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!