Monday, April 5, 2010

A New Ball for Juggling

My wife got a job! 

I'm so proud of her -- it's hard enough for locals to find work in America these days, so you can imagine what a coup it is for a Korean to land a job here. Not just any job, mind you, but a good job! I'm reminded of how helpless I felt when I was looking for work in Korea - I couldn't have gotten a job as a dishwasher, let alone something resembling a career. I know I don't really have the right to be proud of Jiyoung, since I didn't raise her or anything. But whatever. I'm proud and a little awed. She's so freakin' smart! And brave. And employed! She's also cute.

This development is relevant to this blog in a more direct way, of course. I still need to make some money at some point, and the sooner the better. But there's a lot more runway ahead, and there isn't a brick wall at the end of it anymore. The idea of turning comics into a career just got more plausible. 

Meanwhile, Project Waldo is getting pretty close -- the linework for the last pages is coming together and final coloring should be underway by the end of the month. I'm excited about moving on to the second issue and trying to apply some of the lessons I've learned during the bumpy creation of issue one. Still, Project Waldo has been saddled with a fairly cumbersome rule set -- with all the little fiddly bits, the whole thing moves forward so slowly that it sometimes feels like it's actually going backwards. It's not that I don't like working on it -- it's usually a lot of fun. But when my friends are cranking out six issues to my one, it's hard not to feel a little left behind.

To mix things up a bit, I've decided to start a second comic once this issue is finished -- something I can work on in the mornings before hunkering down for an afternoon of hardcore foliage-drawing. This probably sounds kind of insane, so let me explain. This one's going to be different:
  • Stylistically simpler and lower-resolution, focusing on value and proportion instead of linework
  • Rough enough to finish a page in a few hours
  • Black and white
  • A much higher panel count, with an emphasis on storytelling
  • Digital primary distribution method, with print to follow
That last point is the big mystery right now, and I know it's the riddle everybody's trying to solve. "Digital distribution" can mean so many things these days -- ad-supported web comic? How about mobile devices? What about the iPad and Kindle? And then there's Longbox. Is there a format or aspect ratio that is most adaptable to a wide range of displays? Is it even a good idea to try for a flexible layout? What the heck am I even talking about?

Imagine you wanted to get as many eyeballs on your work as possible, and you weren't encumbered by the need for an advance. What would you do? Discouragingly, there don't seem to be too many success stories in the world of English language dramatic webcomics. Some humor strips are doing well, of course, but is anybody paying the bills with a non-funny webcomic?

The Koreans are having a lot of success with serious online comics (this one, like several others by the same author, was turned into a film). Korean web comics are very meaty, with long, vertically-arranged chapters that come out on a regular schedule. The most popular artists are sponsored by the gigantic portal sites that host them. Webcomics are not only sustainable, they're very big business in Korea. One interesting aspect of this system is that there's no formal barrier between amateur and professional submissions -- anybody can upload a comic to Daum (Daum's sort of the Korean Yahoo, Naver is Google, and Google, ironically, is Bing). As artists attract readers, they increase their chances of being selected as a sponsored artist.  It's such a great setup that a case could probably be made for translating your comic into Korean just to get a crack at all those millions of readers. As you might imagine, it's a pretty competitive space, and foreign comics don't have the best track record in Korea. But who knows? You might be the first!

Anyway, I'm keeping an eye on the iPad. If the install base gets big enough, the iBooks store could be the golden ticket. Other than that, I don't even know what questions I should be asking. It'll be a couple of months before I break ground on the new project, so I'll be in info-gathering mode until then. Hopefully some smart people will drop some knowledge-bombs on the comments section.

Ah, one last thing. I replaced the clunky left-toolbar page previews with a slick Flash-based thingy. Here's another link to the same preview:

It's all shiny and Apple-y. If you want to do this with your artwork, all you have to do is upload a .pdf to Issuu, and voila!


  1. Interesting news! A second comic - wow!

    On the digital distribution thing:

    Since the Wormworld Saga online graphic novel will be published in a vertical scrolling format without pages, distribution on paper never was an option for me anyway. Thus I'm thinking a lot about digital distribution and also the possibilities of generating an income with it.

    My primary distribution model will be to publish the comic for free on the internet and to offer dedicated readers the possibility to support the project by purchasing prints. I'm already selling prints of my artwork but they are large format and expensive and therefore only appeal to a small number of people. For the online graphic novel I plan to create a wide range of small, inexpensive prints of selected panel artwork for every chapter which can be purchased in bundles and may be collected over the time.

    The second idea is to create an App for the iPad which could have additional features over the online version (switching word ballons off, sketches gallery etc.).

    Generally, my goal is to reach as many readers as possible and therefore the free online publishing is the core of all my marketing plans. What I believe is, that a good thing will make it's way to success if you are able to spread it widely enough. That's one reason why I was never keen about publishing a book in the first place. They simply errect too much barriers (you only find them in dedicated shops, they cost money, they get out of print, the publisher doesn't want you to showcase anything on the internet, etc.).

    I'm looking forward to your new project and would love to see some more bits of Project Waldo, too!

  2. nate,

    because you're so open and honest in your blog, I feel like I know you. so understand that the following comes from someone who has no idea who you are, but mistakenly thinks they do. (and the rest comes from me projecting my own doubts about my own ability to finish things.)

    is it really smart to start another book? especially now, when it seems like you're just starting to get into a groove on PW? while you still have a ways to go with all of the coloring?

    again, I only know what you blog about, but it doesn't seem like your time-management, speed & focus are so honed that they're ready for the added distractions.

    sorry if any of that seems harsh. this is what I wrestle with constantly. I finish tons of good work for clients, but struggle like cement shoes in the mud when it comes to my own work. I just want to check and make sure this is something that's long-term good for you.

    ps - did you notice how you squeezed this fact in between the awesome news about your awesome wife and your philosophy on online comics? any chance the subconscious wanted more discourse about the former/latter than whether or not this is a good idea? (my wife's a psychotherapist, so these are the sorts of self-fulfilling tricks I'm being alerted to all the time now.)

  3. Daniel - I love the purity of your approach -- get it in front of as many readers as possible and see what grows from there. As beautiful as they are, your prints should sell well. I'd certainly think hard about buying a Wormworld t-shirt, too. I'll be following your progress closely -- if anybody can make that model work, it's you!

    Ben - Short answer: no, I'm not sure it's a good idea. I probably should have made one thing a little clearer, though. I won't be touching the new project until the first issue of Project Waldo is out the door. Based on the way things have gone so far, I think taking on a new challenge could really benefit Waldo, as well as my sanity. I need to learn how to write, but I'm doing so little of it for Project Waldo that I'm not making much progress. I'm also desperate to free up my linework. I want to splatter a little, you know? Let things breathe. I feel like regularly switching between two worlds will help me see Project Waldo with new eyes.

    Also, I really like the new story idea.

    Regardless, I've got a couple of months before I need to make a decision on this. I'll keep your advice in mind, Ben!

  4. I'd like to throw in my 2 cents/won. I just started doing my strip last week, but my plan is this:

    1. Distribute the strip free, using Google AdAware and Amazon Associates for advertisement revenue through clicks.

    2. Once I reach around 25 installments, make it available as a single issue of the collected strip. I'm not doing a 3 panel strip like Penny Arcade or most humor strips, and the pages are already laid out similar to Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows collected issues. Allow digital distros at the same time but at a reduced price (iPad/kindle/iphone/etc)

    3. In the meantime, try to come up with merchandise that makes sense. Prints, t-shirts, coffee mugs (seriously) are easy to come by on CafePress and other such sites.

    4. If and when I hit +200 installments of the strip, I can try for a "Collected" volume. Digital distros will get bundled together + adding content only available in the Collected Edition.

    The biggest issue is printing. I want to try for the Jeff Smith (of Bone) model where he self publishes.

    Regarding taking on a second project, I think you should just do a strip. Less pressure to be perfect and should let you experiment with layouts/timing. Or do a one shot for a Zuda submission, just to gain more exposure.

    I think I just gave you my entire plan, but I feel fine about it. :D

  5. Congrats to the wife Mr. Simpson. Having help with the daily needs always eases the stress up a little. For me, it's the less dignified approach of living with my parents, but... yanno. I'm a college student. I can get away with it.

    Multiple projects going at once can be a blessing and a curse. The trick is to accept that it's not gonna speed up any one project, but under the right circumstances can increase overall output. To use arbitrary numbers as an example, it's like doing 5 pages a week on one project, or 6 a week on 2 projects with 3 pages to each. Any one piece will move slower, but the overall amount you're putting out is a little higher cause of how refreshing it can be. As you mentioned above, it's good for the sanity. At least, that's my experience with writing in the past.

    I hope you find a good distribution method, it's something I'm watching out for myself. Your blog has rekindled my interest in doing comics. Are you looking for a big publisher then, or leaning more toward putting everything out independently? At least places like Studio Foglio and Ibox Publishing show it's possible to get things off the ground with your own two hands if need be.

  6. Congratulations to your wife.

    ...and thanks for the info about the korean comics market. Interesting stuff.

    I'm looking forward to see what you come up with for your next project.
    Don't over work yourself. ;)

  7. Forgot to give Congrats to your wife. Congratulations!

  8. Peter is a jerk. Public congratulations Jiyoung!

    And keep up the good work, Simpson!

  9. Hey Nate,

    My personal model for webcomicking is a work in progress. I started out posting pages on my blog then moved to DrunkDuck after about a year. Eventually a few bigger webcomics heard about me and linked to me which drove up hits. Shortly thereafter I approached the Rampage Network and was offered a free dot com and a custom-built site. In the meantime I published my first volume of comics through a print-to-order company called Ka-Blam. I sold enough copies at conventions to justify (to myself, anyway) a real print run for my second book. My second book was self-published through a Quebec printer called Lebonfon . The book has a proper spine, is perfect bound and is all-around really nice-looking. The only downside is I have boxes of books all over my house.

    Now, am I paying the bills with my webcomic? HELL NO! It is a great sideline though, and doing it has got me some sweet storyboarding jobs since it shows off what I can do under my own steam.

    Since you mentioned teaching yourself to write in an earlier reply, allow me to send you a link to a little tutorial I did recently which describes my personal writing/drawing method. I don't know if you'll find it helpful, but you never know.

  10. Congrats on the wife getting a job man!
    Fantastic work my friend. This comic is looking beautiful. The detail is phenomenal! Really great stuff! Can't wait to see it all come together! Keep up the great work and keep in touch.
    Self comic creators unite!!

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Peter - Hi Mister Hon! Fancy meeting you around here. Your plan for the Malden sounds solid. I really like the art style you've chosen, too! As far as print distribution, Ka-Blam is your one-stop print-on-demand solution. You don't even have to pay up front for printing -- just post your stuff to their online store and they'll deduct the printing cost from each copy as it's ordered. Pretty sweet. Good luck, man!

  13. Theora - No shame in living off your parents -- I ended up making a four-month pit stop at my mom's house when I was 31 years old. Okay, in my case, there may be a bit of shame involved. But not in yours.

    I can definitely see how even though output on individual titles might sag, the total production should increase under a two-project regime. If I can stick to a two-hours-per-day maximum for the black and white project, I think it would have a pretty minimal impact on Project Waldo. Plus, it would be a good morning stretching exercise for my brain.

    As for publishing, I think I'll probably end up going big, if only because it's nice to have an established marketing apparatus to back you up. Self-promotion sounds like a tough enough grind as it is, without having to handle getting your stuff into Previews and onto stands.

    Thanks for the comment, Theora!

  14. Sam - Thanks, man! It was your blog that pointed me to Issuu, by the way. Since you've posted your work there a while ago, do you have any positive or negative impressions so far?

    As to the danger of me overworking myself -- never a real concern, as I'm inherently lazy. As long as you don't mind waiting decades, I don't mind taking decades.

  15. Peter (again) - Thanks. My wife is pretty sweet, in all senses of that word.

    Lacey - Thank you. Thank you for calling Peter out on his flagrant jerkitude. It just needed to be said.

    Steve - Thanks for breaking down your drawing (and printing) process in such detail. It was especially illuminating to see how you rough your pages before inking. What program do you use for inking, by the way? You're getting a much smoother, more organic application than I've been able to manage with Photoshop. As for your comic being a conduit for side jobs -- I've been using the same argument to justify spending so much time on Project Waldo. At the very least, it's a portfolio piece that can help me get other work, right?

    Thanks for your comment, Steve.

  16. RAWLS - I don't think I've ever said what I'm about to say: there's so much stuff on your site (I guess I should say "cluster of sites) that I literally cannot find the bottom. You're, like, infinitely prolific. And the stuff's all great, too. Whatever you eat in the morning (Wheaties? Plutonium?) I want some, too. Really amazing stuff. Thanks for the comment!

    Eagle - I assume you mean Jiyoung? She's not that strong. I could probably take her in a straight fight. Well, best of seven.

  17. I use Photoshop for my inking as well actually. I just had to knock it around a bit until it did what I told it to. :) And yeah, totally great portfolio piece. I think employers like to see that you can finish something of your own without someone badgering you. Plus it shows off the array of talents you bring to the table.

  18. I've had no problems with Issue.
    I guess, sometimes larger files take a while to upload, but... I can't believe such a service is free.

    Hurray, internet!

  19. I feel similarly proud of you Nate. And though you may think I wasn't there for your upbringing, I was. When there was only one set of footprints in the sand...

  20. Steve - Wow, you've really beaten Photoshop into submission. It's amazing how varied and organic your line looks. I assume you use a Wacom tablet, or have you gotten addicted to the Cintiq, too?

    Sam - Yep, I hope Issuu keeps going for a long time. There doesn't seem to be anything else like it, which is saying something when it comes to the internet.

    Eagle - As I expected, she's taking no prisoners at her new job. The only problem now is that I'm going insane being alone at the house all day. I need to get a studio with some other folks, lest I enter the mouth of madness.

    xyzboy - I was going to say something about that earlier -- I wish you'd stop showing up every time I go to the beach. It's weird, being carried around by a guy in public like that.

  21. Thanks man! I'm using a Cintiq. I had a Wacom tablet for years but I didn't switch over to doing Much digitally until I got the Cintiq.

  22. Hello Nate,

    Thank you very much, you just made me discover issuu, and it's wonderful! I've just used it to post some of my artwork in this fancy apply way, and it looks great (you can see at -sorry, not in english, though I may post something-, by the way I had some compatibility problems between issuu and wordpress...)

    It's really a great blog, this one you're doing! not to mention that your artwork is awesome. But the way you explain your creative process (and the similar situations/feelings I find with mine) and the discoveries with the computer that you let us know (issuu, flatting, word balloons...) it is always worth stepping by here!

    Congratulations! And keep up the good work!

  23. Steve - I'm curious if you've tried the Ergotron LCD arm with the Cintiq. I just posted some pictures of it -- you should try it if you haven't. It's pretty great for the neck and back.

    Eduard - Your comic is absolutely lovely! The composition is great, the color is great. What an amazing sense of mood, too! And the backgrounds are especially nice. Also the characters! Really, it's all good. I'm looking forward to seeing more. Thanks for your support!

  24. I haven't tried the Ergotron. I have the 12" tablet and I just set it on my lap. I used to have a proper desk but I never used it. I might be more inclined to if I had one of those!

  25. Issuu is kinda cool, and the upload/hosting is a nice feature, but as far as the flexibility and performance of the viewer, after a lot of searching, the best product I've found is Megazine3 ( The configuration is a bit more in depth, but it's snappy and feature rich. It's worth checking out if you're considering Issu.

    I'm using Megazine3 for my webcomic which will soon be available at

  26. sTeVeLeC - After about two weeks of the Ergotron, I'm totally sold. It's brilliant. Still, with the results you're getting from your old-school tablet, I can't say there's really any hurry for you to upgrade. Because, as I've said before, you're spectacular.

  27. ecnassianer - Wow! I like the click-and-drag interface. It's definitely got Issuu beat in the embedded features department, as well. You could do some really aggressive new-media type stuff in that format. Which is definitely going to work in your favor, as from your profile it looks like you can do just about everything. I expect radness!

  28. great stuff! way to celebrate your wife too!