Soundtrack to Life

  • On November 30, 2009 ·
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I really recommend listening to music while you work. In college we usually had the stereo blaring in the studio. Other times headphones were the norm. These days I’ve got some decent speakers hooked up to my computer. I’ve got a stereo in the studio, too, but it doesn’t have a proper line-in so I just leave my ipod upstairs connected to my clock radio when I’m home. I used to listen to smooth jazz on internet radio a lot but nowadays that makes me sleepy. Plus the station I used to listen to all the time started screwing with their playlists and doing more R&B than actual jazz. (The constant every other song station IDs and sales pitches really got on my nerves, too.)

Music can vary by personal taste and mood of the day. What I do suggest is getting ahold of instrumentals for times when you need to concentrate like writing or outlining a story. Words can be very distracting unless it’s something you’ve listened to so many times it’s all muddled together in your brain. Podcasts can be a good way to pass the time and to keep from feeling lonely. But if it’s just people talking I like to layer some of my own music underneath it or else I get bored fast. I don’t really watch TV shows or movies while I work though I know some people like the white noise. I like to focus on one thing at a time and unless it’s something I’ve seen a million times before, like the Angry Video Game Nerd reviews, I end up breaking from my work to watch. Some days I’ll even be doing that with old AVGN episodes if I really don’t feel like getting to work.

Something fun to do while working on comics is putting together playlists and soundtracks to stay focused and in the proper mindset. At some point Towniescomics used Green Day’s cover of Outsider by the Ramones as a theme song in my head. Grim & Saddam started outright with the theme to Perfect Strangers, one of my favorite zany sitcoms I planned on spoofing. 2071, the current project I’m working on, is still in the process of being figured out. It’s set in an alternate retrofuture so something like the Jetsons theme would be sort of appropriate if I could only find any other song in that style. There’s always scifi-themed bands like the Epoxies or the Phenomenauts I could fall back on. I suspect there’ll be a jumble of different songs to put together the proper mood to work in.

Lets talk about places to listen to music. is good for scouring for a particular song or artist. Pandora is good for finding similar-sounding songs to tunes you like. Musicovery is very similar but with more of a visual interface. Finally there’s if you want your search to be a little less broad and like building up a musical profile. I tend to be a creature of habit when it comes to music I like. I put playlists together and listen to them repeatedly until I burn out. I remember when Green Day’s American Idiot came out it was almost the only thing I listened to for about 2 years. Lately I have soundtrack lists and rock lists based on mood. There’s also jazz lists but I tend to play those when I’m winding down. I think I need to put together a new list and it’s hard figuring out a new full string of songs I want to sit down and listen to.

Be Careful With Your Dreams

  • On November 26, 2009 ·
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Rejection Letter from Disney

Click the image to see the original Flickr upload and view this at larger sizes.This is a form letter that was sent out to female artists’ inquiries into becoming animators at the Walt Disney studio over 70 years ago. Snopes took an interesting look at it, citing Miss Frances Brewer received a similar letter and that the Disney Studios Artist’s Tryout Book says,

All inking and painting of celluloids, and all tracing done in the Studio is perfomed exclusively by a large staff of girls known as Inkers and Painters… This is the only department in the Disney Studio open to women artists.

There’s also this blog post discussing female animators who broke this sexist standard and had long, happy careers. This sort of thing upsets me on a number of levels. I know what it’s like to be turned away sight unseen because of existing conditions outside of your control, be they existent or just in the mind of the person doing the turning away. This also denigrates the work of the Ink & Paint Department, reducing them to the mindless task of tracers. (Ask any professional comic book inker how they feel about being called a tracer and you’ll get an earful.) I have no idea if the person who signs off on the letters is a woman because the studio thought such things would sound less harsh coming from another female but it’s still very offensive, both in what it says and how it says it. Women artists can be employed but in non-creative capacities? Egad that’s horrible.

So why am I mentioning this? It’s important we artists don’t let one person crush our dreams. There are times when somebody will get in your way. There are times when you’ll get rejected. There are times when you need to realistically evaluate what your dreams are and how you can achieve them. Sometimes the thing you think you want first isn’t obtainable. Sometimes you mature and get more specific in your goals. Think back to what you wanted to be when you were a kid. Is it the same thing you want to be now? If it is, have you made any progress since then? Maybe what you want is really what you’ve been doing all this time. Or maybe it’s time to put those other things out of the way and get to it.

Scott Kurtz has an anecdote he shares about meeting Jeff Smith once and how, upon asking what it takes to get into the comics industry, he was promptly told off because most people didn’t want to hear the real answer. Like any job, comics require hard work, practice, training, business planning, a lot of things that aren’t very fun on their own. But that’s the reality of dreams. They’re not handed to you. Nobody promises you success. You have to work for them. You have to fall on your face sometimes, dust yourself off, and try again. And if people tell you you’re swinging too early when they pitch to you, you need to be capable of changing things up to make it happen. I recall once, when I was in art school, a professor was looking over this other student’s manga-esque comics and was listening to how she wanted to build up her own studio and empire, “Like Disney, only bigger.” Does anybody else hear the bravado in that statement? It’s very easy to say you want the world – it’s something else to go about getting it.

Dreams are an interesting thing. Sometimes chasing them is the only thing you have keeping you going. Sometimes they’re just a passing fancy. Ultimately it’s up to you to figure out what they are and realize them. No professional, no educator, nobody else is in charge of your destiny but you. As for me, hey, I’ve got some comics to draw. What am I sitting here blogging for?

Raise the roof – er, ceiling

  • On November 23, 2009 ·
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We took down the drop ceiling in my drawing studio this weekend. For now we’re leaving it open until we decide what to do with it. It was getting cumbersome and we’ve been meaning to take it down for awhile. I used it as an excuse to move my computer back from the TV room. Though I liked having my computer hooked up to an HD TV for a second monitor the location was less than ideal. My cat liked to steal my tools and there’s no door on that main room to keep her out. Plus I felt cramped sitting next to the TV and missed my drawing desk. I could come back to the studio to draw, sure, but if I wanted to work from reference I had to either print it out or draw with a clipboard in my lap. I know lap drawing is how plenty of people work, like Rob Liefeld, for example. Personally I’ve always found it a bit shaky and not as easy to produce a good image as sitting down at a desk. Part of it’s the ability to line up rulers better on a solid surface and I’m sure some of it’s mental – feeling like you’re actually at work. I got a new computer desk recently, too. My old one came apart from moving it too much and I’d been using the top of it on this old desk we had in our garage. It had horrible leg room and I was always having trouble with one leg. Bought a sturdy metal desk from Office Max and now I’m back across from the drawing table. (Which still needs cleaning off…)

Being able to slide my chair between the two desks is so very useful. One holds all my digital stuff and the other all my drawing and concept work. I also keep a laundry basket under my computer desk, even though it doesn’t hold laundry anymore. I got used to storing it there in college when space was at a premium and I’ve realized it’s the perfect leg rest. I can stretch my legs out over the top or sit them inside it. It sounds stupid but I really missed it when I came back home and got rid of it. Today I’m cleaning off the drawing table and sorting through all the piles of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve made better use of the space in the studio, now realizing how badly I need a bookcase or two, maybe even a cabinet. I had one of those mini bookcases that came with my old desk and it’s overflowing with papers. Paper organizers and the like are so ridiculously expensive. If you’re not careful you can easily get ripped off buying studio and office supplies. You don’t have to pay premium prices to find something that looks nice and is functional. Office supply stores are a little better than arts and crafts shops when it comes to pricing things but not by a whole lot. I’ve heard it recommended that you buy the cheapest tables you can find and spend the most on comfortable chairs. That’s good for your back though I really suggest getting a table you can tilt and angle. One of my profs in college once pointed out that students always lower their seats all the way down, which is silly. If you have it all the way up you can tower over what you’re drawing and see it straight. If you’re looking up at it you’re more likely to see things out of perspective.

Ok, that’s enough blogging for now. I’ve got a studio to clean up and I should at least try to do some blogging before my homeboy Kyle comes up. You may remember him from one of the podcasts. He’s supposed to be visiting this week and I’m gonna try to get him to record some more with me. We usually watch horrible movies together so hopefully we can get another review out to you guys.

Does Size Really Matter?

  • On November 20, 2009 ·
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Sizing pages can be a real hassle especially if you plan on printing your projects later. (Which you always should at the outset because it’s better to have print-quality files and never do anything with them than to have that one perfect piece and realize it’ll look like crap in print.) Yes I’m doing comics on the web but printing a tangible book of those comics is important for a number of reasons. I don’t want to get into the whole print vs. web debate but you shouldn’t close yourself off from potential revenue streams. Web-exclusive materials are harder to seek a profit from and a big part of the whole online revolution of the last few years isn’t so much that you’re using the web instead of print to make money, it’s that you’re managing the printing of your work yourself and distributing it online as well. It’s more indie vs. corporate in those regards. But I’m not here to take sides in that discussion. Today I’m going to talk to you about sizing your comics for the web while considering print.

Spike has gone on record as saying printers work for you and you should make your comic whatever size you feel comfortable with. I can agree with that on a certain level but irregularly-sized books will probably cost you more to print in the long run. For those just starting out you may want to consider what sizes are common to print at. If you’re looking at Comixpress or Ka-Blam! for an initial run you can snag templates off their sites. I wouldn’t recommend working at those sizes originally, though. Drawing actual size can be a little confining when trying to work in detail and most professionals work 1/3rd or so larger then shrink their art down to tighten things up. On my current project I’m working roughly 7″ x 11″ which is about the same size Bryan Lee O’Malley draws Scott Pilgrim at. I’m sure he has his own reasons for working at that size. I’m doing it because I can get 2 pages from one sheet of 14″ x 11″ bristol board, (Which is nice if you plan on doing 2-page spreads with full page bleeds. I know such a thing could conceivably work on the web in a McCloudian Infinite Canvas way, but for practicality’s sake I’m avoiding them now.) I can do full-size pencils and sketches on regular typing paper which means I can rework things as much as I want on other sheets affordably before inking, and I can scan pages in on a regular consumer scanner. (This last part is important if you’ve seen this tutorial behind Copper.)

Speaking of O’Malley, I’ve been looking to some of his pre-production work on Flickr for ideas on laying out pages. The thumbnails I’ve used on the prologue have become hard to read when going back to them when I’m no longer in the manic writing zone you get into when working on a piece. I want something that makes sense when I have to look back on it but doesn’t require too much detail. Something like this seems like a bit much for work only I’d see. This is closer to how I’ve been doing it but at a size that’s mostly squiggles. I may attempt something closer to this only using a Sharpie and a #2 pencil or something so I’m not tempted to spend a long time rendering them. Still trying to work out a way to script dialogue I’m comfortable with. It’s interesting I think of action conceptually and have to work at drawing it but I like to visualize dialogue and writing it out in script form takes all the fun out of it for me. Maybe I’m wired funny, I dunno.

Cartooning Tutorial Vids AHOY!

  • On November 19, 2009 ·
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Alright, I need to get back to work so we’re gonna make this a quick post with some youtube tutorial links. Lets start this off strong with with clips of Meredith Gran working on her webcomic Octopus Pie.

First drawn totally in Manga Studio with her cintiq:

Then sketched digitally, inked on paper, then toned and lettered digitally:

Then we’ve got Jeff Smith inking some panels. Here’s a shot of him drawing Billy Batson from Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil:

And another panel from the same book:

Lets follow this up with some more nice brush work from Chad Cole:

And top things off with a whole playlist of videos including Jim Lee walking us through his process on penciling and inking a sketch as well as him talking comics with Stan “The Man” Lee.

What is cheating, anyway?

  • On November 17, 2009 ·
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This post is going to cover several topics – the forum and comments, twitter, what you can expect in content, and then the subject of cheating. But first lets do some house cleaning.

Taking the forum offline and enabling comments

I like forums. They’re great places for group discussions. Yes, Twitter is awesome, but sometimes you need/want more than 140 characters. I took posting in our forum much like posting blogs here. I could expand on a subject over several posts, add all sorts of references, links, videos, images. But that created twice the real estate to cover. Blogging in the morning is a good way to focus but too much of it can get in the way of real work. Having to post content in a forum as well increases the amount of stuff I could be doing instead of drawing and what’s the gain in that? I know running a forum means posting lots of fresh content and getting others to do the same. I had friends who signed up but almost none of them invested the time to even make a first post. These are people I know. If they can’t bother to post anything, what’s the likelihood of strangers wanting to register and post? So for the time being I’m going to be realistic and scale back. I’m opening up comments on the blog. Registering is a plus. I’d like folks to register so I can eventually work on a members area for them to interact and whatnot. But right now just comment if you have ideas, suggestions, or like what you see. You don’t have to register to comment – in fact, I’m wiring Twitter up to commenting to encourage folks to join in.

I’m enabling it for blog posts from now on because, really, turning comments on for the entire archive is silly. If anything I should have a time limit on how old articles can be before commenting goes off. I’ve got too many posts to enable/disable comments on everything easily and offering older posts only opens up more room for spammers. Spam is a big concern of mine. Last time I opened comments I got somewhere between 3-5,000 spam comments. The only realistic way I could remove them all was to nuke the database. I don’t want to have to do that again. But I know folks want to discuss the stuff I post here and I really want to engage them in it. Hopefully things will be more manageable this time around.

Who’s this blog for, anyway?

They say you write what you know. So my audience is, in effect, me. Or people like me. I’ve been reading/making webcomics for awhile now and I’m honestly making a serious effort these days. I have a story I like that I want to tell to the best of my abilities and I want to share working on that with the rest of you. It seems a little esoteric right now because I’m discussing the creative process/struggle from the point before the launch. I’ve set a launch date and I’m working to get as much done before then as I can. Once the comic premiers I’ll be sharing more artwork up here and trying to get some opinions on it. I’ll also be streaming some as I work like other webcartoonists are doing. I just don’t want folks getting sick of seeing the same page before it’s actually complete and they see it in context.

Thoughts on cheating

“Cheating” is one of those loaded concepts, like “selling out,” that usually doesn’t have much meaning beyond what’s in the mind of the person saying it. When I first got into webcomics everybody was hating on sprite comics. Megaman, Final Fantasy, whatever it was, people considered them the bottom of the barrel. Anybody could slap some images together and write a fart joke on top of it. But what about sprites you created? What about reusing your own art? Does that mean even original pixel art done in the style of 8-bit games is cheap? How about comics that use pre-existing art like PartiallyClips or Wondermark? Today we have stickfigure comics and other strips where the art is an afterthought to the joke or concept being expressed. This brings up the question – what is cheating?

This is one of those “I know it when I see it” deals. It’s over-used, sure. There are folks who consider anything that isn’t hand-drawn and lettered a cop-out. Use a digital font? Cheater. Wacom tablet? Cheaty McCheatpants. How about 3D comics that use posed models and there’s no real drawing going on? I argue it’s more about intent and motive than anything else. If somebody throws something together haphazardly  and then goes to a forum and brags wanting to show off their skills, we can see through that. We don’t care because you haven’t given us a reason to care. Two guys sitting on a couch playing a video game and you’ve photoshopped in a blurry background. It’d be a masterpiece maybe back in the day when we didn’t have Photoshop or a thousand bland comics about two guys playing games.

Cover to How to Cheat in Photoshop CS3

This right here is what I think of when people talk about cheating. The author wants to show off some quick tricks that’ll fix up any old thing. As with any technology, there is no “make it good” button in Photoshop. You need to pay attention to every element individually as well as look at your piece as a whole. Sometimes it’s as easy as setting up an action and a work flow to correct a recurring problem. Other times you should just rip the thing up and start again. I mean, do you see the hole in his elbow under the cards? Once it’s seen it can’t be unseen.

But this doesn’t just apply to PS. When we draw we take little shortcuts. We all do. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We want to speed things up and get to the parts we like. But how many times do you redraw a memorized pattern for a hand only to later realize it doesn’t look like the person is actually holding anything? How many webcomics these days have characters with their arms crossed and their eyes half open? Now carry this into writing. How many times does snarkiness replace personality in a character? How many “zany neighbor” types do we see? As much as I enjoy Family Guy the character of Peter drives me crazy because he does insane things because, obviously, he’s the dumbest person in the world. Just like how every sitcom dad has to be so stupid he’s dangerous. This is a de-evolution of comedy that comes from being raised on certain things and regurgitating them. A common criticism of  The Simpsons is that there’s nothing left to do. The show’s been on so long that the writers are running out of material to explore. Then there’s the fact that people coming in grew up on the show. I recall hearing that one of the writers was excited about working on the show because he had a class on it in college. As it is now the series is so engrained in people’s minds that it’s stale. And this brings us back to comics in a strange way. Once a strip becomes successful it often grows complacent and formulaic. After all, less folks are going to write in and complain about an inoffensive comic. This breeds mediocrity.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s Jumping the Shark and Worthless Characters. Fonzie jumping the shark in Happy Days is one of those moments where you sit back and go, “What the hell am I even watching anymore?” In comics you might be familiar with Cerebrus Syndrome. Lots of us have been there. We’ve got this goofy gag strip and our characters are doing outlandish things. Then we decide we’re serious artists and turn some one-off bit into this epic 10 year storyline. This makes a comic like an onion. It’s tightly compact, has many layers, and usually brings readers to tears trying to unravel the damned thing. Containment of storylines, arcs, and plot points can be hard to manage. If you need footnotes to orient readers on what’s going on you might be having troubles. It’s best to have a clear narrative and point to what you’re trying to get across. I used to let my stories meander and go all over the place. You can get lost that way if you don’t set some limits and constraints. It doesn’t have to subscribe to the sitcom ideal of everything returning to the status quo by episode’s end, but it’s easier to work with stories if you think of them in bits as opposed to ongoing continuing sagas that never ever end. Ever.

The kid who played Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch

I rarely watched The Brady Bunch but I know the loathing people had for Cousin Oliver. You see him a lot in TV shows where they try to recreate lightning in a bottle. Cast chemistry is a magical thing. When it works it just works. Sometimes something new doesn’t belong there. Sometimes something new should be it’s own thing and it shouldn’t encroach on the existing property. And sometimes it’s best to just hang things up when the magic is gone. Take a look at this photo from That 70s Show.

Cast pic from That 70s Show illustrating how nobody likes Randy

Somebody look out of place here? That guy peeping out from the left there? Why yes,it’s Randy, the guy they wrote in to replace Eric and Kelso. I have nothing against this actor personally. Yet every time his character was on screen I would get mad at my TV. He was such a transparent fill-in and I hated how we were just supposed to accept him. At some point we become invested in the characters and the series. If you don’t treat them with care this happens. If you have some sort of agenda to push with your comic or fall back on cliches you lose a lot of the credibility you’ve worked for. Characters should be introduced naturally. Another good example is Superman Returns. They really wanted to return to the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve era Superman movies. In a lot of ways you can see that movie as a love letter to Superman 2. (So much so that a good case can be made that it doesn’t actually go anywhere new.) Personally, I think you can take your favorite characters out and play with them, fine, but do something interesting with them. And this comes back to the whole new character problem because in this movie we have super baby. That’s right, Lois had a kid and got married while Superman was gone. That’s not what I sign up for when I go to see Superman. I don’t want to see the awkwardness of them wanting to make out and then the husband comes in. Is that what you watch a Supes movie for? Awkward love triangles? With everything they could throw into that movie – a smorgasbord of villains they could introduce into the movie universe – they pull out Lex Luthor. At least it wasn’t another origin story again, right?

Cultivating Inspiration

  • On November 13, 2009 ·
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Like most creative types sometimes I feel there are days where I’m just on. Days where I get up, shoot from the hip, and it’s all great. Then there are days where it seems every little achievement is a struggle. If your goal is to spit something out with any regularity, waiting for inspiration to strike can devolve into endless waiting. Instead of doing that, I recommend the professional (or even semi-professional or hobbyist) creator actively pursue inspiration. Seek it out. Try to make drawing and writing fun because it really is if you can take the work out of it.

I appreciate the comfort of routine. Getting up every day at a certain time, getting to work, putting my work down at a regular time, and getting to bed at a decent hour, these things help me stay focused. Every so often lightning will strike and some brilliant idea will come from the heavens. Most of the time it’s spread out. It’s much more reasonable to expect regular solid results every day than to work feverishly when the idea hits you. Scott Adams posted this blog about his daily work day. Every so often I like to read over it and think, “That’s not a bad way to spend a day.” Getting up in the morning, petting the kitty, and then coming up with a fun idea to draw. Some of it may be tedious and mindless busywork, but it can also be very zen. Put on some music or a movie/TV show and get in the zone.

I think naturally I’m more of a writer than an artist and I have to work at making my concepts visual. However I’ve had years of practice and I know drawing is a skill that can be learned and improved over time. It’s gotten to the point with me where I come up with the idea and what I need to illustrate, then I go into drawing mode. I lay things out, I change the poses until I’m happy, and all I let my brain think about is making the best image possible. It becomes less of a conscious effort to make something and more of a reaction to what I’m laying down.

Another important thing to remember when establishing a routine is to break up the monotony that can kill your drive. If you’re drawing day after day, give yourself some time to just write. If you’re working on panels and pages, get a sketchbook out and doodle some designs for future characters. If I had to relive the same day all the time I’d go insane very quickly and stop producing. Sometimes I’m not firing on all cylinders when I’m trying to work on a page so I move onto sketching other things like props or settings. Suddenly I’ve found an angle I can work with. The key is to keep busy and to feel like you’re accomplishing something. I’ve found, as the pages start to pile up, you tend to believe in yourself more. “I can really do this. I’ve already done so much, what’s one more page? Bring it on!”

He’s going to take you back to the past…

  • On November 11, 2009 ·
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Today I’m going to share some of the random selections of tunes I have in my playlist. I’m a fan of the Angry Video Game Nerd review series, but I also recommend checking out the Fan Song Page which has a number of remixes and tributes you might recognize from a few episodes. You might also want to check out the fellow who wrote/performs the AVGN theme, Kyle Justin. There’s also Chris Holland who’s done music for the series and offers the tunes on his website.

I also suggest signing up for the mailing list for Fall On Your Sword. You’ll get 3 free songs, including Shatner of the Mount.

Finally, an album I forgot to mention before but really should have – Pat Boone: In a Metal Mood.

Pat Boone doing lounge covers of metal songs. I originally got this for its oddity element but it’s also a really solid record. Put this and the Nutley Brass on in your studio and you’re in for a pretty swingin’ time.

Being Happy

  • On November 5, 2009 ·
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Everybody deserves to be happy. But what is happiness? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows us the different levels of needs which can be met to obtain happiness. They’re in a pyramid form because the lower levels must be satisfied first before the upper levels can be achieved. First there’s the purely physical needs to sustain life. Then there’s safety and security. Follow that up with feeling loved and belonging. Above that is esteem and at the very top is self-actualization. This is an interesting way to consider it but maybe a little too methodical and strategic for practical use. It’s good for picking out on which stages you’re falling short in your attempts to correct yourself, at least. I find the older I get the more I agree with this quote from Aristotle,

With respect to acting in the face of danger,
courage is a mean between
the excess of rashness and the deficiency of cowardice;

with respect to the enjoyment of pleasures,
temperance is a mean between
the excess of intemperance and the deficiency of insensibility;

with respect to spending money,
generosity is a mean between
the excess of wastefulness and the deficiency of stinginess;

with respect to relations with strangers,
being friendly is a mean between
the excess of being ingratiating and the deficiency of being surly;


with respect to self-esteem,
magnanimity is a mean between
the excess of vanity and the deficiency of pusillanimity.

In Buddhism and the Middle Way philosophy, avoiding extremes is recommended. I’ve seen people extremely ecstatic and extremely depressed. This roller coaster of emotions isn’t a path to happiness. The highs can feel really good when you’re on them but the lows bring you crashing down. It’s much more rewarding to spread the happiness around over-all with a fair consistency. This isn’t always possible but it’s a good goal to strive for with your day.

It’s important to surround yourself with positive energy. I don’t quite mean this in the chakra sense. I mean, if you want to be happy, spend time with happy people. Plenty of people are only happy if they have something to complain about. They’re unsatisfied so they seek to make other people so. I can understand the logic in that but it’s flawed. If you’re unhappy with your own situation you should focus on changing it rather than bringing other people down. This also swings the other way. Some people feel they have to help everybody. This is a noble gesture but it leaves you open to being taken advantage of as well as adding significantly to your own stress and anxiety. You can’t always help everybody and you can’t always solve every problem. You have to be realistic with yourself and your expectations. As long as you do your best, that’s all anybody can ask of you.

Charlie Chaplin became famous for playing the “Little Tramp,” a character who had a pretty sad existence but wormed his way into our hearts through his sympathetic nature and goofy antics. Though at one point he’s so poor he resorts to cooking a shoe, we laugh because of his “oh well” attitude and how he struggles to even manage something as simple as eating it. It’s the struggle we relate to. In his worn-out, ill-fitting suit, this little gentleman never gives up – something we’d all like to remember in the darkest times. If you’ve ever seen the movie Chaplin, you know he really did have a pretty rough life. Yet even today his films entertain us and we remember him with a smile.

Bill Cosby is another interesting case. For his doctoral research he wrote a dissertation, “An Integration of the Visual Media Via ‘Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids’ Into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning.” He’s a very intelligent man. If you ever get the chance to watch an interview with him I suggest you do it. He has a way of speaking to children that isn’t talking down to them but rather speaking as a buddy. He’s often seen as a father figure based on his comedy routines and his series The Cosby Show. I got the chance to see him speak at my college several years ago. I know he’s said some controversial things at times but he’s a very interesting person to listen to and always entertaining.

Fred McFeely “Mister” Rogers is a staple in many people’s childhoods. His show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was a warm, gentle, friendly place. Some people make fun of it for being so inoffensive but it does deliver a certain charm to it’s intended audience. Above that, Rogers himself was quite possibly the nicest man in the world. From everything I’ve heard, he was a Presbyterian minister who didn’t drink, smoke, ate vegetarian, was such an advocate of recycling that he brought trash home with him when he went on vacation, and whenever he was asked to say something bad about non-Christians or gays he would sincerely say, “God loves you just the way you are.”

The Muppets are also a staple of many people’s childhoods. Even if you’re an adult now you can still enjoy Jim Henson’s funny, charming, and entertaining characters. They’re timeless and at their heart upbeat about life. It’s not always easy being green, as Kermit’s made famous, but it’s who he is and he’s fine with it. Just as we all should try to be happy with how we ourselves are.

Charles Monroe “Sparky” Shultz gave us Peanuts, a comic strip that has spawned movies, TV shows, musicals, you name it. Charlie Brown is the perpetual loser. Always hoping to kick that football. Always wanting to talk to the little red haired girl. The prime-time animated special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, dealt with depression and stress brought on by the over-commercialism of the holiday. It’s poignant, charming, and still holds up. At the end of the day, Charlie Brown goes to bed ready to try his luck again in the morning, because tomorrow’s another day.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a movie you can watch over and over again, finding something new each time you see it. Paul Ruebens’s character is a perpetual child and the cartoony situations he finds himself in as he searches for his stolen bike never cease to bring a smile. In some ways he’s like the “Little Tramp,” always facing his challenges with silly optimism.

Robert Norman “Bob” Ross hosted The Joy of Painting. I got into disagreements with my professors in college about this show. I always found him entertaining and it’s pretty fascinating that he got a show about watching him paint landscapes. My profs considered him a gimmick to sell paint to amateurs to use a handful of tricks on. I, on the other hand, appreciate his ability to construct a scene out of thin air and have fun with it. This is important to remember when you’re doing those tedious backgrounds that comics folk hate to spend their time on. Instead of seeing it as a chore, he’d make up little stories to himself about the caves and the mountains, maybe imagining a little bear that lives there. His technique is also very fluid, never making mistakes, only “happy accidents.” He once said, “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.”

All of these people and characters set out to be happy regardless of what the world throws at them. It’s not always easy but I find when you smile at the world it can often smile back. 🙂

Thumbnailing and Layouts (DO IT)

  • On November 4, 2009 ·
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Today I’d like to talk about thumbnailing and laying out comics. I learned very early on in my animation classes that laying things out is the greatest present you can give to yourself. It’s fun, for one thing, and it makes the rest of the process a lot easier. When you remove the mental burden of having to make a drawing a finished image and instead make it a study for yourself it’s incredibly freeing. You can change things, find what works, then refine it in your final piece. You don’t have to layout entire books at once or anything crazy like that, but you can layout sections at a time. This allows you to block out the storytelling early so when it comes to drawing pages and panels you’re focused on making the best illustration you can instead of worrying about how well it fits into the scene.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh, I just draw a gag-a-day talking heads strip, I don’t need to go through all that.” If all you want to do is make something uninspired that we’ve all seen before, go on ahead. Get it out of your system. I resisted myself for a long time because it felt like I was just drawing the comic twice. That’s not how you do good layout, however. Good layout is drawing just enough to make everything clear when you sit down to blow things up and add details. That’s when you can be inventive before scaling back to only using what works. It’s easy to do a first pass of a scene where everything’s very middle. The poses are passable, the camera angles are bland, and the expressions aren’t lively. Then you try things. You consider what can enhance a shot or make it more interesting. You make things more fun to draw and more fun to look at. I really recommend clicking through Bryan Lee O’Malley’s set on Flickr where he documents the development of his series Scott Pilgrim. He shares pages from his scripts, thumbnails and layouts, as well as inks.