Friday, November 5, 2010

Story Toy

As I work on the story for Nonplayer, I'm frequently reminded that I'm not a very good writer. Which isn't to say I can never be a good writer -- after all, I'm just barely making a dent in my ten thousand hours. Clearly, I'm thinking about story much more than I used to -- there's a new dread that seeps into the back of my head whenever I watch a movie or read a comic that has the same shortcomings I'm encountering in my own work. How is it that I walk away from those experiences with the feeling that I've failed somehow? I didn't even write that movie! It's a strange thing.

Here's a tentative first pass at a definition for "story": a story is sometimes more than, but never less than, a sequence of significant events. I might even venture that those events need to have some narrative connection to one another, but maybe a thematic relationship is all that's really needed. Jackass 3D worked fine, right? Well, okay, maybe that's not a story (possible future digression: is story even necessary?).

But what constitutes a significant event? For me (and for many artists who came to drawing through the comics/movies/games side of things), the default list of significant events doesn't stray too far from four basic modes: violent confrontation (everything's either an argument or a fight to the death), chases (at high speed, usually through canyons full of obstacles), rescues (often involving improbably-proportioned women), and gratuitous posing (feet apart, sword or gun aloft). I don't know if it's habit, or nostalgia, or maybe a reluctance to bore the reader, but I still get a little uneasy when I stray from these old chestnuts. Paradoxically, I am increasingly bored by them. So what else is there?

Part of the reason I enjoy Japanese comics is that they exhibit a broader interpretation of what constitutes a significant event. Yes, there is plenty of male power fantasy manga -- but even within the action genre there are some pretty surprising tangents. For example, ping pong can look like this:

Ping Pong by Taiyo Matsumoto

Or how about wheelchair basketball?

Or maybe Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi winning major diplomatic concessions from George Bushes Jr. and Sr. by beating them at high-stakes mahjong?

I suppose these are just different isotopes of the same action element -- note the use of speed lines in all three examples. Still, it's hard to deny that the application of novel settings does seem to inject some new life into the old action-comic structure.

Over the last few years, my wife has coaxed me into trying some new flavors of manga. Her favorite (and one of my favorites, too) is called Yotsuba, by Kiyohiko Azuma. Yotsuba chronicles the day-to-day adventures of a five-year-old girl and her single father. Yotsuba gets into trouble, but it's not Dennis the Menace-type trouble. Instead, her newness to the world causes her to interpret her environment in skewed ways, and sometimes she acts upon those incorrect theories to hilarious effect.

No explosions, no monsters, no robots. Okay, one robot. Made out of cardboard.

Part of what's so charming about this comic is that as Yotsuba learns about the world (where milk comes from, why it's not good to draw on your father's face while he's napping, etc.), the adults around her seem to unlearn their stodgy adultness.

The whole process feels so natural that it sometimes reads like a documentary. I don't know for sure, but I'd bet that Azuma's been observing some goofball kid somewhere. Some of this stuff is too good to have been made up.

Even further down that slice-of-life path lies The Walking Man, by Jiro Taniguchi. The whole manga is devoted to one salaryman's commute -- most of it follows him as he walks home from work. In one story, he checks out a library book to help identify a seashell he's found. In another, he discovers a broken wind-up airplane in a gutter and takes it home to fix it. In a third, he sneaks a nighttime skinny-dip in a locked public swimming pool. To hear me describe it, it must sound like deadly dull stuff. But it's not.

Weirdly, seeing these everyday events drawn with such care (and Taniguchi's amazing draftsmanship is a big help here) has altered my sense of the value of the ordinary things I see around me. Here's an artist who cares so much about the experience of missing a bus stop and taking an unusual route home that he draws a whole story about it. Somehow, a little act of worship like that enhances the real world. This thing you're looking at -- this tree, or this broken toy -- is important enough to deserve its own comic. That's cool!

To any normal person (particularly any non-male one), this is going to sound pathetically naive, but I'll say it anyway: the things that happen in everyday life can be just as significant as exploding robots with swords. That doesn't mean I should ignore my muse if it tells me to draw sword fights. But it does mean that there's significance in nearly everything, and that letting a story move through a few different registers may breathe some life into it.

Watch, now there are going to be a bunch of really boring pages in Nonplayer. Hey man, it's a learning process.

Quick aside: some people have begun to think I'm screwing around with this whole "announcement around the corner" thing. I have been 100% convinced that I was within a day of signing a contract more times than I can count, but publishing a comic turns out to be a process that involves the cooperation of multiple people, all of whom have to have their ducks in a row before anything can happen. All I can say is that when the announcement is finally made, you'll agree the wait was probably worth it.

And that announcement is right around the corner.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

IllustStudio First Impressions

I’ve got a week of IllustStudio under my belt. The verdict: spectacular.

As I mentioned in my last post, IllustStudio has a similar interface to Photoshop’s. Many of the macros are the same, most of the button icons are similar, and you’ll recognize the same basic tools -- magic wand (comically transliterated from the Japanese as “magikkuwando”), color picker, lasso, etc. The key difference between the two programs is that IllustStudio allows you to make either raster or vector layers. In a raster layer, you draw with pixels. In a vector layer, every line you draw has at its core a tweakable, transformable mathematical spine. The important thing here is that from a user perspective, the two feel mostly identical. But boy, are they different.

The Eraser

In the IllustStudio demo video, you see this little guy in action a couple of times. Until I actually started drawing pages in IllustStudio, I hadn’t fully grokked how this tool, paired with vectors, could revolutionize my pipeline. The eraser tool has three modes: normal, intersection, and whole line.

Normal mode works exactly like Photoshop's eraser. It removes what it touches. Intersection, however, is a game-changer. Consider panel borders: in Photoshop, I used to use the line tool to draw overlapping lines and then manually remove the lines from the interpanel spaces. Not the toughest task in the world, but definitely a chore.

Here’s how you do it in IllustStudio: first, use the line tool to make two vertical lines that span the height of your page. Then, make two horizontal lines that span the width of your page.
Second, set your line-modifier tool (translated for some reason as "line level") to “duplicate lines,” and increase the influence area of your cursor so that it selects paired panel lines at once. Then click and drag your panel borders to place them where you want them. Finally, flick the eraser (set to “intersection”) over the lines you don’t want. This takes maybe ten seconds for the whole page:

Done. Ten minute task becomes one minute task.
Or how about speech bubbles? Another non-trivial task that becomes increasingly annoying in Photoshop as you switch back and forth to the paths palette and re-stroke your paths for every revision.
In IllustStudio, you start out with a plain old oval. You can easily tweak this oval into a more pleasing shape using your trusty line-level tool, this time set to “fix both ends” (you may want to play with the influence area of this tool as well -- too narrow and it’ll just give you dimples, too big and it’ll move the entire line at once. Warning: "influence area" is translated here as "adjustable thumb." No idea). Once you’ve got your bubble, add the tail by drawing two overlapping curves with the curve tool. Now go back to the eraser tool (again set to “intersection”). Boop, boop, and boop:

Done. You need to see this happening in real time to get a sense of how fast it is. All this happens in seconds.

Before I stop hyping the eraser tool, I should mention the usefulness of the “whole line” setting. In this mode, the eraser removes all of every line that it crosses, from end to end. Think about all the fuss that’s required to erase, say, the collar of a shirt in Photoshop. You’ve got to zoom way in and make sure that at the end of that line you don’t make a dent in the line of the person’s neck, right? That sort of stuff is ancient history now. With IllustStudio, you don’t ever need to zoom way in for anything, really.


In Photoshop, you may find yourself scaling and rotating parts of images after you’ve drawn them (I usually end up resizing and repositioning parts of human figures this way). Of course, because Photoshop is raster-based, the result is blurred. And it gets worse if you do it a third and fourth time. What you catch yourself doing is transforming the element and then tracing over it to get a clean line again. Modify, retrace. Modify, retrace. A real time-sink.

With vectors, transformations are non-lossy (“lossy” describes any process that involves an irreversible loss of data). That means you can rotate, increase scale, stretch, shrink, rotate again, do the hokey pokey, and rotate one more time, and the line stays exactly as sharp as ever. That’s huge, right? How many hours did I spend retracing for issue #1? Days? Weeks, maybe? Are you starting to get a sense of how much this program rocks?

Related to the transformation fluidity is the ability to change page size. You probably already guessed this one, but I’ll go ahead and spell it out: you can change your page size to any dimensions at any point in your drawing, and the results will be perfectly clean. You can draw the whole drawing at 1000x1500 pixels if you want, and then scale it up by a factor of ten. Your lines will still look sharp.

For issue #1 of Nonplayer, I drew the pages at very high resolution because I wanted to be able to make posters from the pages at some point. This slowed everything down drastically -- with some files, it took five minutes or more just to save, and things got exponentially worse as I added layers. For Nonplayer #2, I’m working at a reasonable resolution (6.875 x 10.437 in @ 400 dpi), safe in the knowledge that I can blow up the entire page after I’m done (note: there is an upper limit to how big you can go -- I don’t know if it’s a hard ceiling or if it’s limited by RAM, but I didn’t have much luck getting the page higher than the 15000 pixel range. That may just be because my computer is a sissy).

Perspective Ruler

Perspective ruler, I love you. This is a fully-customizable ruler (in one-, two-, or three-point flavors) that lets you place your horizon, vanishing point, and key guide lines in seconds. But what’s really sweet about this tool is that once it’s been placed, the lines you draw with the line tool will automatically conform to the perspective you’ve chosen. It senses the general direction you’re trying for, compares it to the three available axes, and matches your line to the most similar axis. To be clear -- it doesn’t snap to the actual reference line on the ruler, it merely redirects your line to point either towards the appropriate vanishing point or makes it perpendicular to the viewer (in the case of one-point perspective).

I’m almost excited to draw some buildings. Almost.

Color History

Every time you use a new color, it gets registered on a color history palette off to the side. Most Photoshop artists I know (including myself) put color swatches along the margins and use the eyedropper to revisit oft-used colors. No more:

A little feature, but one I’ll use often.


As with all programs, there are a few flies in IllustStudio’s ointment. Most of them are pretty insignificant -- the biggest hassle so far has been reprogramming my brain’s macro habits. Though most of the buttons and macros are similar to Photoshop’s, there are some notable differences. For example, ctrl-Z is undo, but crtl-Y is redo. That means if you want to do multiple undos, you just hit ctrl-Z over and over. For those who paired ctrl-Z with ctrl-alt-Z in Photoshop to toggle between an older undo state and a newer one, there does not seem to be a corresponding function in IllustStudio. There is a history palette though, so it's really just a matter of changing habits.

Another problem is the dearth of online tutorials in English. Try Googling “IllustStudio tutorial” and you’ll find very little. So far, the most useful English-language introduction I’ve found is this one. It's brief, but handy to have on hand for your first few minutes of exploration. From then on, it’s mostly a matter of clicking every button to see what it does. The English translated tooltips are helpful here, but not everything has been translated (Google will point you to the current English translation -- switching languages is a matter of replacing a single file).

Ultimately, there may be some tasks that still make more sense in Photoshop. For example, Photoshop’s blend modes are far more varied and robust than IllustStudio’s. I haven’t played much with coloring in IllustStudio (I’ll post again here when I do), but it may make sense to move everything over to Photoshop after establishing basic areas of color. Switching back and forth between the programs is no problem -- IllustStudio can save images in .psd format. As long as you keep the lines and colors on separate layers, there’s no problem with resizing the image later, even if rasterized colors are brought back into IllustStudio from Photoshop. The vector linework will cover up any unpleasant artifacts along the color boundaries.

Where Do I Get It?

The good news: IllustStudio is ridiculously cheap (around $70.00 US). The bad news: it’s sold only in Japan. This is the point where I wish I could tell you that I’ve made a deal with a local reseller and that I’ll get five percent of every sale referred through this post. Sadly, that is not the case. But it would have been sweet.

In my case, some friends and I contacted a Japanese importer who was willing to ship multiple copies to us in a single shipment (we ended up paying an even $100 for each copy). Looking around on the web a bit, I see that you can buy a copy at an overseas retailer and then have it shipped to this other company, who will then deliver it to you in your home country. I can’t attest to price or reliability, so a little due diligence may be necessary. I’m sure some net-sleuthing will reveal other procurement methods.

The Final Analysis

It’s taken a while for me to get fully settled into digital art making -- so many tasks require popping the clutch on my art-brain and going into button-pushing gear, then trying to get back into art mode again. It’s exhausting and counterintuitive. With IllustStudio, I think I may finally have found the perfect complement to the Cintiq (which puts the pen in direct contact with the image) and the Ergotron armature (which turns the Cintiq from a monitor into a pad). I feel like I've crossed over some intuitiveness threshold, back into traditional media territory. By dodging the price of Photoshop CS5 ($657.00 on Amazon) and buying IllustStudio instead, you’ve got nearly 600 extra dollars to apply to that Cintiq purchase, too.

Still no announcements on the publishing front. Nonplayer is quickly shaping up to be the Duke Nukem of comics, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Second Verse, (Hopefully Not) Same as the First

I’m visiting my wife's family in Seoul for a couple of weeks, which means I’m temporarily Cintiq-less. We timed this trip to coincide with preproduction on issue #2 of Nonplayer, so I’ve been concepting, writing, and doing some rough layouts on a “pad,” which is a non-digital wood-pulp-based substrate for graphite residue. I think it might be broken, though. The undo button doesn’t seem to work.

I skimped on the preproduction for issue #1, and everything took twice as long because of it. Driven by a desire to show pretty pictures to my friends as quickly as possible, I hung my final artwork on some very flimsy layouts -- sometimes they weren’t much more than stick figures. No surprise, then, that I ended up redrawing a lot of finished panels because of botched camera angles and bad poses.

Here at the beginning, it turns out you have to go slow to go fast. A little extra clarity, especially during the layout phase, can give you a lot more confidence going into the final artwork. It doesn’t hurt that when you finish clean layouts you’ve got the bones and muscles of your finished book, and you can recruit friends and family to catch storytelling errors (which, at my level, are plentiful).

When I commence final artwork, I’ll be trying out a new Japanese illustration program called IllustStudio. I still haven’t dug too deeply into it, but here’s what makes it cool: it has the UI of a raster-based art program, but the linework is vector-based (actually, raster-based is also available, but meh). The interface is not such a far cry from Photoshop -- you’ve got brushes, a palette, fill tools, that sort of thing. Using the Cintiq, you make the same kind of varied, tapering linework that’s possible in Photoshop. But underneath it all, there are vectors instead of pixels. This means the following:
  1. Linework can be modified after the fact, either by dragging the line or modifying its thickness.
  2. Image resolution is immaterial -- you can blow your image up to the size of a building without any blurring or pixelation.
  3. The line can be auto-smoothed as it’s drawn, cancelling out shakiness and freeing me from one of the most time-consuming rituals of issue #1: redrawing long, curved lines again and again until my wrists exploded.
There are lots of other promising functions -- I’m particularly interested in an auto-masking tool that prevents color from crossing adjacent linework. There are some nice perspective aids, as well. Here’s some mind-altering video of IllustStudio in action. As I get deeper into issue #1, I’ll post some more reactions to the software.

Finally, I’m trying to figure out if I want to set up an online store for Nonplayer merchandise. I’m not really sure what kinds of things people would be interested in finding there. I think poster-sized reproductions of individual pages might be fun. T-shirts, maybe? The thing I’m really excited about is figurines -- with 3D printing technology in its current state, there are some ridiculously detailed collectible sculptures making the rounds. I wouldn’t mind having a nice little sculpture of the guy on the cover riding his steed. Would you mind having that?

It sure would be swell if Nonplayer could start helping out with some bills. Heck, I’d settle for one bill. Nonplayer, please pay our Netflix bill. Thank you.

As always, an official publishing announcement is right around the corner. Man, this sure is a long corner.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DIY Not?

I just finished reading "Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World," by Mark Frauenfelder (founder of Boing Boing and editor in chief of Make magazine). I never thought of myself as much of a DIY guy, but I enjoyed his Colbert Report interview enough to hunt down his book at the library. It chronicles his misadventures in do-it-yourselfing -- undeterred by failure, he hacks his way through several ambitious projects, including the building of a chicken coop (and the stewardship of its residents), the construction of several cigar-box guitars, and the raising of a colony of bees. I wouldn't have predicted I'd have been interested in any of those things, but it turned out to be a fun ride.

Frauenfelder quotes some interesting folks. For example, there's this gem from Charles Martin Simon's "Principles of Beekeeping Backwards":
Our apicultural forefathers, those great men who defined the principles of modern beekeeping, Langstroth, Dadants, Root . . . why were they so extravagantly successful? The answer is simple: because they didn’t know what they were doing. They made it up, as it were, as they went along. That is the creative principle, and that is the way it works. Once the standards have been set and carved in stone, the pictures and diagrams and procedures etched into the books, we have then models to live up to, and we can’t do it. Everything that comes after primary is secondary, or less. It will never be the same. For us to succeed, we have to become primary. We have to view beekeeping with entirely new eyes, just as our great pioneers did.
I haven't been at comics long enough to know if that's true, but I'd sure like it to be true. Clearly, it's not enough to be clueless -- otherwise, we'd all be accidental Picassos. But to be unsure of what you're doing while wanting desperately to figure out the answers on your own -- that might be some kind of sweet spot.

Later, Dr. Peter Gray critiques the way modern schools work:
"...our education system is set up to train kids to be scholars, in the narrowest sense of the word, meaning someone who spends his time reading and writing." This is a poor way for kids to learn, Gray explained, because people survive by doing things. School, however, is about "always preparing for some future time when you will know enough to actually do something instead of doing things now. And that's such a tedious approach for anybody to take in life - always preparing."
Could it be that school just prepares us to prepare for things? No wonder the local Utrecht is doing such brisk business in Moleskines and watercolor kits, but so little is actually getting made! He goes on:
The right way to approach learning, Gray said, is by encouraging play, "where you just go out and do things, and learning is secondary to doing. In school, you learn before you do. In play, you learn as you do and you're not afraid of mistakes -- you make mistakes and that's how you learn. Whereas in school a mistake is something bad. In some ways you become afraid of taking initiative and trying things out for fear you'll make a mistake."
It was near the end of Frauenfelder's book that it occurred to me that making your own comic also counts as a DIY project. I guess I had associated the movement with sawdust and calloused hands, maybe because there seems to be so much caveman back-to-the-land stuff mixed in with the maker subculture. There's one bit where he even says his DIY activities take away from some of his other hobbies, which include painting and drawing. Somehow those two don't qualify as "true" DIY, I guess? Too sissy? I wonder where Make magazine stands on the subject of Cintiqs?

Anyway, the book's a great read for anybody who's trying to overcome that inner schoolmaster who keeps telling them they're not good enough to get going on a project. I could have used that encouragement a year ago. Heck, I can still use it now.

A few people have asked me what's going on with the Nonplayer publishing situation. I'm really, really close to signing something, and as soon as I do I'll make an announcement. We're in chickens-about-to-hatch territory now. I'm looking forward to being able to breathe again.

Issue #2 is bopping right along.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sitting Duck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, see you in Previews. My jimmy awaits.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bombs Away!

When I announced on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that I'd finished the first issue of Project Waldo, the plan was to post something here the next day. Since then, I've been making the comic a little more finished. Today, I finally threw in the towel for good. It's done.

So first things first. "Project Waldo" has a new title:

With any luck, you'll be seeing this soon on a shelf at your local comic store.

Justin "Moritat" Norman went with me to Arcane Comics yesterday and we brought the cover along to see how well it would stand out among the other comics that started with "N." It'll be parked right next to Northlanders, which is some rotten luck, because that's one amazing-looking comic. Northlanders notwithstanding, I was happy to discover that most modern comic covers are so dark that a yellow-and-orange pile of fruitsauce like mine glows like a little campfire in the forest. 

One last thing: from now on, I'll try to post here once a week. Part of the way I'll manage that is by keeping my posts shorter. We'll all still be here next week, right? 

Back to issue #2. We can rebuild it. We have the technology. Better, stronger, faster.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Why on Earth did I wait until last month to rent a studio?

As with most of the delays that have plagued this project, chalk it up to a failure of imagination. It takes a firm commitment to convince your mental hinterlands that you’re serious about a new course of action, and there’s no firmer commitment than the financial sort (that’s not true, but let’s proceed as though it were). 

Having moved my stuff to the studio, I find that I’m exactly twice as productive as I was back home. I can’t completely account for the speed gain -- perhaps when I’m working at home, there’s a part of my mind that’s stuck in some domestic slacker-torpor. What’s nice about this new arrangement is that when I am at home, I can enjoy a TV show without being terrorized by the solemn beating of the tell-tale Cintiq in the corner.

I have three office mates, and they are all cool bros who have yet to ice one another. Inspired by the artistic slipstream effect that seems to have accelerated our output, we have named our studio Peloton. Which leads me to the second big change of the month -- I’ve been riding my new (ancient, crappy) bike from Capitol Hill to Ballard every day. This may seem to have nothing to do with anything, but I have found that after only a month of exercise, my brain works better. 

There’s a thing that used to happen to me -- usually around 2 in the afternoon -- where some minuscule task would suddenly become insurmountable. Faced with the impossible challenge of changing a character’s eye color, I’d end up going to the convenience store, reading a magazine, changing the water in the hummingbird feeder -- anything but making an actual creative decision. I just didn’t have the mental oomph to get over that little artistic speed bump. That doesn’t seem to happen too much anymore, and I credit all the happy exercise chemicals square-dancing in my brain. Somehow, physical stamina equates to mental stamina -- almost like your brain is part of your body or something. On a related note, if you’re on the Burke-Gilman trail at 7 in the morning and you blow past a skinny guy straining up a 1% grade in the wrong gear on a rusty old Trek hybrid, tell him you’re rooting for Project Waldo.

Finally, I learned a new workflow trick this month. For the first half of the book, I completed the linework and all color for each page before starting the next. This habit had more than a little to do with my desire to submit finished drawings to this blog on a regular basis. Recently, however, I hired a flatter to prep my linework for color (side note: his name is Eagle Gosselin and he’s the best -- he’s got a great eye for detail and a real passion for his work and you should hire him to flat your next book if he isn't too busy with my next book). 

With this sudden flood of pages ready for color, I couldn’t help but work on multiple pages at once. And heavens to Betsy -- it’s much, much faster that way. It turns out that some of the toughest problem solving happens somewhere other than in your conscious mind -- I suspect it takes place somewhere in the vicinity of the ass -- and it just won’t be rushed. With the earliest pages, I’d end up fiddling with sliders for a whole afternoon, only to realize the next morning that a better approach had materialized as if by magic. When I hit a tough problem now, I just put the page aside and move on to the next one. More often than not, a solution presents itself when I come back to the page on the next day. Wonderful that I’ve only figured this out a couple of weeks before the end... anyway, the next issue will go like gangbusters now that I've harnessed the power of ass-thought.

Alas, Comic-Con is happening right now and I didn't make it. It seems like every blog I follow is full of giddy stories in which people meet personal heroes, sign 18-figure deals with Hollywood moguls, and get drunk with Australian comic book artists. Well, I’ll have you all know that we’re partying pretty hard up here in Seattle, too. Why, I just drank a delicious sparkling apple juice! Straight up!

So suck it, San Diego!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Going the Distance

An unexpected and ironic side-effect of finishing a project like this is the overwhelming sense of having failed. You feel like you're driving a Rose Parade float at the Indy 500. Somebody else won the thing weeks ago, the stands are empty, and the reasons to pull over start to outnumber the reasons to keep going. There's only one lap remaining, but there won't be any victory milk waiting for you at the finish line.

You go into something like this with expectations. You think your actions will bear fruit. You fantasize about your debut at San Diego Comic-Con, and how your heroes will invite you into their club. You've seen too many montages -- you think the world will pay you back for your effort, with interest.

Then San Diego flies by, and you're not ready. That iron has gone cold and you never struck it.

The thing is, this isn't your moment of failure. This is actually the most important chapter of  the whole odyssey. This is where you discover that work can be its own reward, and that you've got some hidden tenacity in you. This is where you become a grown-up.

In the end, you're going to have a comic book. Does it seem like a small thing, compared to the time you put into it? Ask yourself what you have to show for the 34 years that went before this one. Your list of accomplishments just went from zero to one. You improved more as an artist over this last year than over the whole decade that preceded it. You got 2500 hours closer to that 10,000 hour grail. And maybe best of all, you made some new friends.

Besides, you'll do better on the next issue.


A side-note: The Livestream client blue-screened my machine twice. I'll have to put that idea aside until I've got a computer that can handle it. It was fun while it lasted, though. For anyone who missed it, I look like Keanu Reeves.