covers a broad list of topics from animals to the beginning of the universe and asks questions, offers his answers then challenges his own arguments. The book is the toughest slog you’ll ever endure but it is a meticulous search for truth, and that is always to be admired.
    Go to my Goodreads Page

Imagine me as a young artist living in the rural town of Denair California, population 2600 and wanting to be an artist. There were no art jobs to be found, and I didn’t have the knowledge of even art jobs available in the town next door. I didn’t know about the mass of graphics needed in advertising or put any thought to illustrators of books. Those seemed to be done by other people in far away lands. I knew about comic strips, because I read them in the daily newspaper (the only part of the paper I read). I applied to be a grill cook at the McDonald’s in Turlock and there were 120 applicants for the one opening I didn’t get. Those were tough times to be an artist.

Fast forward to the internet age. This world-connecting tool allowed any artist to post anything to anyone in any location. It’s the most powerful communication tool ever. I think back to the days when I would submit my comics to national newspaper syndicates and I’d camp at the mailbox to collect rejection letters. There were gate keepers at every art job in the world that the internet circumvented. When Kickstarter was invented, it not only opened up the communication between artist and audience, it opened up commerce. It is the ultimate free-market by asking donors to contribute to art projects and if the donors don’t show up you get no dough. I like that. It’s honest.

I put together a Kickstarter to paint 100 small 2.5″ x 3.5″ watercolor paintings of my most popular characters for a minimum raise of $3,000. I figured it would be a small campaign I could knock out between graphic novel projects. But the project blew up and I raised over $29,000 to make 600 paintings with an additional 300 sketches… and I had just under two months to do them.
This is a mass-media artist’s dream come true. It’s a level of independence I couldn’t dream of in my youth as a struggling artist. What’s better, is that artists in rural areas could pull this off, that kid in a small farm town can now find an audience and get paid to make what he or she loves. Kickstarter raises through volunteers what the National Endowment of the Arts could only dream of. It’s one of the most powerful, creator-friendly inventions in modernity.

One of the things this Kickstarter opened up was my own teaching channel, a way to give back to beginning artists who might just need to see someone do it before they give it a try. Here is one for drawing:
This is a pencil demo.

I just keep thinking, if I could have seen Jim Davis draw a Garfield comic, I might have learned a few tricks. Given I made 600 watercolor paintings, I passed on a technique of “wet on wet” I used on nearly every art work for the campaign. It’s a simple trick that gives fast, dramatic results. The float and movement of watercolor is very different from my pixel art I did for video games and I like that. Take a look at this:
Watercolor Tutorial

The biggest challenge with painting 600 works of art is to keep them from looking like copies of each other, but the donor is expecting my painting to look pretty much like the ideal piece I promised I would get. Watercolor is a difficult medium to control, in fact, using its chaotic movement of color should be part of the strength of the piece. To pull off that mass amount of paintings I had to do in a day, I would lay out ten blank pieces of paper at a time, pencil ten faces, ink ten faces, erase the pencils on ten faces, watercolor the back grounds on ten faces, etc. After those ten pieces were finished, I’d lay out another ten blank pieces of paper and repeat the process until I was able to do about 20 paintings a day. Not a bad pace for an old man.

For more art tutorials click here for my Vimeo channel.

I also do live demonstrations on my Facebook page.

Live demonstrations here.

Inking Black Panther

February 20, 2018

When I see super-hero movies, I get inspired to take my own shot at the material. This is an awkward inking session, lots wrong with this piece, but you can see the step by step of how I drew this on my Facebook page here:
Click Here to see how I inked Black Panther!
Black Panther is one of those characters I remember from my comic collection when I was in the 8th grade (1980!). All of us guys loved the look of Black Panther, he was tough, mysterious and regal.

This is by no means an official drawing, but this Earthworm Jim redesign really scratches an itch for me.

1. I made his eyes slightly smaller. The larger eyes from the 199s were necessary to show up on a 16-bit game system, but today his eyes would still read even at a slightly smaller size.

2. Less bulging muscles. The power of Jim’s suit comes from technology, not from the size of the muscles. This keeps him from looking like something out of an 80s Rambo movie. He would move a little better as a cartoon character too.

3. I removed his suspenders and just gave him a simple, blue triangle around his neck. This also simplifies his design. Now that didn’t hurt, did it?



February 5, 2018

KickstarterCommishGroupWell, it’s commission time again! Ever since I was in grade school, I drew for my friends. Drawing always seems so hard to do for other people, and it seems really easy for me, so I like drawing for other people. My friend who is a certified public accountant is like a wizard to me. I marvel that he can do his thing, and he looks at my drawing as somehow even harder. We all get good at what we do every day which is why I tell young aspiring artists to just keep drawing all of the time and they can’t help but get good.

I’m not precious about my artwork in that I don’t mind selling it or giving it away. I have so many piles and piles of drawings in my studio that I’d be buried alive if I didn’t give some of this stuff away. Enter Kickstarter, the place where I can place my art with faithful donors… it’s like being in grade school again!

To check out my new Kickstarter and get a hold of a one-of-a-kind original watercolor and ink artwork by me, click here:

Make 100 Doug TenNapel Watercolors!

When I talk about art with my fellow artists, we don’t talk a lot about the business of things, most of those stories are the same for all of us. What really sets us on fire is the reason behind the art. Usually that discussion will end up with us wondering out loud about the artist either showing fidelity to his own vision or making some kind of compromise for his or her audience. Some go farther and put it in crass terms of the artist vs. the audience. But that’s a misnomer because the artist is actually in a position of trust with the audience.

If you think about it, you put your trust in everyone else at some point. When I order a hamburger from the drive through, I trust the cook didn’t put rat poison in my food. I trust the plumber to come into my house where my children are running around. I trust the people who work in the factory that built my car. We’re interconnected in a way that forces us to be vulnerable to complete strangers. I’m not saying people are all trustworthy, but we couldn’t function in life if we didn’t trust the people around us in general.
from a distance

Given we already trust other people all the time, the artist might as well trust an audience if for no other reason than the audience has to put some form of trust in the artist. One example would be when I take my kids to the movies. I trust the story-tellers aren’t going to smash-cut to a hard boiled murder scene in the middle of a story about a cute little bunny. Instead of thinking of the artist-and-audience relationship as adversarial, it ought to be one of humanity and trust.

For this reason the artist has a responsibility to be trustworthy in his or her expression. There are a lot of stories I write or paintings I craft that I know the audience won’t understand, appreciate, enjoy or even tolerate. I’ve seen a score of art shows where the painter seemed to hate the people who came to his work. This is a betrayal of trust, even in modernity when an audience seems to be okay with that betrayal.

It seems that artist and audience has drifted apart over the last half century. We used to all like the same kinds of things. Now we’re splintered into a thousand different cable channels because we can’t culturally come together. My hope is that in the future we can meet in the center somewhere, some day.

A Remake of Earthworm Jim

January 22, 2018

One of the great problems of making something that was once great but will undoubtedly be dated over time is that what we remember about old things don’t necessarily translate into our modern tastes. For Years I’ve heard people demand a new Earthworm Jim, but that could go any number of directions, most of them wrong in my opinion.

The bigger question is “Why do we have such fond memories of old things?” For instance, I love the old Gumby shorts that were crudely animated in the 1960s. They were bought up and broadcast on the cheap in the early 1970s when I was five or six years old. When Gumby was remade as a series in the late 80’s it had a polish and a production value that didn’t interest me. Part of what I liked about it was the clunkiness. It’s like if you remade the 1977 Star Wars today it wouldn’t hold my interest. I don’t love that old Star Wars to have it remade with high end digital effects, better actors and an expanded story line. I like it the way it was.

Commission of EWJ and the Princess. Ink and brush on paper.

This seems to be the key problem to any modern remake of an old idea, a new Earthworm Jim would need to have higher production values. The original Earthworm Jim of 1994 had the best production values for that time but a new game would likely be smothered in high-end CG effects and over-the-top explosions. That would make for a really cool game, but it wouldn’t make you feel like you did in 1994.

I don’t argue that new remakes can’t hold their own as a great gaming experience, but can they make you feel charmed like you did when you first played the original? Here’s the challenge; tell me if you can think of any modern remake that makes you feel the way you did when you saw the original.