Photo credit: Larry Estes
Last July, I wrote a blog post about Cool and Eclectic, a store located inside the Pembroke Mall at Virginia Beach. It's one of those rare and unique stores where you can come across all kinds of neat nostalgic items and find yourself exploring their selections for hours on end. I interviewed Mark and Diana for last year's post about the store and while it's been relocated in a new space at the mall, the variety the store offers continues to flourish and deliver on its slogan, "Where it is Usual to Find the Unusual".
This year's trip was an extra special treat. As part of a continuing series of giveaways, Cool and Eclectic was giving away prints of an original comic strip, Artchilles, illustrated and signed by store owner, Larry Estes. The story is about a Virginia Beach native who works at a factory owned by Kempsville Building Materials. As he continues to work there, he desires to keep his artistic dream afloat and goes out of his way to keep it alive, so he takes on the journey of the individual and puts his salvaged drawings together, revealing his story. I spent an afternoon chatting with Larry about the project and the themes he explores via its narrative and its imagery. The character, Artchilles reflects the journey Larry experienced (and continues to experience). We see that Artchilles takes a series of drawings, pieces them together like a puzzle and thus, we see his journey take shape. As stated by Larry himself in his video, Drawings Survive to Tell a Story, he is "piecing together this extraordinary journey, using copies of actual drawings from the journey to authenticate its unfolding". Through mixed media, Larry goes from a standard illustrated page, which is crafted similarly to that of the classic comics of the 1950's and 1960's and then on the next pages, he incorporates the copies of the drawings into some of the panels and arranges them to match the narration. For example, on page 2, we see a copy of each drawing laid out with one flat in the center of the first panel. The perspective of the ones on either side of the drawing are morphed to appear facing inwards. They are apparently going into the direction of the one in the center and all together, they are close to fading into a black hole. The letter boxes in yellow are from the narrator's perspective while the ones in white delve into what Artchilles is thinking. "Initially, Artchilles created sketches of random subjects he was to make into large paintings..." the narrator highlights. "[B]ut, as the prospect of acquiring a studio grew dim, drawing took over. Focus turned to his own life." The use of perspective in a panel painted pitch black accompanies this narration so effectively, especially with Artchilles' own words below the drawing in the center saying, "I yearned to paint..." The sentence is incomplete as if fading into the abyss along with the drawings. It highlights the sense of being on the brink of obscurity.
The next panel is a close up of the drawing on the right hand side, focusing on Artchilles' narration: "But the brush kept eluding my grasp". The drawing depicts the brush falling out of his reach as a foot steps on his hand. An onomatopoeia that reads crunch! is belted, all together demonstrating how limited in his options Artchilles really is.
In the third and final panel of the page, the narrator describes the monotony Artchilles is locked into. With six drawings of a man boxed in lined up in a perspective that gives the illusion of ascending forward, towards the reader's right hand side and descending into obscurity looking into the left, we see the repetitive nature of the job. Even so, Artchilles' words above the drawing facing the viewer boldly say "I Was Stuck!" This use of perspective fittingly gives the sense of endlessness.
Onto the next page, which as the title implies, "Taking the Leap", Artchilles does precisely that. He is seen surrendering and then dives into the unknown. Afterwards, he sees a vision of a muse, who guides him to his desired destination. When delving into the significance of this page (and the entire story at large), Larry offers a question that prompts readers to ponder for a moment over what might be holding them back from seeking his/her own journey: "Have you ever seen a more poignant expression of that pivotal moment before taking the leap? With arms raised, you have surrendered to the unknown". With that said, the third page not only serves as a rising action, but it also invites the readers to assess a time when he or she was confronted with such a moment. And if they haven't already done so, it encourages them to seek it. As Artchilles raises his hands to the sky before taking the plunge, the text in the yellow boxes is no longer written from the third person perspective. It transitions to Artchilles' point-of-view as if he's finally taking control once again. The next page depicts how Artchilles fares trying to balance out his work at the factory and listening to the muse, which eventually results into a sudden halt. It is then revealed in a typed text in yellow boxes that he conceived this series of drawings thirty years ago while he was still working in the factory, which eventually became a homeless center. With the old drawing board destroyed, Artchilles then resorted to using invoice paper to illustrate on. Below the drawing of the building, we see a real-life sample of the invoice paper.
The fifth page depicts Artchilles gradually freeing himself from the grip of the factory work. Although its a very small start, it serves as a spark to grow and flourish. All he has at this point is a brush and coffee. From there he lets his inner individual out as much as he can, but realizes he needs more to continue that journey of growth. "Duality continued to manifest. The path was filled with ups and downs. I needed more than a brush..." This gets us to think that while we are maintaining the endless cycle of monotony without taking the time to seek out our individual journey, eventually the desire to seek it starts to break through in some form or another. We may not be aware of it at first, but when we become too accustom to a routine, somewhere in the corners of our minds we are called to seek beyond that repetitive nature and consult every means possible to fulfill our individual journey and find who we truly are to reach our true potential.
Taking a moment to step back, the story of Artchilles is indeed the story of Larry's own journey. It's told in ways that simple words could not express. Through its imagery, the way mixed media is utilized and how text accompanies and plays into the narrative in unison showcase the journey. It's true that it's highly difficult to make art a full-time career and it's important to obtain a good paying job, but at the same time, being so caught up in an endless cycle where you function like a factory machine without any time for self-reflection whatsoever is detrimental. It will eventually lead to that craving for self-reflection. The desire to seek the individual journey, whether we are 100% aware of if or not will gradually make its way to our conscious mind and when the timing is right, we will seek our own journey of self-discovery tenfold. Taking such a concept into account, even as you go about your everyday life, I highly encourage you to take the time to reflect on your own journey. When you have some time free of monotony (and distraction), think of something that is inspiring to you or something you've written or pieces you've made that can be put together to tell a story. Experiment with those ideas and see what kind of story unfolds. That there is the road to discovering your journey as an individual.
Once again, huge thanks to Larry for his time and sharing his work with me. To learn more about Artchilles and Larry's other works, check out his website and his Instagram.
To learn more about Cool and Eclectic, visit their Facebook page.
For comic book writers, there is much debate surrounding how to go about lettering. Some authors stick to the old-fashioned approach, while others will take advantage of the new technologies. In either case, both options have their merits. Depending on the art style and which tools were used to create the art, it can play a role in which techniques are being used for applying font. For example, if an entire story is hand drawn, lettering by hand might be the ideal option as it would naturally match the art. Lettering via computer would most likely be too distracting and out of place in that scenario. If the art was created digitally, lettering by hand might appear drafty than a completely polished piece. These scenarios are over simplified reasons for why some would letter by hand while others would letter by computer especially in this day and age where artists are looking for new and creative ways to merge the traditional and the digital together.
Renowned graphic novelist and teacher, Gene Luen Yang, the author and illustrator of American Born Chinese and the two-parter, Boxers & Saints, covered this topic on Book Riot in his post, Comics Lettering: By Hand or on the Computer. Speaking from his own experiences, Yang describes when he first began creating comics in 1984 as a middle school student and that lettering by hand “was a daunting task”. Because PCs were in their state of infancy at the time, the Ames Guide was the tool comic book authors took advantage of. For Yang, lettering by hand was more of a nuisance when it came to retaining neat handwriting for such a long time working as well as it leading to hand cramps. While Yang favors lettering on a computer, he points out a very important reason why some writers stick to the traditional. “I do, however, sympathize with the other side of the controversy.” he highlights. “The polish of computer lettering can sometimes be jarring, especially in a comic that’s meant to be personal, one that’s meant to feel like a diary.” He goes on to describe the lettering process behind American Born Chinese, in which to create the fonts, he used WhizBang and enhanced the letters in Photoshop “to scrunch the font’s width down by about 20%” and from there, he started using a font that closely resembled his handwriting. While typing makes comic lettering look easy, there is a level of craftsmanship that goes into creating a unique font that is as distinct as your own handwriting as Yang indicates that this process consisted of a set number of days, but is satisfied with how they came out. With Boxers & Saints, Yang dubs it as his “most ambitious project font-wise”, because he created three sets of letterings. The spoken word fonts, influenced by Yang’s handwriting as a means to represent the characters’ thoughts in the present moment, the serif font for the Bible passages and, inspired by his wife’s handwriting, a cursive font that resembled that of writing in a journal. Yang’s approach to lettering is an example of how comic letterers select their fonts. It's similar to how a filmmaker would set the lighting to be effective in a given scene or how a painter chooses a color to convey a mood or state-of-mind. When lettering fonts by a computer, the comic writer’s selection is based on what will be an effective font to use in a particular moment in the story. If, for instance the reader is going inside an individual character’s mind, the typeface will vary from the standard text used throughout much of the story.
In Yang’s conclusion, he pinpoints expert letterer Janice Chiang, who loaned her skills to works such as Conan the Barbarian, Transformers and Alpha Flight, is adept in both typing and hand lettering. Also, a friend and fellow comic artist letters via computer first and then traces over the typed fonts “in order to give them a more organic look”, to which Yang is impressed with how it looks. There are also even some great resources and tips for lettering by hand, such as Webcomic Alliance’s own Chris Flick’s (Capes-n-Babes) post, A Guide to Hand-Lettering Your Strips… as well as Todd Klein’s Hand-Lettering Basics. That being said, lettering by hand will always have its merits, too and curious beginners might give it a shot just to get the feel for what creating a comic in the old days was like. It never hurts to experiment with either. Whatever the art style, your lettering skills, what works best for you and what matches the medium the art was created with can play a major role in how you go about lettering your comics.
If you’re a comic letterer, feel free to leave a comment below describing your approach to lettering. I would love to read your thoughts on the topic.
Imagine a store where shoppers could scour scores of timeless memorabilia with no expectation of what they might discover. It could be a vinyl record for a popular band from the 1950’s or a collection of photos from a bygone era. It could even be a small set of trading cards or figurines from the early days of famous cartoons from the 20th century. At first glance, it sounds like the type of store that the younger generation might not easily latch onto. But if you happen to visit Virginia Beach and swing by the Pembroke Mall, you will be in for a big surprise when you come by a store filled in every nook and cranny with neon lights, statues and images of iconic film and animation characters like the Blues Brothers and Betty Boop and portraits of Marylin Monroe and Elvis Presley.
Cool and Eclectic, fittingly known for its slogan, ‘Where it is usual to find the unusual’, is an independently owned gift shop, consisting of a wide variety of vintage and contemporary items. From vinyl, to comics, to décor, to toys, to even clocks, their inventory will not only invite the customer to shop for hours, but also encourage both the older and younger generation to bond over icons from both past and present.
This year was my 9th annual family vacation to VA Beach and as always when I’m there, I never miss an opportunity to stop by Cool and Eclectic. It has always been one of my favorite stores from the area and knew it would be a great topic for the blog. As usual, the store owner, Larry never fails to deliver on the store’s promise. Although Larry was away when I visited, I had the pleasure of speaking to two other employees, Mark and Diana, whom I briefly interviewed for this post:
Q: In terms of the lease, how much longer do you suppose Cool and Eclectic will remain at the mall?
Mark: Well, it’s kind of up in the air. We don’t know exactly as far as expenses and things like that. We don’t really know if we’re doing well or not. I know we are hindered by the construction at the [main] entrance [to the mall]. I think it has affected our sales.
Diana: Yeah, the construction has affected it. We used to get a lot of traffic through there.
Mark: The construction has taken longer than they said. It’s been months beyond what it was supposed to be. Sunday was not a good day for me in the morning, but later on, we did really well.
Diana: Usually we used to get maybe two or three slow days, but the rest of the days, it was busy. And usually weekends, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays used to be busier.
Mark: I think our loyal customers have helped us exceedingly to stay afoot. They appreciate our variety. They appreciate us being there for them to find them things that they like and the regular customers come regularly because they know we’re going to help them out. We appreciate our VIPs a lot. We give them extra discounts cause they’re regulars. We value them and that’s why they stay with us.
Q: When it comes to your customers, do they rank from just about any generation? They could be millennials or baby boomers.
Mark: Absolutely across the border of all generations. We have every generation come in and like our variety. Because we have a good enough variety, they all appreciate their own time period. We have enough to cover everybody’s time period and we find that they come back because we match their time period very well, whether it’s a millennial or it’s, like me, a baby boomer. We appreciate a lot of stuff and even beyond the baby boomer.
Diana: We get younger generations and they appreciate very old memorabilia, which is very surprising.
Mark: It is. It’s refreshing to see younger people like the older stuff, too. They’re getting a bit of history when they come in.
Q: How did the store concept come to be?
Mark: If Larry was present, he could tell you more about that, but…he’s being doing this store for a very long time, far beyond me and before our friendship has evolved. He’s been doing this for quite some time…at least twenty years.
Diana: Yeah, I don’t know how long, but he’s been doing it a long, long time.
Mark: Cool and Eclectic has probably been around at least then. Maybe twenty years. I might be off a little bit, but it’s a long history. We’ve moved to different locations.
Q: At first there were two stores, one at the Lynnhaven Mall and this one here at Pembroke. Eventually the Lynnhaven location was moved to this mall. Thus, Pembroke operated two Cool and Eclectics under one roof and now it’s just this one.
Mark: Yes. Not out of our desire. It was out of our control (laughs). Basically, they got bumped out of both [malls]. The Lynnhaven [location] was bumped out of there first and we moved here into [Pembroke] mall. And we got bumped out again and not having another location to go to, we merged our two Cool and Eclectic stores together. So, we are now one and hopefully we have the best benefits of both, the old and the new. The old one, which is this one, tended the older stuff, but now that we’re infused with the other one, we have a lot more new stuff. And I think that’s a good, positive thing for this company.
Q: Sounds like it’s a huge blessing especially when you have people from all walks of life really appreciate what they see here. When people come to Cool and Eclectic with their kids, does it become more of a chance to bond over the classics and the contemporary?
Mark: Oh, yes! The children come in and they buy the things that they have seen with their parents. The parents buy them for them and they’re all happy and excited when they’re going out. And they’re good family heirlooms that these kids, if they keep them, they can pass them onto their kids and their grandkids.
Q: How do you feel about the future of the store?
Mark: I’m very hopeful it will continue because everybody can appreciate a little bit of history, which this [store] has. It has the history. It has the vintage items. The LPs, I hear, are experiencing a resurgence because the sound quality is unmatched. The digital does not hold a candle to the LPs and apparently, they can do it with the LPs. So, it’s going to be something amazing if we see a resurgence of LPs coming back again. I’m hoping to see them back into the movie soundtracks again, too…and hopefully [this trend will] infuse our company to put some new stuff and keep it fresh and alive and going.
Once again, a huge thanks to Mark and Diana for their time. To learn more about Cool and Eclectic, check out their Facebook page.
Ever (re)discovered new facts about any art form or part of pop culture that you thought you knew before and realized there might be more to the story than what meets the eye? The Blog section debunks common expectations and assumptions in the art world.