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.


  1. Comixpress is used by many notable self-publishers, but has suffered from problems with delivery both to publishers and to readers. I've waited at time up to 6 months to get printing from them as a publisher and have waited 3 months to get 1 book from their online store (only to have that book damaged by water twice in transit).

    Another alternative is which is a bit more timely and has an online store as well. If this was a black and white project, there are five other print on demand printers that could be used.

    From customer service standpoint, I'd recommend keeping a small inventory and handling shipping yourself. Nothing is worse than hearing from your customers that they paid for your work and never received it.

  2. Something unnatural walk out?

    Uh oh, in Fantasy land that obvious means she had the jungle fever.

    Don't be worried about your story though, I'm not saying it's dumb, but dumb plots have been carried by pretty art almost singlehandedly before. Ex: Battle Chasers.

    Hmm, then again there was that whole CrossGen universe...

    I guess make sure your story isn't dumb after all. Just in case.

  3. The challenge of writing a comic story is that it is much harder to edit in process once a commitment has been made to the early art. In a novel (not graphic), you can cut and paste entire chapters, or a paragraph here or there, to strengthen the story-line. Sometimes "delete" does wonders by killing an element that doesn't not really move the plot along well enough.

    In comics, as you are seeing, it is not so easy. So many elements of the artistic design, including even the size of the word balloons, force our story along those pre-determined lines and editing becomes much more difficult. I have recently trashed the overall narrative for a pet project/hobby story until I can work that plot out better before I commit any more to the art. I remember that you said you worked on your art until you were not embarrassed anymore. That is when you find your utopia and, yes, many readers will demand as much from the story.

    A community-college writing class I took many years ago wasn't helping my current writing block. BUT...I have found a magic bullet just the other day. I stumbled on "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures," by Jessica Abel and Matt Maddden, while looking for help at the local library. The concept of "narrative-arc" was brought to my attention. I have since stumbled on a blog by Alan Rinzler -- Consulting Editor -- that has really helped me understand the art of story writing. I actually have hope that I can recover some of my desire for my tabled project; I can see how new life can be injected.

    I have read many of your postings and I get the feeling that you are still working out some of the post-it notes in your head as to the story. As I have commented before, your artistic work speaks for itself and certainly can carry a weaker plot. A bonus for everyone would be that the story just blows our minds. We will love you either way; keep at it. (PS Good for you going out for some deep-fried breaded poultry delicacy with your wife!)

  4. Another print on demand option is Lulu (
    I know they do comic size printing with saddle stitch or perfect binding.

    I have never ordered a comic from the store though, so I don't know what the print quality is like.

  5. You have already dropped it on page six haven't you? The fact that it has this postmodern, kaufmanesque thing going on is really intriguing. When I first came across your blog I thought, obviously, I was attracted by your amazing drawings but I was a bit disappointed at the po-faced high fantasy feel of it. That stuff sends me to sleep. Then when I read the 2pm in Korea bit I was, like, ahhh, he's undermining it. Looking forwards to seeing where it goes!

  6. ljamal - Your blog is a goldmine! Thanks for the heads-up about Comixpress. It sounds like I just missed stepping on a landmine. Three months for delivery is bad, bad news. I hadn't known Ka-Blam had an online store, as well. Looks like I'm back where I started!

    Michael - I think Pixar has shown us that story is everything. I haven't been talking too much about it, but I've burned lots and lots of ATP slaving over this script. But it's great to hear that you think my art might be able to put it over the top in the event of a story meltdown.

    The Robot - Thanks for the leads on those books/blogs. I'll take a look at them both posthaste. I can see that there's a little unneeded fat on a few of my pages, story-wise. It's lamentable that a comic can't be edited the same way a movie can be. At one point, I was very anxious about starting this project before I felt I'd mastered writing. In the end, though, the purpose of this whole thing is to learn. I'm doing my best -- I don't want to suck, but at some point I've got to just be okay with not being perfect. As Leonard Cohen says, "ring the bells that still can ring - forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

    thomasjbradley - Lulu looks amazing. But it looks like they have a 32-page minimum for their comic-format books! I'm going to spend some more time over there. They've got some very interesting distribution features. Thanks for the great link!

    ho99 - You're the first person to comment on what's actually going on in the story! I had sort of assumed my story was not working, based on the lack of comments. It's good to hear that you're into it. Very heartening. Thanks!

  7. thomasjbradley (again) - No, I was wrong! If you go with saddle stitching, any page count works for the comic format at Lulu. Very, very interesting!

  8. HUmmm
    And if u print by yourself and mail it like an order?
    I think it could be cheap for both..
    Like i do in Brazil..

  9. Most attentive readers will have picked up the "twist" around the time the elf guy mentioned Korea, I think. (Unless you really are about to give me a nosebleed.) Don't worry, though. The twist is not the important part of the story. Or rather, hiding the twist is not that important. It's much more important that we're interested in these people and what they're doing, and so far you've got that going well.

    Plot twists, and other gimmickry like fantastic environments or technological doodads, are like spices for food. They make things interesting, and they can and should be used (in appropriate amounts), but the meat is in the events, the characters and their interactions with each other.

    Man, I'm just being a blowhard here. I'll stop. You've read the books, and I have a strong feeling you know how to tell a good yarn. I just wanted to say, "Don't worry." ;-)

  10. Hey Nate,

    Awesome page man, Hey I've been reading older post that you've written about the process so far especailly that of flatting. I tried clicking on that flat plugin however it goes nowhere, can you relink that? I actually have been using a flatter to flatten the work I do, but phew, if you can get your page flatted in 3 hours?!!! I mean with the intense line work that you have? man, I'm gonna have to give that plugin a try. BTW... that other post , first comment I wrote.. it meant to say verify not very..ha sorry for the head strain on trying to figure out what I meant. It was early before coffee.


  11. Three hours is a great improvement. With areas wide open like on this particular page, you could easily get down to an hour if you wanted to.

    And you're right, all you really need is a leak. Fast and simple scribble with the eraser.

    'Fraid I can't help with anything to do with marketing, but I'm sure glad I've had enough to help you this far.

  12. M.Ramos - More hugs! You rock! Yeah, I'm definitely looking hard at the do-everything-myself option. I'm just a little concerned that I'll end up doing nothing but licking stamps and dragging heaps of books to the post office... Then again, maybe I'll only sell fifty books, in which case that's exactly the right way to go!

    colin - I'm flattered that you assume I know what I'm doing! I have read a lot of books, but I'm not sure the knowledge has penetrated very deeply. As with the art, I suspect the writing will get better toward the end of the story. Perhaps once the whole story is finished, I can just start all over again with issue one. It'll be like a comic mandala.

    eric - Ah! Verify! That makes more sense! As to the flatting plugin link -- it seems to be broken everywhere I look. The guy's site has gone down. If it doesn't come back up, does anybody know where we can find this plugin now?

    Eagle - Three hours isn't good enough? Man, you're a drill sergeant! Okay, I'll try to squeeze down to one hour on the next one. But it's your fault if my head goes all Scanners. Thanks again for the help!

  13. Great to hear you're able to work much faster! (Are the lady's eyelashes missing in the third frame?)

  14. "I'm flattered that you assume I know what I'm doing!"

    Ah, no. Being able to do something and knowing what you're doing are two completely different things. I think you are able. ;-) Trust your feelings, Luke.

  15. I'm just saying you -could-, with practice, if you wanted to be even quicker about it. It's not so important right now since you don't have a deadline on the book.

    Trying to give you an idea of what's possible and reasonable.

    Already being a colourist has really helped your flatting speed. Three hours would have been a dream to me, two and a half years ago. That probably would've taken five or more.

  16. Admin - The lady's eye -- D'OH! I, uh, left those out to see if you were paying attention. Good eye!

    colin - Surely you're not suggesting that I turn off my targeting computer...

    Eagle - I would like to be quicker. It's good to have a benchmark out there, just to know what's possible. But I don't think I'll ever be as fast as you. You're the best ... around.

  17. :P

    I can't testify to that. I can just say I try and I care. And I'm only the first of my kind you've met. Pretty sure Sweeney's better than me.


    You might want to check these guys out - they work directly with publishers, distributing your books to Borders, the international Amazon sites, and Ingrams wholesalers, among others.

  19. I don't have much to add, except to say that watching your progress is fascinating.

    I did want to say, however, that the slice of sunlight on the guy's neck/chest at the upper right of the page is a brilliant touch, and I love it.

  20. As an aspiring writer, creator of worlds and stuff, this has been absolutely inspiring and insightful. Everyone has said how beautiful your art is, so I'll just second that (or 50th it).

    The story intrigues me. I don't know much about the characters yet, but the dialogue seems natural and not forced at all.

    One more thing then I'll shut up. I don't know if it was an intentional design on this page or not, but the girl seems to have a light sunburn following her collar bone, upper shoulder area. Intended or not, it's a damn fantastic piece of attention to detail and I'll wait as long as it takes to see the finished product. Keep up the fantastic work, sir.

  21. Eagle -- Sweeney, eh? Sounds like a good name for a nemesis. There can be only one... flatlander. Highflatter?

    Elliot - Now THAT looks interesting. I like that they've got a global distribution network in place. I've been trying to figure out how to get the book overseas... Thanks for the link!

    Onii - I'm so glad you noticed that! I'd like to take credit for the light on the shoulder, but I really was just freaking out and scribbling colored shapes everywhere. All the cool stuff seems to happen by accident. My approach is only slightly more directed than a thousand monkeys with Cintiqs.

    Shaun - I'm glad you like it! Yep, the suntan is intentional. It's an old trick that I learned from a Neal Adams drawing. And I'm even more relieved to hear that the dialogue isn't totally cringe-inducing. Wait, why is the spell checker telling me it's not spelled "dialogue?" Stoopid squiggly red underline! Anyway, thanks for the encouragement! And good luck with your own projects!

  22. Hahahaha. I worked with him for a while. Someone else mentioned Juan Jose Ryp to you before. I think you looked him up? I did some pages of JJR's Black Summer for Sweeney. He was nice enough to not dump the most insane pages on me. Had me do the "easier" ones so he could focus on the worst insanity.

    It's telling you "dialogue" is wrong because it wants you to use "dialog," which seems to conflict with my education, but whatever.

  23. I see you're still trying out the flattening plugin. think you may end up spending more time eliminating line work for the sake of getting the plugin to work rather than putting that time to better use.

    You have thousands of layers available in Photoshop, so I'd suggest keeping your linework on one layer above everything else, then below it, create a number of layers for your flats, and build your colors that way.

    Its similar to how painters work - start with your background colors and then block in all your main flat areas. From there, build up your tones - don't worry about being sloppy - you can easily fix it with an eraser tool.

    - Linework Layer (set it to multiply)
    - Flats (your color work here)
    - Page (or Background/White so you can see what you are doing)

    Eventually you'll be whipping off color and tone just as fast as your pencil rendering. In addition, its way easier to apply overall color effects to areas when you have additional layers and adjustments.

    Work smart - not too hard! Keep up the good work, Nate. Your foray into comics has inspired me to turn my blog into more of a how-to-draw-webcomics blog from the illustration resource blog I currently run.

    Awesome stuff!

  24. Hey, Nate. Stephen Silver--renowed character designer for a bunch of stuff you'll probably recognize--just posted this on his DA journal:

    "How to self-publish your own book" vid

    Unfortunately, it would cost forty bucks. Dunno if it's worth it to you. Figured I'd let you decide.

  25. Drezz - Thanks for the pointers! Can you post a link to your blog? I'd love to learn more about your technique!

    Eagle - That vid looks interesting. I wonder how broad it is? The bit about barcodes piqued my interest -- it looks like he does dig down a little bit on some useful topics. If anybody out there in blogland has seen this, I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

  26. Nate - sure thing.

    Hopefully there's something there that can help you out. I actually posted a link to your site a few weeks ago in my weekly illustration links roundup when I received word about it.

    Good luck!

  27. For marketing you should try the Project Wonderful ad service ( , It's targeted directly to the online comic community and is fairly cheap. We've used it on our site for a while now - and it's a great way to bring in money for server costs etc as well. I've found a lot of great comics through their ads.

  28. Drezz - Wow! Tons of info at your site. This is great stuff. Thanks for the link!

    Joseph - Whoa! I've bookmarked the page for further study. It looks like it might be just the thing. Thanks for the heads-up!

  29. Wow,really impresive,these pages are amazing,how much time do you spend on every page? The project is really cool,I´m anxious for see more pages!!

  30. Julkillo - Thanks! These days it takes me a week (or even a little more) to finish each page. Part of the reason for this blog is to attract ideas about how to bring that number down a little bit.

  31. Nate, if you want a frame of reference, a friend of mine who was an indie comic book artist once told me that a monthly comic needs to have 20 pages drawn one week, inked and colored the 2nd week, edited and finalized the third, then printed and shipped on the fourth.

    At your pace, your first issue will appear around Christmas! haha

    You also don't have the luxury of desk drones doing your dirty work, so I suppose you'll be forgiven.

  32. As pages are drawn, they get inked. As they're inked, they get coloured. It's not a matter of a week. There are no pencilers doing four books a month. Except maybe for small presses where the artwork blows.

    Inkers are lucky if they get two books a month done.

    Each page realistically takes four days to get to the point where it's ready to print, but each person in the chain doesn't sit idle while one's working.

    Also, not all inkers have scanners capable of scanning at print resolutions, so they have to ship them to the publisher, which gets expensive if you're always sending them one at a time [and then an intern scans them all, which takes for bloody ever]. Most often, we get pages for Marvel books in great globs and have to turn them around within a couple days. It's a lot easier to work in a studio, where you just hand pages over to the next guy in the assembly line, but then you have to uproot your life and move across the country to be near enough to the studio that a daily commute is worthwhile, which is prohibitive in such a small industry. Decentralizing artists is more cost-effective in the long run, I think.

    Inkers make a lot more than colourists per page, but some colourists do four or five times as many pages in a month, so you can guess where the big money may be if you get good and fast. Still, eighty-hour weeks... Damn... I'd be happy if I did two books, myself.

  33. Sorry, hi, longtime lurker just absolutely loving everything that's gone on here...

    I'm an aspiring editor and everything you're doing is quite inspiring! I often get frustrated myself by both my own work (I am a writer) and my inability to get work as an editor. Your hard work is really something, and I hope it pays off for you!

    Eagle: I couldn't help but notice, you mentioned you work for Marvel?

  34. I don't work directly for Marvel, no. I work for a colourist who works for Marvel. I do flats for him.

    And the other guy I work with does Image and IDW books. He runs the Frazetta comics and colours Locke & Key. He also colours Spawn now, but I don't do that since McFarlane has his own flatters.

    I don't deal with editors at all. Get no credit.

  35. Drezz - At this point, a Christmas release would be a miracle. I'm tracking for March of next year, at best. Hey, I can only draw as fast as I can draw.

    Eagle - It's really great to get these little glimpses into the professional side of things. Thanks for the snapshots! And thanks for slightly repairing the heart damage I suffered when Drezz told me I should be finishing twenty pages a week.

    Ryuu - Thanks for the encouragement. I'm glad you stopped lurking and started commenting. Good luck with your writing! One thing I'm learning is that nobody hits it out of the park on the first try - the greats are just the people with the most endurance. Don't give up!

  36. this blog is such a resource for people, thanks nate, and thanks for all the insightful comments by others as well!

  37. Hi Nate, this is my favourite new website!
    I've come to it late from a Jason Brubaker interview. So inspiring.
    A MARVEL talent scout looked at my stuff last year and when I told him it took me 3 days to do one page he actually said:
    "Great! A day for pencils and inking, a day for colouring, a day for lettering." I was very surprised.