Monday, December 14, 2009

Out of Limes

Page 7 first-pass color. Click to enlarge. Below, there will be moping.

I spent some time revamping the linework for this page before diving into the color -- that bottom panel has been a big jerkface from the get-go. At some point I'll animate the billions of pose revisions that figure went through. Legs here, legs there, chin here, chin there, arm too skinny, arm too fat -- seen in time-lapse, she'll do quite a jig. Happily, I think I ended up with something fairly inoffensive. The color sort of irks me, though. In the interest of not taking forever, I've decided to leave it for now and come back to it when I've got some new ideas.

In other news, I'll be doubling the resolution of my linework (from 3300x5100 to 6600x10200). My computer seems to be able to chew on this mega-bolus as long as I keep the layers reasonable, and I can knock it down to the lower resolution for the coloring pass. In the end, I can blow up the color layers to the higher resolution, and any loss of crispness will be hidden by the hi-res linework layer. Though I originally did all this to make it easier to do posters, there's another nifty side-benefit to working at the higher resolution -- the flatting plugins handle the little culs-de-sac more deftly, so I spend much less time hunting and clicking through the edges of bushes and eyebrows. Sweet!

The thing that keeps me up at night is the fear that I'm not living up to the promise of the first pages. There are plenty of convenient excuses -- for one, the establishing shots didn't need to move the story forward, so I could sort of revel in the scale of everything. Still, it's a little unnerving to watch the web stats plummet as I move further into the story. This is probably the main drawback to making the development process public -- when the buzz drops off I feel like a schlub, and when it spikes I turn into King Doucheron of the Nozzleites. It's hard to shut that stuff out. Word on the street is that James Stokoe quit the internet cold-turkey for similar reasons. I get it.

I happened across an imperfect metaphor for the way things feel right now: there are lots of parallels between drawing your first comic and setting out on an exploratory voyage during the Age of Sail.
  • Announce your plan to search for the Seven Cities of Gold = start blogging about your comic
  • Queen makes a speech in your honor = Warren Ellis says nice stuff about you on his blog
  • Handbills announcing your departure are posted all over town = you're mentioned on
  • Throngs cheer as you are paraded toward the harbor = you're a Daily Deviant on Deviant Art
  • As you leave the harbor, the cheering becomes inaudible = your blog stats fall off a cliff
  • No matter how many sails are abroad, you can't do better than one knot = you force yourself to sit in front of the computer for ten hours a day, but your brain is perennially constipated
  • Sharks = carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Becalmed in the Sargasso Sea, you boil and eat your boots = you search for your own name on Twitter -- finding nothing, you give Bing a try
There must be a billion of these. Feel free to add to the list. This probably means I'm reading too much Patrick O'Brian.

Please don't tell anybody about the Twitter thing.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Page 6 colorized. Click to enlarge. More after.

I learned a new lesson this week: never draw speech bubbles directly into the original line art. I'm pretty sure somebody made a comment to this effect several months ago, but I'm a late bloomer. There are a few really good reasons not to bake speech bubbles into the drawing:
  1. The dialogue may need to change (as it did with this page).
  2. I may want to change the way I draw the bubbles, themselves (with this page, I switched from the old hand-drawn bubbles to stroked paths, which will be easier to modify in the future).
  3. I'm going to have to change the font (suggestions welcome), which means I'll have to resize the speech bubbles later, anyway.
  4. I want to publish the book in other languages, and I'll have to resize the bubbles to match the localized text.
  5. I may want to use the panels in an animatic someday, in which case I'll want the bubbles removed.
  6. If I ever want to sell prints of individual pages, they'll probably sell better without the text.
That said, the bubbles need to be a part of the composition from the very beginning. They just need to be on a separate layer. It took some time to re-draw all the bubble-hidden detail for this page, but I'm glad I did it:

Another lesson learned. I'll double back and remove the bubbles from pages 3, 4, and 5 in the coming weeks. That's what we artists call "eating your vegetables."

Ah, before I forget: paths are rad. Once again, a commenter recommended this months ago. I had known about paths for years, but for some reason hadn't really played with them too much until I picked up the DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics. The moral of the book: paths are rad (it has other morals, but I am prohibited from learning them until I've wasted a few thousand more hours doing stuff the wrong way). But yes, paths. I am a convert. Never again will I spend fifteen minutes redrawing a long, curved line by hand.

For the uninitiated (i.e. me, a month ago), paths are vector-based lines that can be manipulated with little handles. You bend the handle, the line curves. You need to make the line zig, you add a new handle and bend it the other way. The paths live in the paths palette, which sits just to the right of your layers palette. The path tools sit near the bottom of the toolbar -- you really only need two of them to start: the pen tool and the direct selection tool. Try different combinations of ctrl, shift, and alt (or the Mac variants of these keys, which I think are command, lilt, and traipse) to see how these tools alter a path. Once you've got a path, right-click it and select "stroke subpath." BAM! Photoshop traces the path with whatever brush and color you've got currently selected. Instant smooth line. Now go have an Asahi. Note that it is super dry.

On to new business! Namely, my ongoing quest to get faster. I could really use a breakthrough on this -- I feel like I've been achieving incremental efficiency improvements, but what I really need is to go twice as fast as I'm going right now. I'll be trying out the following tactics this week:
  1. No internet (this time, for real).
  2. Start each day with fifteen minutes of planning. Set small, achievable goals.
  3. Systematize the coloring process: do all shadows at once, do all highlights at once.
  4. When stuck on something, switch to a new task and let the old problem percolate in the background.
  5. Spend more time on the rough underdrawing -- work on it until the proportions and composition are correct. This should reduce the amount of time spent erasing "finished" line work.
  6. Hire a flatter.
  7. Take more small breaks to prevent short-term burnout.
  8. Get a more comfortable chair (I'd imagine that in the current economic climate, the market would be glutted with abandoned office chairs).
  9. Check out more audio books from the library. Preferably, ones that don't suck.
Does anybody have any other ideas?

Finally, many thanks to Craig and Nathalie Kaplan for translating my pitch letter into French for me. With their help, I've added some French names to the list of publishers who are now looking at Project Waldo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Où est Waldo?

I'm not really sure how much traction I'll get on the strength of five colored pages, but it seems like a good time to start building relationships with European publishers. I'll be contacting the following companies tomorrow:
  • Delcourt
  • Casterman
  • Soleil
  • Les Impressions Nouvelles
  • Dupuis
  • Dargaud
  • Le Lombard
  • Frémok
  • Glénat
  • Les Humanoïdes Associés
  • Standaard Uitgeverij
This list is heavily weighted on the Franco-Belgian end of things (and by the way, thanks to everybody who tossed these names at me!). If anybody can suggest other companies that seem like a good fit (from any country or planet), please let me know. If you have any sort of direct contact with someone at a publishing company and think you might be able to get me past the submissions gatekeepers, your help would be much appreciated.

I'm having the weirdest experience with Image -- a couple of their artists think Image would be all over Project Waldo, but I'm unable to get anything past their submissions guy. I assume many publishers have similar bouncer-types. It often helps to know a guy who knows a guy. If you're that guy, or you know the other guy, then I would like to be the guy who knows you.

Finally, I think I should probably send my pitch email in French. To my knowledge, I don't speak French. If any of you Francophones would be willing to translate a couple of paragraphs for me, I'd be so grateful that I'd give you a free signed copy of Project Waldo when it comes out (how's that for hubris?). I might even make a really crappy drawing on it. Of a penguin. If you're interested in doing this, please contact me directly through email.

Sorry to spam everybody with this. I appreciate your help and/or patience!

A Seattlite Yankee in King Louis' Court

Page 5 first-pass color complete. Click to Enlarge. More below.

This page is... well, I'll come back to it later and figure something out.

I took some time off to do a pin-up for a real, live comic. It'll be my first-ever appearance in print. My rationale for breaking the no-side-projects rule was that Project Waldo might be taken more seriously by reviewers if it were perceived to have been drawn by a "real" comic artist. The theory was that I'd shed my hobbyist mantle by making an appearance in a well-known book. I'm not sure I should count that chicken before it's hatched, though, so I'll save the details for later.

Meanwhile, my initial enthusiasm for Ka-Blam has been muted by a spate of anti-POD comments. There are several potential drawbacks: first, I'm prepping all the art in RGB (Ka-Blam's format), but I may run into some major headaches if I end up switching to a publisher who uses CMYK (pretty much all of the big ones). Second, it's been pointed out that if I get an ISBN for my Ka-Blam run, it could prevent me from re-releasing the comic through a new publisher (I'm not exactly sure why this is, so if anybody has any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them). Third, there's a guy over at the Gutterzombie forums who's had some problems with color profiles at Ka-Blam -- it sounds like their output may be a little inconsistent (though on second viewing, there may have been a miscommunication about CMYK profiles). Regardless, Ka-Blam's the plan until a publisher shows some interest.

I've talked to a couple of established comics artists about self-publishing, and they generally reject the idea out of hand. I can certainly see the disadvantages, especially when it comes to marketing and distribution, but I've heard so many horror stories about working with the big publishers that I'm not entirely convinced one way or the other. Other than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, can anybody provide examples of successful self-published titles (and maybe share some of the strategies they used to break through)?

As I've continued to troll the internet-sea in search of publishing alternatives, I've often been told to look to Europe. To North American eyes my art looks foreign, but I wonder if actual Europeans would interpret my style in the same way. Ever since I ran across my first Moebius comic, I've had sort of an inferiority complex when it comes to Franco-Belgian comics (I have a similar feeling about high-end manga). I have assumed that readers acclimated to the "real" stuff would dismiss mine as weak tea. My blog statistics haven't done much to dispel this fear: there's a fairly marked lack of interest from France (especially compared to Germany and the UK). I guess I'm the anti-Jerry Lewis of comics. It's too bad, because France is an awesome place to sell comics -- larger format books, more generous schedules, and robust sales. AND you're perceived as a real artist, as opposed to here, where comics artists are relegated to the same social stratum as mimes and puppeteers (who, come to think of it, are probably also cherished in France).

If any of you would be willing to pose as a French person and write me an encouraging comment, it would do wonders for my self-esteem. Spell "the" as "ze." That's how I'll know you're French.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stick and Carrot

Page 8 lines complete. Click to enlarge. More below.

Here's how it looked at the thumbnail stage (witness the moment when I realize diagonal panel boundaries exist):

Talk about your trench warfare drawings -- this one was the battle of Verdun. If I have a nemesis, it's multiple panels depicting the same complicated object from different angles. And man, that saddle... Why, oh why, did I put netting around two of the barrels? Why would I do that, except to add even more time to the already interminable barrel-drawing task? I suppose it goes without saying that the bottom panel was a little cathartic. I think I may have put a little extra stink on that impact, just out of spite. Take that, pagoda-with-infuriatingly-complicated-beam-placement!

If this page seems difficult to read, please join me in my fervent and possibly naive belief that color will make everything much more legible.

Also adding to the long turnaround for this page was a week of thumbnailing for the rest of the issue. It's all there now, just waiting for a liberal dollop of barrels and elaborately-knotted ropes. Having some certainty about the layout has taken a bit of the edge off of my completion anxieties -- there do not seem to be any un-drawable things lying in wait at the end of the book (though the last page is going to make this one look charmingly simple).

Drawing lots of barrels gives you time to ruminate on the future, and my futurey thoughts on this project fall into three categories: dreams, plans, and goals.

My dreams for Project Waldo are embarrassingly opulent. They involve winning Eisners, having the book turned into a movie, and palling around with Michael Cera. Of course these are ridiculous notions, as that sort of great luck has never befallen anyone, ever. I don't really have illusions that anything of the sort will actually occur, which is why these kinds of thoughts don't fall under the "goals" category. But they do help my mental rowers to put their backs into it when I'm becalmed in the barrel-doldrums.

Planning is much more wheel-meets-road. I've made a schedule, complete with deadlines, and set a ship date for myself. Of course, this was before I fell down the bottomless pit of page 8. So after two weeks, I'm already a week behind schedule. Still, I've discovered that being able to put a number on my lateness has added some urgency (some would say "abject panic") to my work day.

I've only got one concrete goal: to get the first issue printed. I'll have crossed my personal finish line when I'm holding Project Waldo number one in my hand (which is not to say I won't do the next issue, but that I'm not spending many cycles thinking about it right now). My prospects of getting a "real" publisher interested in this are probably hindered by my propensity to brag about how slow I am, but that's all okay because Ka-Blam exists.

I've mentioned Ka-Blam here before, and several people have chimed in with positive impressions of the company. It's starting to look like my safety school. Their site is a little confusing, as Ka-Blam is only the printing arm of a three-headed entity that also sells your books online (Indyplanet) and distributes them to retailers (Comics Monkey). It's basically a one-stop solution for the independent creator, with the (gigantic) caviat that the creator is still responsible for marketing.

Here's the ultra-rad part: you don't even need to print a single issue before posting your book on Indyplanet. You can upload your images and set your quantity to zero, and Ka-Blam will print each issue as it's ordered. That's right: you don't need any capital to get started (though I think there may be some setup fees).

I can only see a couple of potential drawbacks. First, the per-issue cost is relatively high compared to a four-color press. I did the math for a full-color 24 page comic on high-bright paper, and it comes out to $2.64 per issue (it goes up to $2.99 if I go with glossy paper -- is glossiness worth an extra thirty cents to you guys?). At $2.64, I'd have to price the comic at $4.50 just to have a chance of staying afloat. I've been listening to the House to Astonish podcast (it is hilarious and promotes accent envy), and from them I get the impression that in many cases, any price over four bucks can be a dealbreaker. If anybody has pricing advice, I'd love to hear it.

Drawback number two: Comics Monkey is a new and untested entity, and it remains to be seen whether retailers will go out of their way to set up accounts with them. CM certainly won't have the penetration of a company like Diamond, but it looks like they're very motivated to build solid relationships with stores. Sometimes the little guys show a little more hustle.

Wow, this post is getting epic. One last thing: I think this may be the last full page to appear here. I'm told that there should be some previously-unseen material in the comic, itself. That said, I'll continue to post individual panels and other development art over the coming months.

Here's one last barrel for old times' sake. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Now With 100% Less Whining

Page 4 first-pass color complete. Click to enlarge. More below.

Here's why I love the internet: a month ago, I didn't know the word "flatting." Three weeks ago, I didn't know there were flatting plugins. Two weeks ago, it took me fifteen hours to flat a page using those plugins. This week, it took three hours. All because of comments on this blog. Holy shnikeys.

I ended up trying Eagle's method -- that is, removing extraneous lines from the line art layer before running the plugins. Below are examples of the line art for this page in pre- and post-culled states. Note that in many cases all I had to do was make a "leak" in between two areas so that they filled with the same color.

And here's what the plugins spat out. The second image is cleaner and more tractable. All it needs is a few dinks with the magic wand, and I'm on my way.

By the way, I still used the high-noise version at left to add some nice random variation to large single-color areas. And below is the flatted image before coloring began.

Thanks, Eagle! And thanks to everybody else who tossed out suggestions. You guys are teaching me how to fish!

I have received a few e-mails of commiseration, telling me not to get too depressed about the comic-making process. Perhaps I have wallowed a little too much in the whiny pit. Please let the record show that when I manage to make something work, I experience a boundless euphoria (really). Why, when I finished the first panel yesterday, I was so jazzed that I took Jiyoung out and splurged on fine Kentuckian cuisine. Poultry prepared using traditional old-world crispiness techniques.

Also, thank you to everyone who has joined the mailing list over the last few days. It's very heartening to see that there are interested people out there!

On that note, I've begun to think about marketing. The meager research I've done has only highlighted how little I know about, well, everything. I assume the market for this sort of work is relatively small, so I need to gain as much exposure as possible within that narrow demographic. The internet is clearly my friend. Outside of Google ads, does anybody have any idea how to get the word out?

There's also a wild-card issue: I wonder how many people who are currently interested will be put out by the unusual turn the story's about to take. Anyone who was on board for straight-ahead sword and sorcery is about to get a nosebleed.

Oh! And has anybody used Comixpress? I'm intrigued by their online store. No piles of inventory = major selling point.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Problem Solving

Page 7 line art done. Click to enlarge. More chit-chat below the image.

Aintitcool recently posted a great conversation with Steve Lieber, the artist who drew "Whiteout." He shared a heap of good information about craft and process, but I was especially interested in the description of his emotional travails:

"I was ... less-than-pleasant to my wife at times, because I was just inside the pages and couldn't see past the battle I was fighting with each one. I think I let being concerned about how the book was going to turn out turn me into someone who was less concerned about how everything else in my life was going to turn out ... I was a damned troll under a bridge. [laughs] I was just really unpleasant. I was solving new problems, and rather than feeling satisfied that I was solving new problems, I was getting angry because everything wasn't coming out perfect the first time I put a line down."
I haven't quite gone to Troll Town, but I do see something similar going on with Project Waldo. Too often, my wife will sit through a silent dinner with me, only to discover that my muteness has been attributable to an all-consuming internal struggle over the correct placement of a left arm. When I start working on a page, my tension level gets cranked up to eleven and stays there until the last line is drawn. Partly, this reflects the initial ugliness of the page. I imagine getting hit by a bus while I'm half-way through and everybody at the funeral looking at that last unfinished drawing and shaking their heads, taking back all the nice things they'd said about me. "How could the guy have been any good if he drew the human figure that horribly?" Every page is a huge embarrassment right up to the last moment. That's how I know when I've finished -- I stop being embarrassed.

Of course that's not the only force driving the process. There's also the sense of having left a problem unsolved. The late, great Seth Fisher (a math major) described creation this way:

“Art is really just problem solving in action. You start with a few lines, then you try to balance those lines with other lines compositionally, then you balance that with trying to explain a certain space or emotion... Perspective, composition, timing, and color theory are technical skills. You have a problem, and you have this toolbox full of techniques that you use to paint a totally unique bridge from an assumption to its implications.”
That sounds very familiar. The initial rough sketch frames a challenge -- it says "okay, you've gotta have these masses, in this order, with this sort of movement -- now let's see if you can make recognizable real-world objects conform to this pattern in a natural, free-flowing way." Although I sort of pooh-poohed abstract art in school, I'm starting to get that it's the only kind of art. The only difference here is that I've got to make abstract art out of people and bushes and big lizard creatures.

ANYWAY. I stuck a new little button at left that lets you add your email address to the Project Waldo mailing list (actually, it's a Google Group -- the easiest and cheapest way I could find to compile a mailing list). Please don't be shy -- I'll only use this list to notify you when the first issue is out and where it can be found/ordered. I'm trying to get a sense of how many people might actually buy the comic, and this number will determine how I end up printing and distributing the book.

Based on the current list membership, exactly three people will be buying the first issue, and one of them is me. So please join up. I swear I won't spam you with ads for penis enlargement pills. Unless a male enhancement company would like to sponsor Project Waldo. Wait, what would that say about me? This is a bad idea. But yeah. Call me. Maybe we can work out some sort of trade.

And speaking of printing, does anybody have any thoughts or anecdotes about working with Ka-Blam? A few people have recommended their on-demand printing service, but I'm still open to alternatives. Moritat tells me I'll need a garage with very high rafters to store all that inventory -- a mental image that is both vivid and daunting. I'm still looking forward to the invention of a large-format, full-color, 300 dpi Kindle-type device.

On that day it'll be good-bye print, hello iTunes!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Flattened Earth Society

First pass on page 3 color. Click to enlarge. Below, I will try to keep things brief and I will fail.

I finally downloaded the Flatten and Multifill Photoshop plugins. Survey says... not a magic bullet, but they probably sped things up a little bit and definitely produced cleaner, more line-conformant results. In case you're curious, here's how they work:

The plugins are easy to install -- just drag the files into Photoshop's plugins directory and they'll show up under "Filters." There's only one tricky step - the black and white line art (not black on transparent, mind you) must be completely de-anti-aliased (re-aliased?) before the plugin will work. It turns out that this is done by selecting Image->Adjustments->Threshold. Bump the slider a bit to the right until all your lines connect, and then run Multifill. Multifill automatically fills every closed area in the drawing with a unique color.

Next comes Flatten, which removes all the black lines from the drawing and smooshes all your color patches against one another so their jaggy borders meet up underneath your lines. You end up with this:

I stared at this way too long when it was first generated. It's like Mister Toad's Wild Ride for your eyeballs. I soon discovered that there were some areas where color had leaked (see the bottom-middle panel), so I had to go back a couple of times to tighten up the drawing (in the future, I will be much more conscientious about closing my outlines). Then began the arduous process of "flatting" -- that is, turning this patchwork of gobbledygook into areas of like color. After fifteen hours of hunting down leaf edges and little dangly bits, I ended up with this:

I didn't think too hard about my color choices at this early stage -- the idea is to set things up so that you can easily select objects in the scene and adjust their color later. To start, I just went with green for trees, blue for skies, and purple for people (of course). But back to that fifteen hours: does anybody know if there's a way to click-and-drag with the magic wand? If there is, I couldn't find it. The closest I could find was the Quick Selection Tool, which creates anti-aliased edges (very bad). Man, if I could have clicked-and-dragged those leaves, this would have taken two hours instead of fifteen. This whole process definitely convinced me of the need to outsource my flatting.

The flatting plugins produce one unexpected bonus: if you paste the multifill patchwork into your top layer, knock down the opacity to 9 percent, and set the blend mode to Soft Light, you get automatic variation in areas of repeated detail. I may someday look back on this trick with disdain (can you say "lens flare?"), but for now it seems like a really nice way to get big masses of leaves, rocks, or planks to look variegated. Not too shabby!

A couple of people have asked me what kinds of brushes I use in Photoshop. I use the default Brush Tool settings: normal mode, 100% opacity, 100% flow, 100% hardness. At my current image size, the 4-pixel width works best for intricate linework, while thick outlines get the 7-pixel treatment. Should I be using something more high-falutin'?

In other news, Brandon Graham has a new King City book on the stands. It's great.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Page six. Click to enlarge. More rambling below the image.

As you're drawing the eight thousandth leaf in a drawing like this, you start to ask yourself what exactly it is that all this detail really gets you. The costs are obvious - the drawing goes more slowly, your wrist hurts, the legibility of the image can even suffer. So why do it?

For one, meaningful detail helps to model form. If you've decided on a "clean" look (and I'm not sure why I decided that, but whatever), you can't fall back on crosshatching or shading to indicate surface contours. Adding detail is a way of showing the lie of a surface. For example, I drew all the seams on the girl's costume. It's not because I have a fondness for seams. It's that, drawn correctly, the seams turn your figure into a wire frame model. The same goes for belts, straps, buckles, shoelaces, and buttons. There are pitfalls -- if you go too dense, you can lose the silhouette. If you draw even the tiniest button at the wrong angle, it will blow everything and make your image look flatter.

It doesn't just work for figures. Panel lines, rivets, and insignia perform the same function on a drawing of a spaceship. All those rocks in the background help to indicate the shape and orientation of the hillside. The place where I suck the most is in the trees. It is very easy to go into automatic mode when you're drawing a giant mass of leaves, and that can lead to disaster -- the orientation of every leaf is important. My plants always go flat. I suspect the solution is to find a shorthand that doesn't require me to draw every leaf. When I finally learn this shorthand, I will punch my past self in the nutsack.

Digital tools can also lure you into absurd situations. Until about twenty years ago, the only way an artist could increase the density of detail was to work larger. Of course, even if you're drawing on a sheet the size of a tablecloth, you always have an intuitive sense of the relationship between the panel and the whole. Not so with zooming. In the bottom-left panel of the page above, I forgot how zoomed-in I was. I actually sweated the orientations of the arrows in the quivers of the army men (those are the little specks marching behind the big hairy speck with a house on its back). When I finally zoomed back out, the panel was just a grey mass, completely unreadable. I had to erase two hours' worth of leaves and redraw them at a larger size. It was heartbreaking. The zoom tool now allows you to draw more detail than is perceptible by anyone who isn't a raptorial bird. This is silliness, and I will try not to make that painful mistake again.

It's not all bad, though. Detail can also have a legitimizing effect on things. You're kind of dressing your drawing up in a tuxedo. Weirdly, I've noticed that as I add detail, the dialogue tends to change. I'm forcing myself to look at the scene as a real place, with real people in it. I gradually fool myself into taking the scene seriously, and hopefully it has the same effect on the reader. Detailing also makes you spend more time with the drawing, which gives you more opportunities to discover and correct flaws.

Geof Darrow once said something about detail being a crutch -- that he used it to mask weaknesses in his drawing. This is typical self-effacing Darrow, and it's not true. That man draws really, really well. But I feel his point. Adding stupid-dense detail might be the easiest way to get applause. People like to see an obvious accumulation of man-hours. This arrangement sometimes makes me feel like some kind of con-man. All I can say is that the drawing doesn't tell me it's done until I've drawn what I've drawn. Maybe I have a bad case of horror vacui.

That said, after spending more than a week on a page, nothing feels nicer than sitting down with a John Porcellino book and taking some deep breaths. A nice, open, white space can be the best thing ever. As I gain confidence, I hope to learn how to do this, as well.

Changing topics. I'm starting to think about how to get this printed. I've talked to a couple of publishers, and they poop their pants (you can hear a little "blert" noise over the phone) when I tell them how slow I'm going. So I guess I have two questions: First, is it at all conceivable that a publisher could be okay with a three- or four-month turnaround between issues? Would readers even wait that long? Second, does anybody have experience with self-publishing? Can I expect a decent level of quality? Is it insane to try to market your own work? Would I spend all my time addressing envelopes? And how much do you think someone might pay for a full-color, 24-page issue?

To sum up, is there some business model that turns all this labor into food on my table?

And please don't say "go faster." That's my wife's job.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Slow Ride

Page 2 first pass color. Click to enlarge. More below.

I'm kinda slow.

Getting to go slowly is the reason I got into drawing in the first place. I've never been very good at activities that demanded real-time proficiency. Dancing, sports, party conversation -- even sketching in front of someone else makes me jumpy. I mean, what if someone saw me make a mistake? They'd judge me! They'd stop liking me and tell all their friends that they know a guy who is a below-average dancer! Improvisational comedy is so beyond my comprehension as to seem supernatural.

The nice thing about drawing, though, is that you can start out with something really clunky and then chip away the things that don't work little by little. You can make as many mistakes as you want, and nobody will ever know about any of them! In the end, some of your mistakes will even turn out not to have been mistakes at all. Biological evolution works the same way -- start out with goop in a puddle and after a few billion years you get Velociraptors and sea otters. I never get anything right on the first try, ever. That's part of the reason why I use so many layers while coloring (145 in this case) -- I end up trying just about every color and every possible blend mode on every element of the scene, and then trying every possible combination of multiple blend modes... you see how things can get bogged down. Hopefully I'll come across some rules of thumb that help me to avoid wasting time on the most hopeless of these experiments. But for now, this is how it works for me.

That said, I've been getting some really helpful feedback. A colorist named Marc Letzmann introduced me the to the concept of "flatting." Flatting is the process of setting up shape selection sets that conform to the original linework so that areas of the drawing can be easily selected and colored. Often, comic artists hire colorists to do flatting for them, so that they can go in later with the magic wand and quickly add final color. The "duh" moment for me was when Marc pointed out that you have to turn off anti-aliasing to get crisp selection edges. That's definitely going to speed me up and reduce my layer count (I had been using the magic wand and then expanding the selection by one pixel to move it under the line art). There is also apparently a flatting plugin for Photoshop that I have not tried yet. As to whether I'll try hiring somebody else to do my flatting... I dunno. What have your experiences been with flatters?

I've picked up a few new viewers over the last few days, and everybody seems so kind and knowledgable! Thanks to Brandon Graham (an incredible artist who writes my favorite blog ever) for outing me and Warren Ellis for mentioning me, as well. When I found out Ellis had gotten involved on Thursday morning, I shouted so loud that my wife thought I had injured myself.

I think I'm going to take a break from coloring and get back to page 6. I'll try to pick up a little speed on this one. If' I can nail down the line art in three days, I'll be stoked.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Paint by Numbers

First-pass color on page 1. Click to enlarge. More after the image.

Even more than with the original line art, it's taking me a long time to figure out whether something works or not. Right now, I'm mostly shooting from the hip. I know I don't want muddy color, and I'm avoiding using black for shadows. I'm trying to use new blend modes to modulate the color of the linework, itself (see leaves in background of panel 1). I'm also trying to keep all the panels on one page in the same color key (though I'm not sure I've pulled that off here).

That connects to a bigger lesson I've been learning over the past month: a comic page isn't a collection of smaller drawings -- it is one big drawing, and the panel borders and speech bubbles are all part of the composition. One thing that makes me wince a little bit when I look at the old Stareater stuff is how much of an afterthought the speech bubbles are. They're these perfect ovals (just running a stroke using the circular selection tool), and they don't relate to the surrounding art at all. Now that I'm actually drawing them, I see that ovals waste a lot of space. And the bubbles need to have their own visual rhythm, just like everything else on the page.

Looking at it now, it seems obvious.

Working with these color files is rough -- the .psd file for page 1 is brobdignagian. It takes me four or five minutes to save, and up to 30 seconds just to zoom. I think I need to figure out a way to do color without using 70 layers. I do quite a bit of slider-magic on every layer, though -- right up to the end. Maybe I just need a beefier computer? Donations are welcome.

Alrighty. Back to coloring page 2!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Half Way to Ten

Hi! Here's page 5. Click to enlarge. I'll write some stuff underneath the image.

I took a family vacation in the middle of this one, hence the two-week turnaround.

This was the toughest page so far. The first time you draw a thing is always the easiest time, because you don't have to worry about consistency and you can tailor designs to meet compositional requirements. But the second time you draw that same thing, your right brain has to call your left brain in on the action, and things get ugly real fast. This page is almost all stuff you've seen on previous pages, but from different angles (the palanquin, the sister, the rocks, the dude's armor). I think I may worry a little too much about consistency -- people probably aren't counting how many grooves are etched into some guy's gauntlet. Anyway. Major time sink. Podcasts come in handy.

Come to think of it, every page has been the toughest so far. Sometimes it feels like I'm running a marathon while tied to the starting line with a bungee cord. Each step takes more effort. I'm like Steve Martin in the Three Amigos, held against the prison wall by weighted chains. "Gonna make it! Gonna make it! Gonna make it! Notgonnamakeit notgonnamakeit notgonnamakeit!"

I wonder if I should try to get in touch with other comic artists? Maybe I could benefit from a little back-and-forth with a kindred spirit or something. I can't exactly start cold-calling my heroes, though. And even if I did, what would I say? The only time I've ever talked to one of my comic idols was a couple of years ago at the Seattle Comic Convention. I ran across Paul Chadwick, and nobody was talking to him. He was just sitting there at his little table, bored. Paul Chadwick! I'm not a go-up-to-people kind of person, but for some reason I went over and mumbled something about how he helped me get through my teens. I'm pretty sure I turned beet red. I told him I grew up in Eagle Rock (where Concrete is set), and he was like, "wow, Eagle Rock!" I couldn't really think of anything to say after that, so I scurried away. Not a real confidence-builder for old Nate.

I get the feeling I don't have enough to show to be taken seriously by a pro at this point. Maybe after ten pages? Do any of you guys ever fantasize about showing your stuff to your heroes? What's your best-case scenario? I guess if Mike Mignola said something like "I really like the way you draw creatures," I could probably just go ahead and call it a life. Or if Bryan Lee O'Malley called me "cool." That's at least two months' worth of dopamine right there.

Hm. Well, on to page 6! I'm stoked because I get to draw two new characters, including our heroine!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Oh God, They've Started Talking

Page 4. Click to enlarge. More blabbing below the image.

Faces are tough. It's amazing how sensitive we are to minor irregularities in proportion and symmetry. I remember when I was working on the Stareater comic (drawn in pencil on bristol), I'd end up erasing all the way through the board in places -- usually when a face wouldn't come together right. Doing it digitally is easier (because you can bump an eye up a pixel if it looks hinky) but also harder (because you can spend hours bumping an eye up and down by a pixel, trying to figure out which way works better).

Dialogue is a whole other thing, and I freely admit that I'm bad at it. I'll be revising the text right up to the end, I'm sure. I had just read Riddley Walker (a post-apocalyptic novel written entirely in a massively-simplified pidgin English), and for a few days I had one of my characters talking like a chimney sweep. You have to be careful what you read while you're working on something like this. It all sticks.

The font I'm using is called Anime Ace 2,0. It's free, which makes me think it must be low-quality. But as far as I can see, it works fine. Tell me if I've missed some glaring defect. I'd hate to come across as a font noob.

As always, your input is appreciated. Thanks!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Page 3

Page 3 done. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

First Steps

Here are pages one and two. I'll try to post each page as I finish (and double back as I start to color everything).

Some of the images lose some legibility due to the all-overness of the detail. Color should clarify things a little.

These were drawn in Photoshop using a Cintiq tablet monitor.

Page 1. Click to enlarge.

Page 2.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some Random Things

Reading right now:
  • 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa
  • Real, by Takehiko Inoue
After spending the last month watching the entire run of Battlestar Galactica, I have only one thing to say: all the radness that was the show? You erased it with that finale.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I Guess It Was a Good Day

Just so folk(s?) don't get the impression that I'm in some sort of suicidal confidence-spiral, let it be known that I had a pretty good day today. And the goodness of it was accentuated by the badness of yesterday.

Alas, after three weeks of typing away on my new script, I showed it to Jiyoung yesterday. This is a woman who has learned to be very, very tactful in her critiques of my projects. The verdict? Well, she had something good to say about two of twenty pages. I went to sleep embarrassed, hopeless, feeling like I should throw in the towel.

And then today, I charged back up the hillside and rewrote the entire thing. And though it's rough and first-drafty, it's not bad. So not bad that I feel comfortable starting concepts for characters. Tomorrow I'll do a polish pass. If that goes well, I've got enough script for the first issue of the comic.

I originally intended to write the entire script from beginning to end before touching the stylus, but now I wonder if that might be needlessly masochistic. After all, once things start taking physical shape, new story avenues might suggest themselves. I've still got the step outline, so the major events shouldn't change. And if they do, that's okay too.

So I think I'll just get to drawing next week. Man, it feels good to say that. I sure will enjoy having something other than promises to show for the five months I've been away.

In other news, I'm reading lots of manga. The stuff I'm reading right now:
  • Slam Dunk, by Takehiko Inoue
  • Dragon Head, by Minetaro Mochizuki
  • Gantz, by Hiroya Oku
  • Rurouni Kenshin, by Nobuhiro Watsuki
  • Mushishi, by Yuki Urushibara
  • A Drifting Life, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
That last one has really stuck to my ribs. It's rad that the Seattle Public Library has manga.

I'm sure I'll have useful thoughts about the medium at some point, but right now I'm just sort of bathing in it. There's a lot to learn here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where Exactly Is Waldo?

Some advice for aspiring screenwriters: if you find that your scripts are needlessly expository or just plain slow, try imagining that you're writing for a self-illustrated comic.

Ain't nothing gets you to the point faster than imagining that you'll have to draw the same two talking heads sixteen times.

The other thing: pace yourself. Creating something elaborate is a little bit like gardening. Just get out there and water every day. And when stuff starts growing, just go with it. Pull weeds (or don't, if they're pretty). There'll be fruit and flowers eventually. But not if you stop watering.

I'm so terrified these days. Terrified that I'll suck. Terrified that I'm wasting my time. Terrified that my depths will be plumbed, and they won't be all that depthy. Terrified that this is the weightless moment at the top of my life's rollercoaster. Terrified that everybody else won and I lost. Terrified that my money is disappearing. Terrified that if I have to go back to making games, I won't remember how. Terrified that I'm becoming a horrible bore to my wife. Terrified that I lack the empathy to write varied, lifelike characters. Terrified that I'm just a lazy ass.

Isn't this just like an old person, to be terrified of a fun thing you're learning? I don't remember ever being terrified of drawing -- but that was because while I was learning, I had no idea I was cultivating a marketable skill.

Get out there and water every day.

Friday, June 5, 2009


As I write the script for Project Waldo (that's the provisional title for the graphic novel), I'm doing my best to keep things loose. If one thing made Stareater hard, it was that I had to break through ten years of ossified preconceptions about the story.

Project Waldo is exactly a month and a half old. Some of its ideas grew from what I saw as conflicts between the world of Gordon and the Stareater (which took place in the future) and the way our real future seems to be shaping up. GatS had no robots, no AIs (well, okay, one really huge AI), no biotechnology, no real connection to our experience at all. There are lots of exciting concepts that I just couldn't touch with that story. So Project Waldo gives me a chance to do some near-future dabbling.

Here's the basic idea: (Redacted due to spoilers)

This lets me play with two parallel worlds -- one is a dystopian technoscape, the other a baroque fantasy realm. I get to do swords and magical creatures, but I also get to do robots, car chases, and explosions. I see this as win, win, win, win, win, and win.

So here we go again! Thanks for not giving up on me. I won't let you down!

Monday, May 18, 2009


A couple of people have asked me what's going on with this project, so here's the latest:

Stareater has been put on the back burner. I think there still might be something salvageable there, but I'll need some distance before I can come back to it.

Jiyoung told me that one of the things she's noticed in talking to Americans is that we all have "personal projects." I hadn't realized this tendency defined us until she pointed it out. Everybody is writing a screenplay, working on an album, putting together a portfolio. I don't know what this says about us.

In Korea, people don't have personal projects, they have hobbies. I was really confused about this at first. Right after they ask you how old you are, they ask, "what's your hobby?" What does it mean, that they have hobbies and we have projects? I feel like there must be some revelation there. I should mention that when Koreans pursue a hobby, they go all-in. If they say "Salsa dancing," assume they are better than anyone you know. If they say "yoga," they mean they can touch their nose to their tailbone. And if they say "Starcraft," well...

Well, Stareater was my perennial personal project. A refuge from ordinariness. A thing I could point to and say "I'm not really that guy in that dead-end job -- that's just my Clark Kent mode."

Such a project won't stand on its own merits because it isn't really a project at all -- it's a therapeutic device. Sure, it lets me think of myself as an artist, but it won't be of interest to anybody else. 

So what's next? Well, I still have nine months. There's a new story idea -- one that I think will be stronger because of the trials of the last three months. There's also a new plan, and it's a lot more practical. I still want to make a movie, but I've realized that the animatic may not be the most direct means of getting there. After all, what would I have done with it? Could I have shown up at a movie studio with a black and white slide show and gotten somebody to actually sit through 90 minutes of amateur voice acting?

So it's going to be a comic. It's going to come out in 24-page installments. I'll write it at first as a feature-length screenplay, then break it down Scott Pilgrim-style. And when (if) it's all done, I'll have something finished in my hand, something that sells itself.

Thanks to my friend Ray for providing the spark for this change in direction. I feel like I'm doing the right thing now.

The new story has robots.