Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sitting Duck

I just realized that I hadn't gotten around to posting the color version of page 8. Here it is. Click to enlarge:

There seems to be a lot of disagreement about the usefulness of sound effects. The anti-SFX people point out that big words look cheesy, cover up the linework, and ruin the general fine-artness of things. The pro-SFX partisans counter that sounds can make things more visceral and engage the other senses (if indirectly).

Then there's Japan. They'll add a sound effect for a gentle breeze or the sound of somebody blinking. This tool must have some value if it's been used for decades on multiple continents. Then again, so has dynamite. That doesn't mean I should use it to loosen a stuck spark plug.

I guess the real question is whether sound effects make sense for Nonplayer. I started out staunchly against them, but was surprised to discover that some pages seemed to come to life when I added them. Of course, I then went whole hog and put in too many, in some cases ruining entire pages. In the end, as with every other part of the book, it came down to trying every panel both ways and keeping the changes that worked. I ended up with a comic that has some loud events that go completely unlabeled and some muted events that make little noises. Did I make the right choices? I don't know!

That leads to a bigger concern: when Nonplayer gets printed, I'll be opening myself up to a kind of criticism that I've never experienced before. The internet is pretty polite when you're a nobody, but as soon as your name shows up in Previews, the gloves come off. I feel like I'm asking the web to kick me in the jimmy.

I'll say it right now: my comic has flaws. Sometimes it looks to me like it's made up of nothing but flaws. It's hard to resist preempting my critics by listing what's wrong right here. At least then I'll have scooped the griefers.

But that's a pretty unhealthy way to think, right? After all, one person's mistake is another's charming idiosyncrasy. I bet Geof Darrow felt like he'd totally blown it when he finished Hard Boiled (when in fact he had made one of the raddest things ever). Not that I'm anywhere near his level of bodaciousness, but who knows -- maybe some of my mistakes won't seem so big when I look back at them in a few years.

I guess this is the lesson I'm trying to learn this month: drawing a comic (or creating anything to share with others) requires a willingness to make highly-visible errors. Mistakes are like little badges that say "I'm trying as hard as I can." With comics, books, and movies (not so much with food), I care less and less whether something is good or bad. What matters is whether the creator is trying.

There's a lot of very polished, mistake-free art made by people who aren't pushing themselves at all, and there's some really terrible art created by people who are putting everything they've got into what they're doing. I prefer the second category of creators (not to mention, if someone's that into what they're doing, they'll have a hard time staying bad). I wonder if this accounts for the well-documented rock band trajectory -- proficiency usually increases over time as obvious flaws are polished away, yet the earliest albums are often the most prized. It's not that missteps necessarily make the early stuff more enjoyable (though sometimes they do), but they seem like an unavoidable consequence of pushing through unknown territory.

For all of Nonplayer's shortcomings, I feel I can say one thing with confidence: I gave my best effort. In what is surely a first in my creative life, I have no cause for regret. And if the script is any indication, issue #2 will drag me even further into Terra Incognita. There are eight pages in a fish market. Boy, I bet I'll know how to draw fish after I'm done with that one.

Anyway, see you in Previews. My jimmy awaits.


  1. This is AMAZING! Thanks for remembering to show this page colored. Wow, you are really hard on yourself if you only see flaws in your pages. I'm sure there will be negative critics, as there are with anything great, but I'm positive you will have mountains of praise for this book when it hits the stands.

    By the way, when is it coming out and who's publishing it? I can't recall you ever saying. Forgive me if it's in bright bold lights someplace.

    As I always end my comments, I'm really excited to get my copy!

  2. Dude. That page is incredible.
    I know you're just being your own worst critic, but everything on that page looks amazing. The scale, the detail, the textures, the colors...!
    It's all very, very humbling to look at!

    This is going to make waves, man!

  3. Even if it were entirely flawless, there would be people criticizing out of malice, so there's no point in even thinking of avoiding criticism. That said, as far as "flawed" goes, 5 or 6 careful reads would be necessary to get over the HSF (Holy Shit Factor) and be able to look for them here :P This is impressive by any standard and as you put it yourself, you know you're doing your very best. What more can anyone humanly ask of themselves? How dreadful would this field be, if someone had come up with the perfect recipe for a flawless comic and it was being applied across the board?
    Really I can't wait to hold a printed copy of this!

  4. Hey Nate, regarding your reply on your previous post. nope, i'm pretty far for being rich and famous, but i love to draw so, i keep trying. thanks for checking my stuff! =)

    Regarding this post:
    I love SFX when they are well played, usually i don't like the use of "generic SFX font" pasted over the art if don't blend well with it. i prefer hand drawn ones.

    Mitch Breitweiser wrote on a deviatArt Journal:
    "Just a reminder to all of you (and me) to keep pushing through. Don't let the resistance or the fear keep you from the drawing table. Getting the work done is more important than making the work perfect."
    I thinks is a excellent advice to comic book artists.

    Cheers from Chile.

  5. Refarding SFX, you shoudl check out Frank Quitely's use of them on his and Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin. He really goes a great job of integrating the SFX into the art itself. Here's an example:

    And there are some in the run that are much better.

  6. Getting a comic with mistakes published is better than never getting anything printed at all.

    And don't fall for the idea that this is it and you'll never be able to do another. You got to see Nonplayer #1 as just the first step on a journey of personal/professional growth.

    Have you read War of Art yet?

  7. I feel like people who come down on SFX because of fine art principles need to stop treating comics like fine art.... I'd also recommend they stop looking at fine art like fine art as well, but I can digress far too much on that thought.

    Anyway, I maintain SFX should be used in the way you have decided to use them. See where they work, and where they don't, then keep and remove accordingly. Pretty simple really =) But as mentioned in an earlier comment, I think using fonts for SFX always comes off disconnected when compared to hand drawn SFX.

    I have a few theories as to why Asian SFX tend to feel more natural as well.

    1 - Their onomatopoeia, when read off a page, generally feels more like a sound than a word. (to me at least) Things like gun noises repeating "PA PA PA" rather than writing things like "bang bang." if that example makes any sense.

    2 - Japanese and Korean SFX have what I consider to be a more natural visual aesthetic for comics. Our alphabet feels a bit more clunky when trying to cram into a panel's composition to me. Especially when compared to the angularity of Katakana or Korean writing (I want to say alphabet, but I know that isn't exactly the correct description) But I feel like their forms of writing are just easier to place alongside a visual element on a more core level than our alphabet. I feel like this page has one of the better examples that I can think of currently. That giant katakana GO looks almost like it is part of the background, and the sound seems incredibly descriptive for being one syllable.

    But that's just me.

  8. I agree with ability-normal. But I do wonder if katakana SFX look more or less audacious to native Japanese readers. Since I hardly ever recognize katakana off-hand without context, it doesn't always register in my mind as "writing" and it's easier for it to just become a part of the background or simply accentuate the panel's flow of action.

    Lately I've been hand-writing/drawing SFX myself. Though I still find font based SFX useful for digital and "artificial" sounds.

    Adding in and cutting the fat later also seems to work for me. Can't say I have a really clear system for /when/ I decide to throw in SFX and when I decide not to though...

  9. Another lovely page.

    Sound effects are fine , esp when used appropriately as you've done here.

  10. So long as your comfortable with releasing it to the world, that's all that matters. Unless there's a glaring error, don't feel the need to justify anything to detractors.

    Your primary mission is to get this done. That's your personal goal.

    Second, you're sharing it with the world. That's well on its way.

    Third, you want people to enjoy it -and by the looks of the blog, you have enough fans that will enjoy it and share it with others.

    Don't worry about how it stands up against others. Be proud of your accomplishments - and think, you can say - I had my comic standing right next to Brian Wood's on the shelf.


  11. Jason - Cheers, man. And again, congratulations on blowing past your Kickstarter goal like a space shuttle through a moist towelette. As to the publishing situation... gah, so close. Just waiting on some paperwork, really. It'll be at your local comic shop sometime soon. I promise.

    Michael Mayne - Thanks! I banged away at the color on this page for a loooooong time. It was a relief when it finally came together. I nearly despaired. I still don't know how you make Bonnie Lass look so effortless. I suppose that's called "talent."

    Joel - I can't say just yet (see above), but it's somebody who's well-represented at your local comic shop.

    Joumana - All good points. Worry is rarely rational -- right now I'm freaking out because I think all the pages after page 8 are terrible. I'm silly. How is your life in comics going? Anything new on the horizon?

  12. Diantres - Great advice, Rodrigo. I couldn't agree more about the "generic SFX font," either. Now that I'm thinking about stuff like that, it's totally distracting when I come across it in other folks' work. I wonder if lots of people feel the same way about my generic dialogue font? Hm.

    Anyway, keep up the amazing work! Your blog is so killer. The color on that Gabriel García Márquez illustration is like chicken soup for my soul.

    Richard - HA! Now that's how you write "boom." Thanks for the great example.

    ability-normal - Yeah, I'm right with you on the onomatopoeia (did you have to check the spelling for that word like I did? Stupid random "a" in the middle). Korean sound words are much more like the actual sounds, with the exception of the word "mong," which is their barking noise. Mong mong. No. Not that "bark" is much better. I'm partial to "woof."

    That said, I think a big part of why Asian SFX seem so much more visceral is that they don't have any meaning to us. As I learned with Korean, as soon as my brain was trained to see the information encoded in what used to be abstract shapes, they lit up like neon signs. Also, manga and manhwa artists are just better at drawing sound effects.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  13. Chanp - Thanks, Peter! I LOVE the color on display at your gallery. Holy shnikey. Pretty pretty pretty!

    Michael Mayne (again) - Yeah, I had the same thought. Your SFX look just swell, so whatever you're doing, please keep doing it!

    Dominic - Thanks, man. Glad you like it.

    Drezz - Good advice. I hadn't really stepped back and thought about how rad it would be to have a comic on the shelf next to Brian Wood's. That's pretty sweet. That's like childhood dream-type stuff. Thanks for the pep talk!

  14. Nate, thanks for asking :) Going very well at the moment, I'm flying to Algeria in a few days as I've been invited to present it in their international comic festival. Plus a new translation launching at our upcoming book fair and TV appearances. This is a good end of year for Malaak!

  15. Yeah, I did have to look spell check on onomatopoeia. I always think there is no T in it, and that it is onomonopea for some reason. Probably because I slept too much in school I guess.

    And yeah, as I recall, Japanese use Wan, Wan, for barking for some reason. I guess everyone uses strange descriptions for that one.

    After thinking about this topic a bit more, I guess what I was trying to say earlier was that Asian writing tends to fit better for SFX due to those systems of writing remaining a step closer to their pictograph origins than our alphabet.

    I'm also in agreement on how they seem like nothing if you can't read them. The same thing happened to me with Manga SFX when I learned Japanese. But at the same time, learning to read their SFX made my stance on western SFX a bit harsher. Since, as you said, Manga/Manwha artists really do just do them better.

  16. I'm all for the lettering. ANd as for your rock band analyge I tend to agree, but then you have a band like Pantera that made 4 albums on their own label that sucked balls. Hell even their first album wasn't as good as their second.

    Hopefully I'm that sort of creator, one that sucks at first and then gets better. Lord knows that first comic I made sucked in everyway. It sucked so bad that it took me 3 years to even think of drawing another one. Then I did a short 3 pager that also sucked. But I think that the thing I'm doing now doesn't suck. Having said that you just have to do the work and figure out what works for you and what doesn't.

    BTW I'm in the pro sound effects camp. And I think your book kicks ass!

  17. Joumana - You posted this comment a couple of weeks ago, which means you're probably already back from Algeria. How was it, you jetsetter, you? This is one of the many cool things about being a comic artist -- it sounds like established creators end up flying all over the place. Algeria! Awesome!

    ability normal - Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense. And now that you've got me looking, I have to backpedal a little and say that Japanese and Korean sound effects do have a little more "chop" to them, from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Henceforth, all my SFX will be written in Hangul. I joke, but Brandon Graham already does this, and it's brilliant.

    tormentedartist - I think you're being WAY too hard on yourself, which is actually something the best artists seem to have in common. Otherwise, there's no impetus to continue improving. But I think your stuff is great, and it's only getting better. I'm looking forward to seeing how your current project comes out!

  18. It was absolutely incredible. You and the other talented people around here should consider entering your work in the contests next year, because you'd make Official Selection in a heartbeat. Selfishly, it would make it easier for me to meet you all ;)
    I posted my impressions of the festival here: