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!


  1. Wow
    I just follow the process over here..
    Glad u to share it with us !!


  2. You haven't gotten as much about self-publishing from GZ as I expected. :/

    I'll sign that petition.

    I've found that, even doing what I do, I can't sleep with a page unfinished. No matter how exhausted I am, if I don't finish it, I'll just toss and turn for a few hours and have to get back up to finish.

  3. Hey Nate,

    I just happen to land on your site, very nice work man. Really dig the process of your pencils to color. Good luck with the comic venture. Creator own is a challenge. Years ago I worked on a co-creator book at Image called StrangeGirl and man that was a tough schedule. In anycase, definitely will support your book, it looks like its coming along fantastic.

    odd couldn't very credential? with open url? in anycase best of luck man.


  4. M. Ramos - Thanks for the hugs! We need more of those around here. Keep 'em coming!

    Eagle - I totally know how you feel. Except for the part about finishing a PAGE A DAY. Holy mackerel. If I couldn't sleep until I finished a page, I would literally die. You're a monster.

    evnaccd - Thanks for the support! Just out of curiosity, what does your last paragraph mean? I've been racking my brain trying to parse it, but I'm just not breaking through. Odd couldn't very credential. Help!

  5. Nice WORK! Good grief your "pencils" are incredible. I've never used Kablaam, but I had a good experience with Comixpress, who has an online store so people can buy from them should you chose. I think you really touched a nerve with wives (or husbands) of comic artists, I turn into a complete ass if I fail at a panel.

  6. Actually, I just flat. The most pages I've done in one sitting was eleven, but that was a lot of hours of work. And I was seriously past my bed time. And they were mostly reasonably simple.

    The one page I've inked took a couple days in Manga Studio, but that was the first and last of those.

    I've never drawn a page.

    I've coloured a spread, which took a few days of work in total, but it was considerably simpler than your pages.

  7. Oh, and my woman does get the worst of it if work is going poorly. Or going really well.

    In this business, it's really hard to leave work at work.

  8. Mike - Comixpress looks very interesting. One thing they have that Ka-Blam doesn't is an online store with direct-to-customer delivery. No garage needed! On the other hand, they don't seem to offer glossy internal pages. I'm going to buy a sample comic to get a feel for the final quality. But man, what a great lead. Thanks! Has anybody else done business with Comixpress?

    Eagle - Eleven pages in one sitting. You're a machine sent from the future, aren't you?

  9. I had two or three deadlines looming. :/

    Marvel has a bad habit of giving us pages a few days before a book's supposed to go to print. And sometimes I end up juggling pages for four different books at once. If I don't lose a little sleep once in a while, I can't stay ahead of the flood.

    The Marvel colourist I work with does a minimum of three books a month, plus covers, marketing material, short insert stories, et cetera.

    The other guy I work with does the Frazetta books, Spawn [which I don't do because McFarlane has in-house flatters, thank goodness], Locke & Key and other random IDW books, along with various small-press projects I sometimes don't even know the name of.

    When I was just starting, I heard of a guy flatting 65 pages for other people, -and- colouring two books a month. I was astonished.

    But now I see it's barely enough to get by on a flatter's pay.

    Even colouring for IDW only gets you about $50 per page [but I have it on good authority they're wonderful to work for, so it's not a bad option anyway]. I get between $10 and $20 per page, just flatting. The amount of time it would take to colour a page, a move up to $50 would really be a step back for me at this point.

    Even with how many books I get handed by both guys, I get whole weeks off pretty regularly. Those are actually hard weeks, since I fall out of the rhythm. It's harder to keep up after. Especially since you can bet after a week of nothing, everything's going to get dumped on me at once and need to be bloody done yesterday.

    Still, I tell myself I love this job. It's the only one I've ever had for more than six months. And I get appreciation, which I never got before, so it's gratifying. Having to do so much just to stay afloat is getting pretty heavy, though. I do need to move up to colouring soon. My shitty laptop and laziness are holding me back, though.

  10. As far as printing. Kablam does a fine job quality wise. If you're only getting a handful of books done they're worth going with.

    The drawbacks I find with them are customer service. It's all email interaction so you're left with waiting to hear back at their leisure.

    Kablam's printing is nice color copies. I recommend calling around local printers that do the same thing. You'll probably get a cheaper rate and you'll be able to talk face to face or over the phone.

    If you are getting any sizable amount printed you really need to go with a 4 color press.

  11. Hi Nate,
    my name's Flavio.
    can you tell me how you ink your pages?
    PS? Pen Tool?

    P.s. you're GREAT!!!!!!

  12. Eagle - It's great to hear these details about the life of a flatter. I had no idea you were flatting full-time. ON A LAPTOP! You know, I could definitely see the appeal -- I almost look forward to flatting now. There's something meditative about it. It's the only few hours per week when I can zone out (though if I had to go through as much volume as you do, I guess I'd be concentrating on speed, which would probably make the whole thing a little more miserable. I hope you do get around to coloring. I've begun to enjoy that part of it, too.

    Joshua - 4 color press? Local printers? Oh boy, new concepts! Does anybody know of any good local printers in the Seattle area? And does anybody have any pointers on preparing artwork for 4 color printing? Bonus question: which come out better, color copies or 4-color prints? Thanks for the knowledge, Joshua!

    ilflaviatore - All the pages are drawn in Photoshop using a Cintiq tablet. I generally use the draw tool on default settings -- 100% hardness, 4-pixel line width. For the fat outlines, I usually use a 7-pixel brush. Thanks for the compliment!

  13. There's lots of talk about CMYK scattered around GZ. In the Tips & Techniques forum, there's a sticky that offers a basic CMYK file setup that works for most cases.

    If you pick a printer, see if you can get a colour profile from them. Once you have that, it's much easier to get more specific answers.

    Yeah, a stinking laptop. It's got a 17" screen, but that's all I can say for it. I got it out of desperation after my desktop died horribly. Been stuck with it for far too long now. My situation changed, it's extremely difficult to save any money.

    Colouring is certainly more fun than flatting, especially the bulk stuff I do. That's partly why colourists hire flatters. Also, it's time-consuming. The two guys I work with are far faster than me at it, I don't know how they do it. They both mostly seem to use the pencil tool. I'm still too itchy about going over lines even just a little bit to put all my faith in the pencil. Intellectually, I know I'm holding myself back. But my pride in the quality of my work is a pain in the ass.

    On some books, it's relaxing and I can have fun with it, pay attention to colours, try to make scenes make sense. I like to try and do that with anything Gabe's drawing. Most of the books I get just aren't that entertaining, though, or I just don't have the time. I can't remember if I had previously said that a lot of my colour choices are in L&K vol 1. I'm really proud of that.

    I need to build a system with at least a 24" monitor on an Ergotron arm so I can turn it to portrait mode and have the whole page visible at once. Work in broad strokes, not sweat the little details that aren't visible in print. This tiny resolution I'm working at now is stifling.

  14. Not that I think you would need any help with your illustration work AT ALL, but you may be interested in checking out

    This site provides links to a variety of illustration and comic resources on the web and you may find something on there that could help you save time or solve a problem so you don't have to fight with your wife :)

  15. PanicAttak - Thanks for the lead. There's a lot of inspiring stuff there, plus some very useful how-to articles. I've got it bookmarked!

  16. you said: "On that day it'll be good-bye print, hello iTunes!"
    My god, I hope not... I'm somewhere in-between tolerating & liking iTunes, but I do NOT like having to read comics off a screen, no matter the format of the screen, the resolution or anything. I want the paper, I want the smell!

    Be seeing you!

  17. the comics expert - Oh, I'm sure there'll be a "comic smell" app. Nobody else gets to use that idea. It's mine. I'll sue you all!

  18. Haha, that's good. Though, I only know what you're talking about by proxy. All that high-faluting tech stuff, I'm already glad I get the damn i-pod to work!

  19. For what it's worth:

    I've been selling comics printed by Ka-Blam this year, and the quality is fantastic. I use a lot of weird colors, and 99% of them have come out looking great.

    They do indeed have an online store: They've also set up print-on-demand for direct market comic stores over at

    I've never had a problem with their support system. Never waited longer than 24 hours to get an answer to a question, and it's always been the same very nice lady who has helped me out. She's had to patiently answer some very stupid questions on my part.

    I sound like a ka-blam commercial, I know, but thought I'd share my experiences with them. I'd love to see your comic in print--it's fantastic.

  20. Adam - Yeah, I'm super, super excited about Ka-Blam. When I first came across them, I was a little confused by the division of their services across three different companies, but once I figured out how their service works (technically, you don't even need to print a single issue before selling through IndyPlanet) I realized this was probably the way to go. I think I'll probably do some evangelizing in my next post.

    It's very good to see so many happy testimonials -- they seem to be running their business well. By the way, what's the status of Comic Monkey? Are they up and running? Are retailers signing up yet?

    And if you don't mind me asking, how are you marketing your book?

    Sorry to pump you for info like this, but you sound like a guy who knows things! Thanks for your help!

  21. I tell you this, your honesty here is so sincere with what you go through personally (wife communications, and the unfinished pages) your final book can't help but be a success. Go get 'em nate!