'Idol' Hands

Comic art contest kept Austin's John Rubio drawing furiously for a month

Rubio's romance cover for round two
Rubio's romance cover for round two

With reality-show competitions for wannabe pop stars, stand-up comics, and action heroes, you gotta figure there's one for aspiring comic artists. And John Rubio's drawing hand can painfully attest that there is. This year, the Austin Sketch Group founder was one of 10 nonprofessional artists tapped for Comic Book Idol, a national battle of the panel-makers put on by Web site ComicBookResources.com. Over five weeks, participants cranked out assignments on tight deadlines and had them posted online to be critiqued by artists and editors in the biz. Then, fans voted on their favorites, with the top vote-getters advancing to the next round.

Rubio made it all the way to the Final Four, a testament to his solid support base but also to an almost superheroic blend of artistic talent, skill, versatility, and perseverance. After all, in his rounds he had to draw a three-page romantic comedy script, a cover for a romance comic anthology in which that story might appear, three pages from a published Green Lantern story, and a cover for that issue of GL – and Rubio, like all the artists, was expected to be equally adept at action and romance, sequential storytelling and eye-grabbing single images. What's more, the judges weren't shy about calling the contestants on their art's weaknesses. Of Rubio's Green Lantern cover, DC Comics editor Mike Carlin said the choice of cover shot "isn't that great" and that one figure's legs are "just information-less shapes to me." Not Simon Cowell cattiness perhaps, but plenty stinging nonetheless.

Still, Rubio hung in there, even if the schedule nearly finished him. As he explained on the Comic Book Idol forum, "My daily schedule from Mon.-Thurs. is usually 9am-1am, 9am-8pm on Fridays. With CBI, my only two days off were turned into one long 36-hour shift with maybe a short nap thrown in. Then it's Monday again. Yeah, that's right ... all of my submissions (except for the very first – I had an extra five hours on that one), were done in two days. This means thumbs, layout, penciling, inking, and any digital. This went on for a month." No wonder his drawing hand is smoking.

Based on his posted remarks, Rubio was the picture of grace under pressure. Before heading to his well-deserved rest, he offered a gentlemanly word of thanks to his supporters and said he was "extremely happy" with what he'd accomplished. "I'm pleased by the quality of work I have produced in such a short timeline. But most of all, I've impressed myself with the sheer will I drummed up to go on so hard and far without a break." Winner or not, that's enough to make him an idol in most folks' books. end story

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Austin artist, John Rubio, Austin Sketch Group, Comic Book Idol, Comic Book Resources, Mike Carlin, Green Lantern

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