Saturday, December 19, 2009

Benefit Concert in Hiltons, VA, Jan 3

A benefit concert for the Forrester Family will take place on January 3 at the Carter Family Fold. Click here for details. As you may have seen in the previous post, the Forresters lost everything in a tragic house fire almost two weeks ago.

Last February, Rita was interviewed for an oral history project by Southern Foodways. To learn more about the Carter Family's love of music (and good cooking), watch a video of the interview here. Look to the sidebar for related interviews on food and music.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Heart-breaking news of tragic fire at Carter family member's home

Our hearts go out to Rita Forrester, who lost her home and her husband Bob in a tragic home fire that struck on December 7th.

Rita has been a kind and generous voice of help and information as David and I have worked on Don't Forget This Song. We have recently been working with her on corrections to our manuscript.

She has offered many helpful insights and corrections to some long-standing misinformation about the Carter Family's story. We're thankful for the gift of her insight and knowledge. Our book would, literally, not be the same without her kind-spirited input.

For news of the fire, read THIS ARTICLE.

A relief fund has been set up for Mrs. Forrester and her family. Details about that can be found HERE.

An updated version of the news story, with a video, can be found HERE.

It is heartening to see all the people who have offered help for the Forrester family in these dark hours.

If you can help Rita and her family with a donation, there is information on where you can contribute.

We wish Rita all the love and support in the world during this tragic time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

our opening page in color

Hi folks...

Long time, no post. We're working away on our book. We got our deadline extended. This graphic novel is requiring a lot of time and energy! We want it to be as good as possible. We hope it will prove worth the wait.

Here is a colored (but dialogue-less) version of the opening page of the book. (We're awaiting the arrival of a custom-made computer font based on David's lettering style. Once we get that, and have it installed, we can begin to type in the final dialogue.)

I hope the lack of dialogue isn't disconcerting. We tried to suggest some of the coloring techniques of the very early newspaper comics. It appears to us that they were colored using water color washes, which were interpreted by the engravers for the four-color printing process.

Comics were printed in flat colors from the start--especially in small-town newspapers, whose engravers could not equal the masterful work of those in the employ of the Chicago Tribune or the New York World or Herald-Tribune.

We have tried to evoke this delicate yet complex early color process here. Our goal is not to imitate the old ways--just to suggest them, and to incorporate aspects of them into our 21st-century efforts.

We hope you enjoy this sneak preview. We're going to do our best to post here at least once a week from now on with more preview pages, art samples, photos, etc. We hope to see you here again very soon!

Click on the thumbnail to enlarge it...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Art in Progress

Here is the first panel of the chapter wherein AP Carter meets Sara Dougherty for the first time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mike Seeger: 1933-2009

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of musician and folklorist Mike Seeger. Seeger died at his home in Virginia on Friday, August 7th.

Without Mike Seeger's love of old-time music, and his great efforts to chronicle its songs and musicians, a book project such as ours might not even exist.

We had the great honor of speaking with Seeger twice in conjunction with Don't Forget This Song. It was a genuine pleasure to speak with him about the Carter Family and their musical importance.

Seeger (he insisted that I call him Mike) spoke eloquently and emotionally about the musical contributions of Sara, Maybelle and A.P. in our interviews. His comments helped David and I both to better understand the innovations the Carters brought to the country music songform.

70-plus years later, it's easy to take their music for granted--it feels as though the haunting sounds they made have always existed. But recorded country music before the arrival of the Carters was a much different entity.

Just as A.P. Carter helped define the forms of the country song, with his skillful editing of older folk and parlor songs, and his arrangements of longer ballad pieces to fit the 3.5 minute playing time of a 78 RPM recording, Sara and Maybelle brought constant musical innovations in the way they played their instruments.

Maybelle, in particular, continued to expand the possibilities of the humble guitar as an expressive, vital musical instrument as she performed on the 300+ recordings made by the original Carter Family.

From her very basic backings on the six 1927 Bristol recordings to her development of "the Carter scratch," the introduction of influences from blues, Hawaiian, Hispanic and other diverse musics, and her continual growth as a performer, Maybelle was country music's original envelope-pusher.

Talking with Mike helped bring this aspect of the Carter Family front and center. It was a great gift to have these long conversations with him.

Via his group, the New Lost City Ramblers, and via his tireless exploration of traditional music and its performers, Seeger renewed interest in old-time music, while keeping it alive and well to a modern audience.

He kept these passions alive well into the 21st century. His 2007 CD, Early Southern Guitar Sounds, is a remarkable collection of traditional tunes, played on 25 different vintage stringed instruments. If you aren't familiar with Seeger's music, this CD might prove a good starting point.

If you'd like to learn more about Mike Seeger's life and his accomplishments as a musician and folklorist, Wikipedia has a brief but solid entry on him here. Several obituaries are linked within the Wikipedia piece.

Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to speak with us about the Carter Family. You will be missed by many.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Quartet of Full-Color Teasers!

David and I are working hard on the considerable task of creating the finished color artwork for DON'T FORGET THIS SONG.

We did some selected tiers at the request of the folks at Abrams. They'll be featured in an upcoming color catalog.

We'd like to share these pieces with you now...

This first one is from the second chapter of the book. You can compare this colored, inked version with the earlier pencilled "take" of this tier of two panels...

Next is a scene from the third chapter, right after A.P. has met the love of his life, Sara Dougherty, for the first time...

Now, from chapter eight, a teen-aged Maybelle wows 'em with her guitar heroics...

And, for our final sample today, an emotional moment from Chapter 14, in which all the Carters gather to see and hear their very first record release, "The Wandering Boy" c/w "The Poor Orphan Child." Shellac-ophiles will notice that we used an accurate 1927 Victor Records stock sleeve for the Carters' copy of this important record.

We'll post more sequences from the book in days to come. We hope you've enjoyed these sneak previews.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Cover Story, pt. 2

Here's Part 2 of the DON'T FORGET THIS SONG cover story...

Neil Egan, our super art director on DFTS, liked some aspects of the "tall, skinny picture" design I'd cobbled together.

After a productive conference call with David and I, Neil sent us a quick sketch of his idea. In the image below, you see six stages of a promising new cover direction:

1) his original quick-sketch

2) a subsequent sketch, after a subsequent conversation, in which he suggested a larger, broader image, with decorative icons and a border-frame, a la Depression-era sheet music

3) another sketch by Neil Egan, as a refinement of the ideas in sketch 2

4) partly by David, partly by me, this was our response to Neil's ideas... we repurposed the Carters-On-The-Car image, as some folks had expressed a liking for this drawing

5) David's refinement of our collaborative effort

6) Neil's visual notes, following yet another phone chat, over David's refined sketch

Neil and Charlie encouraged us to try new directions, while we nursed this promising design through various changes.

Here are two wild-card designs I put together. First is a design inspired by some of Frank King's elegant GASOLINE ALLEY storybooks from the late 1920s.

This got a good initial reaction, but was set on the sidelines because it looked too modern-day.

Around this time, I had a long phone conversation with Art Spiegelman. He had seen DFTS on Charlie's desk at Abrams' New York City offices, and seen some of the discussions on the cover design.

Art generously spent two hours talking about covers and cover design with me. I wish I'd recorded that conversation for future reference!

The gist of Spiegelman's comments and insights was that the cover has to really sell the heart and soul of the book. He expressed the importance of making an emotional connection to the potential reader/buyer. The main image on the cover might best convey the promise of drama, and of something compelling.

He suggested that we take the most dramatic moment in the book and portray it on the cover. Alas, the Carters' story has a lot of intense emotional drama, but none of it is of the screaming match/thrown crockery/drunken spree variety that some later country music biographies might contain.

He also challenged us to get asymmetrical with our design. Our previous designs had tended to center everything. He suggested that an offbeat, asymmetrical design might further leap off the shelves and connect with the reader.

Spiegelman's conversation left me in a new frame of mind about our cover approach. I conveyed the essence of the talk to David, as best I could...

Then, after another study of old sheet music, and with the intent to commit asymmetry, I pieced this "what the?" cover concept together.

This design reflects another item from my chat with Art... that we might consider another title. We toyed with DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH for a couple of weeks. This would still make a good alternate title.

After a discussion with our agent, Bob Mecoy, who helped us choose DON'T FORGET THIS SONG, David and I decided that we liked that title the best. While the song it references isn't one of the Carter Family's "greatest hits," it conveys the essence of A.P. Carter's goals as a musician and song-preserver.

This cover approach proved too much off the beaten path for Charlie or Neil. Just in case it interests anyone, "THE CARTER FAMILY" banner was pieced together from hand lettering on a 1931 song-sheet for the pop hit I'M SORRY I LOST YOU. I had to invent missing letters from the ones in the song's title.

Finally, David did it. He collated good ideas from many of our designs, gave them a fresh angle, and created this impressive sketch.

David and I had a conversation on how to depict the Carters on the cover. There had to be a way to convey the drama of their story, without depicting one specific scene.

We wanted to suggest the discord in A.P. and Sara's marriage, despite their love for each other, and their connection as musicians. We also wanted to depict Maybelle as the "rock of Gibraltar" of the Carters. By living a more stable and calm life, and giving her all to her pivotal role as the Carters' lead guitarist, Maybelle was a patient, tolerant foundation for the group.

David nailed it. Charlie and Neil agreed.

We discussed the cover again with Neil, and made some refinements to this solid design scheme.

David rendered the cover portrait in ink and wash, and the other cover elements in pen and ink.

We had our cover!

We hope you've enjoyed this survey of our many cover design attempts. Sometimes it seemed like we'd never get a for-real cover design. It was worth all the trial and error. We couldn't have done it without the feedback and insight of all the folks we've mentioned in these posts. Our sincere thanks to each and every person who helped us get on the right path!

Yesterday Was Sara Carter's Birthday...

... and Jeff Overturf, via his very enjoyable blog, posted about it H E R E...

It's a great post; please visit his blog and enjoy it too!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Cover Story--from first roughs to final design (pt. 1)

BIG NEWS: We have created a cover design that got the thumbs-up from our editor, art director, and an imposing "cover committee" at Abrams Books!

The colors aren't finalized yet, but we've been given the blessings of our editor to unveil it here to the world...

David and I have been through many design schemes in an attempt to get a cover that's aesthetically pleasing and commercially appealing. In the publishing world, you often CAN judge a book by its cover. The cover has to somehow get across the essence of the book.

At a glance, it must suggest to the casual browser that this is IT--this is a book he or she must buy!

The art of cover design walks a thin line--between hucksterism and artistry, between commerce and creativity. The best covers achieve both goals, without one overpowering the other.

I hope we've gotten in the ballpark with this approved design.

We'd like to share with you some of our early cover schemes we came up with. This will take more than one post, but we hope you find it of interest.

Our first "cover" was a promotional piece David penned for our literary agent, Bob Mecoy, back when the book was still being shopped around. Bob now owns the original art to this piece. It's an image of the Carters sitting on the bumper of a car. You can find it HERE.

First, here is a selection of off-the-cuff thumbnail designs, from last fall. They're by David (left side) and myself (right side). These were among our first rough concepts of how the cover might look with a '30s flavor, bordering on Art Deco...

Later in 2008, David worked up our first developed concept for the cover. Our concept was to have a portrait of the three Carters, with their instruments--a very simple scene. David came up with an alternate that showed a background of trees.

These are his development sketches of this first cover design:

From these sketches, David worked up some color images of both styles...

These are nice drawings, but we felt that, ultimately, this approach didn't "sell" the story or reveal much about the characters.

David came up with this intriguing "autoharp" design as another possible approach....

Inspired by sheet music of the Depression era, I attempted a color rough with an tall, thin vertical area for the portrait of the Carters...

This design refers to the color palette of our first "cover," which was in the first Carter Family story that appeared in KRAMER'S ERGOT in 2002. That image was based on a 1930s Carter Family songbook published by Southern Music.

It worked as an image printed inside a book. As a front cover, David and I both felt it wasn't right to use--it was someone else's design.

Our editor really liked the color palette of this cover--the autumnal hues of brown and gold-orange. Those colors seem to suit the Carters. It's possible that they may end up in the final cover palette of the accepted design.

David's next design strongly incorporated certain visual symbols from the Carter Family story. This was also inspired by period sheet music. These colorful pieces are often beautifully designed, with great type treatment and use of hand-drawn fonts.

Typically, one image from a song would appear on the cover. In both pop and country songs, the image of the "cabin in the cotton" was ever-present on these vintage covers. As well, images of flowers and trees are quite common.

These images were germane to the Carters' story. In this concept, we see A.P. Carter's birth cabin, the apple tree A.P. planted on the day he met Sara Dougherty, and some wildwood flowers...

This design combined many of the visual motifs that would end up in the final version. It still seemed not exactly "there." We had some good conversations with our editor, Charlie Kochman, and our art director, Neil Egan, about how to best utilize these narrative images.

David and I both knew a good design lurked within all these possibilities. The challenge was to get the right blend of these elements into one appealing image. Some trial and error--including a couple of out-of-left-field, "what the heck?" designs by myself, had to happen first.

As well, I had a long, rewarding conversation with Art Spiegelman about the cover... details about that and other design attempts in our next exciting chapter!


Friday, July 10, 2009

Me (David) in the Studio

The esteemed illustrator, Sarah McIntyre, recently visited Seattle from her home in London, and came by the studio where Frank and I are working on Don't Forget This Song. Here is a photo of me that Sarah took (Frank had already left for the day).

Frank and I have been busy with cover design, coloring and inking (though I've been neglecting the inking of late). We'll have more to show and talk about very soon...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Page One

Big News: Frank and I have completed the rough draft of the entire book. We are beginning the inking and coloring phase of production!

On Friday (6/12/09) I worked on preparing page one to be inked. The sheet you see with the blueline art which has some penciling on top of it is a portion of page one. Up above it is a vintage photo of the Carter and Bays families gathered together ca. 1900. I am using the photo as reference when I draw AP's parents and relatives, many of whom will appear in this brief opening scene of the book.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Carter Family 101

This 10 minute clip from a BBC documentary does an excellent job of summing up the story of the Carter Family and the lasting influence they have had. I believe the title of the program was "Lost Highway".

The group shown performing live is The Whites. You have probably heard their redition of "Keep on the Sunny Side" which is on the soundtrack to "O Brother Where Art Thou".

The group who appears in the recreation of the Bristol Sessions is the cast from a musical called "Keep on the Sunny Side" which I hope to be able to see one day.

My favorite part of this clip are Carter Family home movies from what looks like the late 1950's.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother Maybelle Carter: Celebrating Her Centennial

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Maybelle Addington Carter. We wanted to mark this historic occasion on our blog. Maybelle is the anchor of the Carter Family's music. Without the vigor, inventiveness and passion of her guitar playing, and her vocal harmonies, the music of the Carters, while still outstanding, wouldn't have seemed quite complete.

Of the Carter Family's three members, Maybelle seems to me the most relaxed and assured. I'm impressed by how dedicated she was to her family and to her music. As well, it's remarkable how focused she remained throughout her entire musical career--but especially during the dramatic era of the original Carter Family.

Maybelle's marriage to A.P.'s brother Ezra (Eck) was much more stable than the heart-breaking relationship between A.P. and Sara Carter. While A.P. and Sara struggled, both emotionally and financially, Maybelle and Eck seemed to be blessed with a far happier and more peaceful existence. This contrast in the married lives of the Carters is among the most dramatic aspects of their story.

As Sara's friend and relative, Maybelle certainly was privy to the ups and downs of her colleagues' marriage and musical partnership. I'm glad that Sara had such a true friend and soul-mate in her life. Maybelle was a constant and stable influnece for Sara.

Sara and Maybelle meshed remarkably as musicians, throughout their lives. The interplay of their voices and their instruments can be hypnotic. In the superb remasterings of their Victor material by Richard Nevins, on the big, handsome Bear Family box set (and, in pirated form, on the JSP collections), their contributions to the Carter sound are stunningly revealed.

A recent discussion with Mike Seeger reminded me of the extraordinary style of their vocal harmonies. [Sorry for the "music talk" here, if it's all Greek to you.] They sometimes sing in sunny thirds--the most common and simple harmonies found in country music. But they often take surprising turns. At their most adventurous, they utilize seconds, fourths, fifths, sevenths and unison singing--often shifting from mode to mode within a verse or chorus of a song.

In layman's terms, Sara and Maybelle weren't afraid to go to unusual places with their singing. As we know the Carter Family was a well-rehearsed unit, these complex and advanced harmonic touches weren't just improvised in the studio. They might have realized that this was a way to keep their music fresh and exciting, even as their recorded sound settled into a reliable formula.

You may have read my earlier post on my "top ten" favorite Maybelle guitar riffs. If not, please search for that post. It would fit into this piece fairly well.

Maybelle expressed herself divinely through her guitar and voice. I feel that she must have been able to channel all the emotions around her and transform it into the music she played. Emotions seem to flow through her fingertips in her eloquent performances.

Speaking of those hands, here is a photograph from Eric Schaal's 1941 LIFE magazine session. We see Maybelle has a capo on her guitar. This device, colloquially referred to as a "cheater" by country musicians, enabled her to play in a wider range of musical keys--those optimal for Sara's vocal range--while staying in familiar, easier-to-navigate chord shapes.

If only these photographs had appeared in the December 8, 1941 issue of LIFE, as originally planned! Schaal's images are the best photographs ever taken of the original Carter Family. Here is another Schaal shot I really like. Maybelle's facial expression makes it seem that she really enjoyed her role in the Carters:

It's also Mother's Day--how appropriate! And I've saved the best for last. Here's a sketch of Maybelle by David. Enjoy!

Please, take some time today to listen to her music. Be it the classic Carter Family material, her 1960s LPs with Sara Carter, or the more pop-orientated Carter Sisters & Mother Maybelle sides (hard to find these days!), Maybelle's music will brighten your day and make the world around you a better place to be.

Happy Mother Maybelle's Day to you all!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Sample Chapter from DON'T FORGET THIS SONG

We're currently at work on the final third of the rough draft of our graphic novel. Currently, David is translating the quick sketches of our thumbnail drawings to more fully realized pencil drawings.

As each page of pencil art is completed, I scan it into our computer. In PhotoShop, I type in dialogue.

Don't worry--the finished version will NOT use the Comics Sans font! We picked this font simply because it's easy to read, and somewhat approximates the feel of handwritten text. It's a handy way to see if dialogue works, or needs either expansion or reduction.

The first two "acts" are dialogued and penciled. They have been thought and re-thought. Sequences that once seemed likely to be in the book have been removed, while new material, based on information we've found through recent research, has found its way into the story.

We will likely make more changes, as new information comes our way. I've done some phone interviews with various friends, associates and members of the present-day Carter family. It is a pleasant experience to talk to these kind folks, and each interview has yielded some precious new pieces of information. We're grateful for the opportunity to learn something new from our interviewees.

With the blessing of our editor, Charles Kochman, we're happy to present you with a little sample of the book. This is the second chapter of the first act of the book.

This sequence takes place before A.P. Carter meets his future wife, Sara Doughtery. It's a sort of origin story for A.P. the song-hunter.

David evokes a strong sense of the passage of time in his pencil artwork.

We both felt this sequence well represents the early section of the book. We hope you'll enjoy seeing it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Roughing out the book

Work continues on the rough draft of the book. We've completed Act Two, and only Act Three remains before we begin the finished art.

I've recently been using the light table to make revisions to Act Two (click on the photos to see them at full size):

After I finish the art, I hand it to Frank who scans it in to Photoshop and types words into the balloons:

Our editor has given us the OK to show some of our roughs, so in the next post we'll finally be able to show you a little bit of what we've been working on...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Frank and I are currently drawing and writing rough drafts for every page in the book. This is a page in-progress from an early chapter in the book.