Back in the studio

  • On October 22, 2009 ·
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I hope everybody’s enjoying these blog posts I’m making in the morning before I start work. I’m planning on doing these regularly to keep myself motivated and focused. Plus I like sharing what I’m doing. Once the actual pages run on the site I’ll post some of the sketches and discuss the issues I had to deal with on them. Today I’m going back to my drawing studio. Ever since I moved my computer out into the TV room I’ve been avoiding holing myself up in the room with my drafting table. But there’s only so much you can get drawn in your lap and I’m finding myself distracted by being at my computer. Granted, it’s great for checking reference, but the constant temptation to be playing around online rather than drawing is one I should probably be avoiding.

I’ve got pages of character designs/prop sketches I’ve been flipping through as I work to keep things consistent and looking more developed. I’ve got a sheet of thumbnails I put together for the pages I’m doing, though some of the panel layouts are confusing when they’re just squiggles less than an inch tall. So far I’ve been trying to work each page out on the sheet of pencils as I draw but I think today I need to map the shots out better. I’m going to try drawing a floor plan of the 2 rooms in the scene, then drawing them in proper perspective, then dropping the characters in. It sounds like a lot of work but I’m sick of seeing the characters smooshed up to the front of the panel when I know I can be giving them more dynamic angles and poses to work in. So it’s back to the drawing room for me as I try to organize all these loose sheets of paper and pages in my sketchbooks. I’ve also got these books from the library that I’m using for inspiration. I just need to crank up the stereo and zone out for awhile.


  • On October 21, 2009 ·
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Today I’ll be working on studies/sketches to try and get these panels to look right. Rather than defaulting to my comfort zone of straight on I’m going to take the time to get these different camera angles and perspectives worked out. That’s how you grow as an artist. It’s also how you make your characters more solid – by getting comfortable with them in multiple dimensions. I designed them with geometric shapes I can turn in real space, it’s just a matter of figuring out how these views impact those shapes.

If you’ve used Pandora or you’re familiar with the Music Genome Project for finding music similar to your tastes. Musicovery does the same thing except it gives you a visual representation of your songs in tree form. You can select music in terms of calm/energetic and dark/positive and by color-coded genre. Downside is you can’t click to the next song without a premium account, but you can just click to start a new search so it’s not totally useless. If you’re on a mac like I am, try the site-specific browser app Fluid. It turns the site into a launchable app and keeps it out of your surfing.

Drama is toxic

  • On October 20, 2009 ·
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I spend a decent amount of time on IRC, IM, skype calls, and so on. One thing that keeps cropping up is the word “drama”. I will say there’s less webcomic drama these days than there was when I started. Part of it may just be the phasing out of people who used to run in those circles. When trolls get bored they tend to move on to find new targets. But I also think it’s because people are tired of seeing it and the average person doesn’t respond to it anymore. There’s always going to be gossipy insider in-crowd people who thrive on it, but I’ve found the energy you surround yourself with and generate is the kind you get back. You can be nasty and hostile  –  just means that’s the kind of attention you’re going to see back.

Drama can extend beyond internet quarreling to basically anything that derails you from what you’re trying to achieve. Real life is often a drama machine. Work, relationships, family, all these things can cause friction. And with webcomics a lot of folks don’t know how to handle their regular stress so it gets dumped in the blog as they explain why they couldn’t post their regular update. What seems to set the professionals off from the hobbyists are two things: How they deal with stress impacting their work and how they cope with it. The first part is a little harder to figure out than the second because we rarely see it. I find it important to pull yourself aside when you’re frustrated and look at things logically. I can be as emotional in my responses as anybody else. However I know letting myself get torn up over something doesn’t help the situation and it only hinders my ability to fix it. First you have to be calm, focused, and ready to handle your problems. You have to not blow up when you’re mad and you have to not get shaken to your core when somebody hurts or offends you. Take the time to get it out of your system, clear your head, and then come back to deal with it.

If you’re getting frustrated with your work, or the way people view your work, remember to relax and try to enjoy yourself. There are days when you’re just not pitching your “A” game. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes you’re really on top of things and other times you’re struggling to keep up. As long as you’re striving to make every day a good day for yourself you’re accomplishing something. Working every day on something can be difficult. Occasionally you can grow to resent it and avoid it. Other times you get intimidated by how huge a project may seem and recoil in anxiety. You have to be able to step into work mode and be able to leave it at a certain point. Just as you shouldn’t bring your troubles from home into the office you shouldn’t bring your troubles from the office home.

When it comes to dealing with your problems on your blog – don’t. I mean, if you run a site about the trials and tribulations of being a working parent or something where your audience expects you to let loose with your frustrations, by all means. However we shouldn’t treat blogs like livejournals. Readers have their own things going on in their lives that they’re probably bummed out about already and I’ve never known of a blog to get popular with people for being whiney. I like to keep a journal sometimes if I’m busy and I quarantine off negative entries because that stuff can be toxic. It can be a load to carry and if you revisit it you can sour your mood all over again. You’ll need to let it all out but don’t let it infect your day to day. Guy Gilchrist wrote, in part of his Drawn to Success series, that you should write down all your goals and ambitions in one batch of journals and all your fears and worries in another. Then never read the worries journals and burn them.

I’m going to paraphrase a speech I heard Bruce Springsteen gave to his band once. To you this may just be another gig, but to the guy out in the audience, he’s been waiting maybe all week for this show. He told his buddies about it, got all excited for it. Maybe he put in a hard week at the factory and now’s his chance to have a good time . So it doesn’t matter if you’ve had a bad night, got in a fight with your old lady, whatever. None of that matters. When you put on a show, you bring it or you go home. Now lets go put on the best show we can and give ’em something to talk about on Monday.

Monday is Hawaiian Shirt Day

  • On October 19, 2009 ·
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At least it is today in my studio. All too often we fall into a daily grind of having to be places we’d rather not be and doing things we’d rather not be doing. It’d be great if we could slack off all day every day and magically stuff gets done behind us. But until life turns into a Walgreen’s commercial we need to be proactive about enjoying ourselves while we work. Yes, the comfort of routine and ritual can be great for getting into a creative mood but it’s also good for we artists to remember we’re supposed to enjoy what we’re doing.

Bill Watterson said in his commencement speech to Kenyon College, “It’s surprising how hard we’ll work when the work is done just for ourselves. And with all due respect to John Stuart Mill, maybe utilitarianism is overrated. If I’ve learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it’s how important playing is to creativity and happiness. My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year. If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.”

While there’s plenty of actual work and labor in making cartoons, we need to approach it with an amount of levity and fun. If comics aren’t fun to make on some level they aren’t going to be very fun to read. One of the biggest criticisms I had of my work in college was you could see where I was getting bored. I took all sorts of care with the foreground characters, for example, but when it came time to give that kind of attention to the background, “Ugh! I just want this to be over!” *SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH* By not developing the work to the full extent of my potential I was cheating myself as an artist and cheating the viewers. But how do you make tedium not boring? A big part of it is to not let yourself become frustrated. You find fun and joy wherever you can. If something isn’t working, try coming at it from a different angle. When tuning a guitar it’s easiest to move the string even further out of tune to know which way to pull it back in. The same goes for drawing. Don’t like where the line work is going? Change it up. Even if the next line is absolutely wrong, at least you’ve narrowed the playing field on where it shouldn’t be.

Lastly I want to recommend some music. Or just noise if that’s your thing. I rarely have the TV going while I work because I focus my attention on what I’m doing at the time but sometimes re-watching things I enjoy is relaxing. I know I’ve seen them all but I keep enjoying the Angry Video Game Nerd video reviews regardless. The nice thing about being on the web is that other like-minded folks are on there and sometimes we all congregate in the same place. I’ve often said is like the Denny’s of the webcomic world – If you’re up at 2am stop by and you’ll see everybody else is there. Dave Kellett, Tom Brazelton, Scott Kurtz, Mike Krahulik, Kris Straub, Abby Lark, Fred Gallagher, Brad Guigar, DJ Coffman, Evan Dahm, Magnolia Porter, Lis Boriss, Lar deSouza, Kory Bingaman, Paul Southworth, David Malki, Scotty Arsenault, Charlie Trotman, Joel Watson, Meredith Gran, and plenty of others use it. On you can also find Kris Straub, Greg Dean, David Willis, as well as some others if you bother to look. It’s fun to peek behind the creative curtain and sometimes you just wanna hear some voices while you draw.

For getting in a party mood I really want to recommend Red Voodoo by Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas.

Red Voodoo by Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas

It’s a great party album with Sammy’s touring band, the opening track is live, and it’s all-around solid and fun. I also recommend anything by the Aquabats. I know I blast Charge! quite regularly.

The Aquabats - Charge!

Costumed superhero punk/ska? How can you go wrong with that? I also highly recommend the Foxboro Hot Tubs’ Stop Drop and Roll.

The Foxboro Hot Tubs - Stop Drop and Roll

The Foxboro Hot Tubs are chiefly comprised of members of Green Day, however this record is swingin’ 60s-styled pop rock that will usually wake you up if you’re in a funk in the morning. And lastly, I’d like to suggest The Epoxies – Stop the Future.

The Epoxies - Stop the Future

There are plenty of other fun scifi punk/new wave bands out there, but the Epoxies put on a great show when I saw them and listening to their music just brings me back to the sound of synth keyboards, loud guitars, and the laser pointers mounted on said guitars shining in your eye.

What do you want to do with your day?

  • On October 17, 2009 ·
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This is a question posed by Merlin Mann recently in an interview with Scott Kurtz for Webcomics Weekly. As I understood it, Mr. Mann believes this is the question guidance counselors should be asking instead of the abstract, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You could answer such a question with, “An adult.” The true heart of the matter is, what do you want to spend your time doing? What’s important to you, what activity makes you happy and feel most accomplished spending your time on? Do that. When you say you wanna be a cartoonist, or a doctor, or what have you, you’re clinging to some idealized end goal. Everyone tells the kid who wants to be a doctor, “Hey, that’s great! Good luck with that.” Then he realizes how hard it is to get into med school, and how long it takes, how much work is really involved. So instead he becomes something else – possibly related to medicine and possibly something else entirely.

I was pondering this when my alarm went off at 6 this morning. 6 am on a Saturday. Why would any person set his alarm for such a time on the weekend unless he had to be somewhere? Because I need to be here. I need to get some work done on this project so I can launch it. I need to draw this thing I’m seeing in my head because it looks really cool and I’m eager to show other people what I’m seeing. The cat and I are the only ones up in the house right now, the folks I stay up late talking to are all asleep, and honestly I love being up early in the morning. I feel productive and it’s when I actually do some good work. What other reward is there for being up this early except the satisfaction of being able to work in peace? I was eager when I went to bed. I really wanted to get rested and start today off.

Is it hard to do this reliably? You bet. I’ll get up early a couple days in a row, then something will happen that’ll keep me up until one in the morning, or I’ll be wiped out and can’t get out of bed until noon. So why do it? Because I want to be here at this hour. I need to be here. Every day we gets preempted by other people, their wants, their needs, their problems. And you can make an honest effort to help them and give of your time. But sometimes you give too much of yourself. Sometimes to the point where you’re frustrated and sometimes to the point where you’re wondering what happened to your own work. I’m still trying to learn how to properly deal with other people myself. But what I can do is be proactive about my own time. That can mean telling people I need to go to bed when I know I’m up early. Or it can be persevering in the morning even if you haven’t slept much. Whatever’s most important to you is worth pursuing.

Steve Jobs once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” It’s important to do what you want to do. Too often we forget this on the small scale and it comes back to bite us on the large scale. Some of the most productive and interesting people have a regular schedule they keep to because it makes them comfortable and the ritual puts them in the mindset to work. Stephen King has compared getting ready to work a lot like getting ready for bed. He’s also said, â€Å“My own schedule is pretty clear-cut. Mornings belong to whatever is new – the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait. Basically, mornings are my prime writing time.” He writes when he’s fresh and ready to work, deals with other stuff after. I know so many people my age who wait until they’re done with everything else before ever starting their own work. And really, is that what you want to do with your day?

Game Plan

  • On October 15, 2009 ·
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Currently I’m working on the prologue that’ll introduce us to the new comic. I’ve got a launch date set but I’m not ready to announce it. (I’d like to have material done in advance first.) What I can say is I’m figuring more out about the comic as I work on it. I’ll be releasing it in subchapters with each update being as long as that segment of the story requires. Once it gets rolling I’ll post blogs about the previous update with pencils, design sketches, and other development stuff. That way the site won’t just sit dormant in between story updates.

I think I’ll share some stuff now while I’m at it. I linked these on my twitter awhile ago asking for opinions on the rendering styles. It all started with a sketch of one of the main characters, Virgil.

Early sketch of Virgil, one of the main characters

From there I tried some toning techniques on him.

Various B/W toning experiments with some color trials as well

The first couple I tried different halftone fill patterns which can be a little unpredictable if they’re not uniform. I’ve done projects with them before and I know the headaches of trying to keep the same patterns consistently over multiple pages. By the 3rd I’d moved on to using grays. Then I thought I’d try using some colors so I could just play with the saturation levels. This would be handy for the things I’m going to do in color (Covers, posters, etc.) but I don’t want to spend the time rendering in color if I know I can’t print it like that. I also tinkered with knock-outs by coloring the outlines, which disappears on thin lines, especially when shrunk down.

Sketch of Virgil with outlines knocked out in color

I also tried to overlay a halftone pattern because I really wanted to invoke the feeling of an old newspaper comic or something salvaged from that era. Lowering the saturation on the second line of tests aged it a little but it also makes me think of tones in movies. If you look at the tones on Superman’s suit in Superman Returns, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I didn’t want the styling to call that much attention to itself so it’ll probably be more subdued in the end.

Sketch of Virgil toned in gray with halftone overlay

This is also just an early development sketch. His costume isn’t going to be as overly retrofied as this and his hair is going to be different. Over-all though he came out like I was visioning him. His structure is fun for dynamic posing and I’m looking forward to seeing how he looks in clean inks and finished rendering. I’m going to pencil each page per subchapter, then ink them, then render/letter them all. Cycle, rinse, repeat for the next subchapter. Meaning I need to complete each stage before I move on. Hopefully this adds some consistency and a little more polish to the whole thing.

Come join the 24 Hour Comics Day tinychat!

  • On October 2, 2009 ·
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UPDATE: Room has changed to due to the flood of people not doing anything related to comics

All day long, come on into and stream or watch people stream as they make comics!

24 Hour Comics Day Approacheth

  • On October 1, 2009 ·
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Ok, so Saturday is 24 Hour Comics Day. Usually I forget and find out about it after the fact but this year I’m gonna try to get involved. I’ll be doing the webcomic equivalent which is getting ahead on pages for my next update. If it turns out to be 24 pages that’d be handy but I won’t know until I get it finish the layouts. I’m looking forward to following other artists as they stream online. I miss working in a big, busy, noisy studio. I might even open up a room on tinychat if anybody else is around and wants to join in. I’m probably not going to be working the full 24 hours but Saturday is going to be a very productive day. I’ll try to update the blog as it goes, too.

Posting for the dot

  • On September 5, 2009 ·
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My last couple weeks have been pretty crazy. Lots of unexpected stuff popping up. I’ve been trying to sort it all together to even figure out what I’m doing, much less make a post about it. Anyway, here’s some news you can use.


If you looked on the left side of the site you’ll see I’ve added this nice little tool called Tweetboard that takes twitter and turns it into something of a threaded forum. What’s the point of this when I already have the Community and my twitter posts in the right sidebar? Well I figured it might be a more interesting way to display twitter and interact with you folks out there who use it, too. The Community is a great place to have more complex discussions but Tweetboard is a nice way to replace comments – which, let’s be honest, I can’t turn on because of horrible horrible spam. It’s an experiment I’ll work on even more as I find more time to post on the site.

The Comic

I’m going to update it in batches, maybe subchapters at time, as I finish them. I have no idea how regular they’ll be but they’ll be more frequent that way than if I tried posting a page at a time. I want to start posting my concept and development sketches in the blog, I’m just concerned with how much will actually find it’s way into the story and I don’t want to spoil anything. And speaking of story, that’s evolving as I’m figuring out the world in which it takes place. I’m working out the backstory and history of 2071 and I keep coming up with different things to add like 3 chapters in. But that’s the way it works. I’m letting the ideas flesh themselves out and then going back to the opening and making it as exciting as I can based on what’s developing.

The Blog

The home page here is going to host my expanded thoughts and comments on the day as well as the latest chapters of the story as they come out. I’ll have a sub-page dedicated just to the comic but this will be more of where I tell you what’s going on and show you drawing board stuff. Don’t be surprised if characters or story segments are completely different when they reach the final page from the stuff I show in blog posts.

Back to the daily grind

  • On August 16, 2009 ·
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I’ve been doing research/design work lately and it feels like I could plug away at that forever and not really get anywhere. I should really move onto actual pages. So starting tomorrow I’m going to be doing just that. And even if I go to bed at 3 in the morning again tonight I’m getting up to draw. Half the time I’m up because people I’m talking to keep me up and the other half I just can’t make myself go to bed because I’ve been up late too many times in a row. I’m not going to chew myself up over it. It’s normal for people my age to be up late at night and have trouble getting up early. I sometimes pop over to and watch other webcartoonists. It’s like going to Denny’s or IHOP. Everybody else is there and it reminds me that I’m not the only night owl.

I’m figuring I’ll draw a prologue and post that before I start regularly posting updates. I’m still not sure what the schedule’s going to be yet as I need to get a feel for how the story reads and how long it takes me to draw. Ideally I’d be posting something every day and strips on weekdays. I’m a little concerned that the story may move to where one page at a time isn’t doing it justice. Nobody wants to read an update that just moves the story forward but doesn’t go anywhere in and of itself. In that case I’d post several pages at a time. But I hate dumping a whole bunch at once if the traffic isn’t there yet. I’ll sort it out as I come to it.