Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gonnamakeit. Gonnamakeit.

Page sixteen is underway. The last time I'll need to draw any rocks, swords, or trees for some time. Eight pages to go. Two thirds done. I can't show any of the new stuff here, but rest assured that I'm mere decades away from finishing this issue.

So slow. Here's what the grown-up part of my brain tells my inner Chicken Little when things get really bad: don't confuse speed with efficiency. Quality is a variable in the first case, but a constant in the second. Eliminating waste, automating repetitive tasks, honing drawing skills, and cultivating self discipline are all worthwhile efficiency improvements. If you're doing everything you can in these areas and people are still saying you're too slow, go to your local comic shop and look at the thousands of examples of what "fast" gets you.

May lightning strike me down on the day I tell someone that they've got to draw a page per day to be successful in comics. That sentence really means "I never got to show the world my best work, and I can't bear the thought that you're choosing not to get on the same hamster wheel."

In the absence of new images, here's some stuff from a game I worked on ten years ago. Black9 was sort of a sci-fi dystopian grab-bag that got the chop after about a year and a half of development. I think the original intent was to do something in the Shadowrun vein, but I went in a slightly fruitier direction.

I accurately predicted that the automated floor cleaning solution of the future would take the form of a bionic Care Bear with a Dust Buster. Roomba shmoomba.

I'm not sure what's going on here. Her knees have bunny ears.

Back to work!


  1. Well, that girl admirably completes a design I started, floundered and never finished. Along similar, if more terribly optimistic lines.

    Looks like you almost channeled Mirror's Edge for a minute in the spaceport.

    Good stuff. Thanks. I always enjoy seeing an artist's progression.

  2. I love what you said about going to the local comic store and seeing what "fast" gets you. I admire you for saying this. It's so frustrating to spend an hour in a comic store only to come out empty handed. I don't even try anymore because I usually don't find anything inspiring.

    Keep doing what your doing man. Your stuff has been a breath of fresh air. I can't wait to get your book and study all the detail until I get a headache. I love it and wouldn't be here if you chose the fast track hamster wheel. I'm sure many others agree with me!

    Thanks for the update! Hey, quick question, how do you make your word balloons? Is there some tricks you can share or a tutorial you know of?

  3. Wow! What an amazing blog. The art, the stories about making it...
    Keep up the good work. It's inspiring/contagious.


  4. I disagree. I think that, for your work, doing a page a day would mean doing less than your best. But I can think of cartoonists who have done great work on that sort of schedule. Not everyone who works fast does crappy work (and many people who work slow aren't nearly as good as you are).

    There are two legitimate artistic goals here, which are in conflict: "getting the story told" and "making the art as beautiful as it possibly can be." If you never spend as much time on the pages as you want, then your readers lose something; but if you never get to tell all the stories you want to tell, because it takes too darn long, then your readers lose something else.

  5. Eagle - I did love the look of Mirror's Edge. More than anything, it was how they tailored the environments to show off the Beast lighting solution. Lots of white surfaces peppered with bright primary colors to get that bounce light action happening. Such a pretty game!

    Jason - Thanks, man! I use paths for word balloons. I did a little post about those a few weeks back -- basically you put in the path and then right click the path to stroke it (this uses whatever brush color and size you're currently using). This also lets you set up a path library -- a file with a collection of all the word balloons you've made so far -- so you can reuse a lot of them with slight modifications. It's awesome! Let me know if you'd like me to go into a little more detail about this.

    Sam - Thanks! It's good to see you around here -- the work you were showing at DeviantArt was beautiful, and now I see you've got even more cool stuff at your website. That Issuu page-viewer is pretty slick, too. I might have to try that out!

    Barry - I probably should have done a better job of distinguishing between doing a page a day and telling other people THEY have to do a page a day. Moebius used to crank out ten brilliant pages a day, and it's clear he was going at exactly the right speed for him. I'm referring to a very specific kind of advice that seems to come from the industrial wing of the comics business -- advice that I'm sure discourages many great artists from even attempting comics. It's hard to imagine Vermeer was covered in shame because he painted slowly, but I'm constantly hearing aspiring comic creators (including myself) bemoan their slowness. It's okay to be slow. We can always get day jobs. Your comic, by the way, obviously looks great. So whatever speed is getting you those results, good for you!

  6. A lot has to be said for the brilliance of the concept artists, or whoever hit on the idea of making the world look the way it did. It had nothing of the "next-gen filter" garbage so many games had, but was still stunning. It's a shame more games don't take the hint.

  7. I can't help but think of Geof Darrow when I look at the pinup mid-post, in particular Hard Boiled, and his work for the RPG book Underground. I aspire to that level of detail in my work and you make it seem so effortless. In my current project I have skimped a lot on the detail in favor of finishing the project, but it's really important, as you point out, to know that time is just time, and it can be well or poorly spent. My brother once had a card from a friend of his (a self-styled "Analysis Analyst," whatever that means) that said in red letters "Right - Fast - Cheap: Circle Two." Not bad adivce.

  8. Whats his face draws like 7 pages a day or something just completely insane.

    Mark Bagley, that is his name. He is supposed to be insanely fast. He isn't inking, coloring, and all that jazz though.

    This comment has almost nothing to do with the speed of your work. Just how cool Mark Bagley is.

    DJ ROOMBA, make it hot!

  9. Been struggling with that problem my whole life! Time constraints really suck, that's for sure. Making a concerted effort to *not* have deadline pressures in my future. Do a project at my own pace and only *then* have it ready to be solicited.

    I can't win though. Some old stuff I crapped out early in my career ( hey, it was good money and at that point it made sense as I experimented with ways to cut time which led to how I currently work ) anyways...some people LOVE that crapped out old stuff...yet when I spend time on something and do it my way, no cutting corners...they don't!

    Bloody comic book audiences. ;) I tend to see the publisher's side of it as much as my own I guess. Solving their deadline pressure & our quality standards are like Obama trying to get Health care reformed or something. A difficult task.

    I took the strategy that if I get the work/name out there early on, when I had a spotlight, I can build it to a point where I can then take my time and be more considered. Despite how much of my art looks, I'm kinda nearly there and have a lot more autonomy than most general creators who need to stick to WFH page rates and the endless grind. ( I still grind, just differently. That sounded rude. )

    You cast away old stuff still looks better than most people's A-game though. I both hate you and love you at the same time for this Nate, you bastard! ;)

  10. "to draw a page per day to be successful in comics." -- What kind of success could that possibly mean?? Never mind growing as an artist, which just does not happen if "getting the next page done" is all one thinks about, we just can't make quality, enjoyable comics if we don't enjoy the process itself. This ain't factory work. If it's not a labor of love, it ends up exactly as you said, as one of the thousand examples of what "fast" gets you. Quickly done, even more quickly forgotten.

  11. Part of the problem is that some people actually manage to do the page per day and still make it fantastic. They ruin it for the rest of us. Not to mention the awesome colourists who'll do a whole book in three days if asked politely. The expectations with some editors are just insane.

    But then, when you work for Marvel, I'm pretty sure they realize they're usually not paying you for "art." They're paying you to get the book on the shelves. They wouldn't make so many books per month if their approach were more considered than a shotgun.

    At least they have the decency to have some projects for the love.

  12. Getting a Frank Quitely vibe from the jet-pack girl.

    There was a quote by an comics artist - I'd have to dig through my books to find out who - that went along these lines: First, get good; then, get fast.

    In other news, I got a moleskine sketchbook for V-day. I find it so intimidating to start a new sketchbook - like the stuff I put in it won't be 'good enough.' But I am going to force myself to put something in it everyday, regardless of quality.

  13. Eagle - Yeah, it's always a minor miracle when an art director manages to make a game that has a real visual identity. I always catch myself going back to Shadow of the Colossus and Ico -- those are both gorgeous games. I always had a soft spot for Katamari Damacy, too. Talk about visual identity!

    Mathieu - Yeah, at my last job, my producer was fond of a triangular diagram with cost, quality, and speed at the corners. You could choose one point anywhere inside the triangle. And yeah, I was definitely in one of my Darrow-worship phases in 2000. I guess I kind of still am! I just love the way he draws crowds -- there are always so many unique stories there. He doesn't really believe in generic people (at least not in Hard Boiled). Thanks for the commment, Mathieu.

    Michael - Yep, that's fast! In other news, still nothing new up at your blog!

  14. Ben - I probably should have added the caveat (mentioned by others in the comments) that some styles are particularly well-adapted to a faster approach. I mean, it's hard to imagine a slow Jackson Pollock painting, right? I definitely feel like your style thrives on gesture. It's so meaty and aggressive and spattery. The finished drawings feel so physical. And you've set up a vocabulary that lets you play with proportions in a way that I'm not allowed to, and I often feel very jealous about this. It's no accident that you're a rock star -- your art is just beautiful (for reals! I said those very words to Moritat)! That said, when I hear that you're planning on doing something slower, my ears prick up. I hope you'll show me some of it along the way.

    Did you find your cat?

  15. Joumana - Amen, sister! And speaking of pretty comics, YOU FINISHED! Congratulations on getting through a whole year! What an accomplishment. I can't imagine how great it must feel to know you got all the way through. Well done, Joumana!

    Eagle - Yeah, I agree. There are some great artists who happen to work fast. Some of them have to work fast - that's just their natural speed. But I've met a few guys who have been banging out mainstream comics for multiple decades, and they don't tend to be the happiest or most optimistic people I've ever met. If something burns you out, it's probably not healthy.

    kingworks - Hi, Paul! I need to remember to search for more Quitely stuff. I've liked everything I've seen so far. And I should hang that quote up on my wall. I'd love to know who said it. And as for starting a new sketchbook - I feel exactly the same way with Moleskines. It's just such a beautiful object. There's a lot of pressure not to screw up. But it's good pressure -- I commit a little more to a drawing when I know it'll still be around to haunt me in a few decades. Good luck with your daily sketching!

  16. A lot of the time in comics, when an artist is forced to go faster, the result is actually better. If you give some artists free reign on their time, they fiddle way too much and lose all sense of movement, action, energy. They're able to impart emotion to the viewer much more effectively through an overall immersion that lets the viewer flow through the pages, rather than a bajillion blades of painstaking grass.

    That's not to say a bajilion blades of grass don't have their value too. It just depends on the context. Then again, most "artists" just can't manage either, no matter the time scale.

    You're right about the shelves being stuffed with inconsequential garbage. I've seen one editor that stubbornly demanded garbage when offered two of the most brilliant colourists I've ever known and told him right off for it too, though I'll pay for it later I'm sure. You don't print mud when you have the option to print genius twice over and for the same price. Does the comic industry work like the diamond industry?

    In the case of Project Waldo, the slowness of our access to pages is offset by just how much we get to see per page. It's like getting several pages of visual data at once and we can come back to the same pages and see new bits to keep us tided over for the next morsel. Also, there's everything you say, which is entertaining and informative in its own right.

    I'm looking forward to seeing how the experience we have in the context of this blog translates into a published book, without the extra information and social elements.

    As far as games, in Mass Effect 2, I found the character models to be quite interesting, but the levels were boring as hell. They didn't find a good balance. Dragon Age was a much worse offender, where everyone had one of three or four different models and one of six or seven skins and the levels weren't any better. How could they manage to have less personality than WoW? It doesn't make sense to me.

    I have Shadow and had a chance to get ICO for $30, but was trying to get the better version of MGS2 at the time and didn't realize how much I'd regret not getting it later. I like how the original PS3s had backwards compatibility. I never had a PS2 to play those games. Absolutely looking forward to The Last Guardian now. Talk about overwhelming the viewer with a balance of detail and emotion! But then, the way their artists and coders live is quite deplorable. The things people will give up for dedication to their craft...

  17. Never cease to amaze. I LOVE your futury game concept/design/drawing (?). Very GIR-like. Absolutely lovely.

    I like that both flowery shirts and pipes are still in style even that far in the future :)


  18. The prospect of burning out does scare me. I've seen that too. But luckily comics is a gateway industry that offers great artists possibilities in other markets. Then we can come back if the fancy strikes, knowing better the differences.

  19. Wow Nate, awesome looking comic! I like the look of Waldo much better than your earlier attempts. I like the more angular lines and less bright color scheme. I'll be first in line at Comic-Con to get the soon to be valuable first signed edition! I can say I knew Nate when he wanted to spend his life digging in the dirt for Dino Droppings :)

  20. Eagle - I'm doing my best to cram my ears full of wax, lash myself to the mast, and sail past the island of Siren video games. I know that if I buy any of the awesome games that I've heard about over the last few months (Mass Effect 2, Assassin's Creed 2, Borderlands, etc.), Project Waldo will come to a halt. Maybe I'll reward myself with a solid week of gaming once it's all done. As for all the "inconsequential garbage" at the comic shop -- all I can say is that I'm glad I'm coming to this industry in my mid-30s. If I were twenty, I just know I'd sign on to the first sweatshop that would take me, and I'd quickly get worn down to a nub. Being old has a few advantages, after all!

    Draw Monkey - Your blog is great! It's always a pleasure to come across someone who's got the guts to use mint green and pink (bonus points for using both in the same drawing!). I really enjoy the looseness and fluidity of your character designs, too. Thanks for the generous compliments! Back at ya!

    Eagle - That mobility has saved my bacon more than once, and with any luck I'll be able to make the switch again in a few months (before my COBRA coverage runs out).

    Chris - Hey dude! It's been a while! How are you? Do you remember our camping misadventures in my 1981 Rabbit convertible? Talk about a babe magnet, huh? Man, those were weird times. I hope all is well with you!

  21. Nate- Heheh, cheers!

    I am a child of Ralph I'm always going to be a little quicker than some.

    Indeed, after 3 days we found the cat too!

  22. Ben - That's a relief about your cat. I knew everything was going to be okay when Warren Ellis sounded the alarm. Yes, your cat's rescuer might have been wearing a gimp mask, but with so many slightly creepy people scouring the streets, your cat couldn't have stayed hidden for long.

  23. Thanks for the vintage eye-candy , fun stuff.

  24. Dominic - I've been meaning to comment on that last Rapunzel illo you did. That thing is so nice. One of these days, I hope you post a "how I do this" thing on your blog. Are these completely digital, or are you starting out in analog media? It's just such a credible evocation of a different time period, plus it's a gorgeously composed illustration. And the fonts are awesome, too. Why am I writing this here? That's weird. I'll cut and paste this into your blog, that's what I'll do.