Make Comics Forever!!

Make Comics Forever is a forum for cartoonists dedicated to improving their productivity. This is not a forum for wimps! This is not a forum for flakes! We are here to share tips and techniques on how to produce more work and better work. Become a comic-making machine! Join the discussion now! To become a member, email a request to robyn @ un-pop.com

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Years Resolutions and Projects for 2006

2005 has been a year of many changes for me: a new home, a new job, new projects, and I've gone back to school (in a fashion.) One of the major changes in my life has been one of perspective concerning my creative life. Making comics is tough, and fitting them into my life has always been a struggle. When faced with that struggle in the past, I've often procrastinated or distracted myself. With a little help (and inspiration) from my friends, and the support of this blog, I've been facing the struggle head on. I wish continue this, and that's my resolution for 2006.

Here are some more specific resolutions:

Make every day a working a day a day, a day closer to achieving my goals. Approach each day with this in mind.

Create a plan to meet my artistic goals. Follow this plan every day. Maintain and adjust this plan a necessary.

Use tools I know work to achieve my artistic goals: creating a plan and work schedule, keeping a record, positive thinking, etc.

Create from a place of inspiration, not guilt.

Don't grade my work against others. Don't compare myself to others (or at least limit the comparing.)

Realize and believe that I am awesome. No more of this low self esteem crap.

Projects for 2006:

Begin pencils on my graphic novel, start inking in July.

A comic for the middle school antho from Penguin Books.

Hey, 4-Eyes! #2 (debuting in April.)

Mini comics:
Matching Jackets (debuts MoCCA)
I Can't Dance (debuts MoCCA)

How about you? List your resolutions and projects here!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

An Advantage to the Holidays

(Besides a whole lotta food, that is.)

With people out of town (including myself for a few days), it's great to take advantage of the time to draw some comic pages. I get to start the year off with almost 3 weeks of some serious drawing time (along side working on freelance web design), which is a good way to start off 2006 I think.

I know a lot of people stop working completely doing this time of year, but not me. I just relish the fact that people go away for a bit.

Of course, in like 2 weeks I'll probably go stir crazy.

Friday, December 16, 2005

An Interview With Me

I was interviewed by a middle schooler who was writing a paper on cartooning. Perhaps it’s self-serving, but I think it’s relevant enough to post here.

What are the Pros and Cons of your job?
First, the pros. Sequential Art is versatile medium and its potential seems to grow every day. As a long-time lover of writing and drawing, it's the perfect medium for me.
One of the biggest pros would have to be artistic freedom. While it is difficult, it is completely possible to write, draw, and even publish and print your comics yourself. I like to think of this analogy: when I lived in New York, I would often stumble upon film crews shooting a movie. The amount of equipment and manpower it require was boggling. I would always think to myself "I can do that all by myself, and all I need is some paper and ink."
One of the major cons of being a cartoonist is simply surviving. Like many artistic careers, it is difficult to make a living as a cartoonist. It's not impossible, but difficult. It usually takes years of making comics for little or no pay before one can support themselves on comics alone. That being said, the skills you gain as a cartoonist can be applied to a variety of professions: publishing, editing, graphic design and many more.

What are your duties on a daily basis?
Like many cartoonists working today, cartooning is not my primary source of income. I have a day job, and I have to structure my drawing schedule to fit.
Finding a balance between employment and cartooning is an artform in itself, and it's a challenge most cartoonists will have to face.
Strangely, a lot of the work I do as a cartoonist has nothing to do with drawing. I've co-edited two large comic anthologies. My daily tasks as an editor often include emailing publishers, printers, and artists. It also involves organizing book signing tours and release parties.
A lot of management skills are also involved in my personal comic work. Right now I'm working on a graphic novel, a comic submission for Penguin Books, several side projects, and I'm participating in a gallery show in January. All these projects have deadlines, and all of them require communicating with a variety of editors and art directors. Again, writing emails is a big part of my day.
Another daily task is research. My graphic novel takes place during a specific time and in a specific place. Authenticity is important to me, so I've been dedicating a lot of time to research. I often use the internet for this. I'll look for images to use as reference for background drawings, or I'll check out websites to find out what music was playing during that time period.
And finally, the drawing! These days, my daily tasks include drawing thumbnails (rough sketches of page layouts, a basic blueprint for my comic) penciling in my sketchbook, and inking.

What early influences did have that drove you to seek a career as a cartoonist?
Probably my earliest influence was Bill Waterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. It was a really artful strip that caught my imagination.
The other influence was discovering alternative comics - comics that weren't about super heroes. When I discovered the publisher Fantagraphics Books, I knew I wanted to be cartoonist.

Who is your favorite cartoonist?
Daniel Clowes. He has created several excellent graphic novels, including Ghost World, David Boring and his new masterpiece, Ice Haven. His comic book is called Eightball.

How long does it usually take to create a comic?
This is really too difficult to answer, each comic is different. Right now I'm working on an 81 page graphic novel. It will most likely take one and a half to two years to complete.

Where do you get ideas for a comic?
Most of my comics are based somewhat, if not completely, on my life experience.
I feel compelled to write about things that have significance in my life.

What are your other interests besides cartooning?
I like the art of bookmaking. In addition to their content, I'm interested in books as artistic objects. I like to explore different types if printing, binding, and folding.

What are some skills and character traits you would need to become a cartoonist?
Probably the number one character trait required is a good work ethic. Making comics is hard, and it takes a long time. For this reason, patience is also important.
Being goal driven and dedicated is important too. It's really hard to make comics part-time. You really have to have a passion for it.

Making A Marvel Out Of A Molehill.

Marvel has announced its bold plan to conquer webcomics for the third time, and amazingly, people are wondering if This Will Change Everything.

If I needed an argument that the world needs a history of webcomics, I'd have none better than this bald retcon. This is not a "launch." It is at best a relaunch, if not just a renaming. The timeline, in brief:

Marvel joins the Web in late 1996, first with a secret investors-only site, but soon enough with onslaught.com and then with Marvelonline.com. Its early site hawks "cool animation" (check the "alt" tags) and its "Marvel CyberComics" achieve a certain degree of distinction, at least theoretically, by using limited animation and sound. This is enough to attract a license from another website you've probably never even heard of [scroll to fifth item], which gets bought out less than a year later.

Webcomics readers completely ignore Cybercomics. They offer attractive bells and whistles, but the stories read like "Marvel Generica #1-12." Marvel doesn't see fit to pay much to produce the work, nor does it offer much creative latitude, so... Guess what? Spidey's life is tough, and the Hulk is misunderstood!

After the dot-com crash, Marvel starts putting out an all-new "dot-comics" lineup of repurposed comic books. This is hardly the bold new frontier that Cybercomics represented, but it certainly could work if done in crushing volume. Marvel has a huge back-issue archive and it's been proven that presenting comics online, done right, can actually encourage people to buy them offline.

Yet in a surprising reversal of traditional online publishing, Marvel's offerings actually seem to get *fewer* as time goes on. A 2002 review mentions 21 comics available for a single series. But in 2004, the dotcomics section offers "just a few" comics, in fact just exactly a dozen.

And today it has four.

This week, Marvel "launched" its Digital Comics section (though its homepage announces it as a "rebirth," so apparently even MARVEL doesn't completely believe that Digital Comics are qualitatively different from Dotcomics. Also, Marvel still has a "dotcomics" link at the bottom of the site, which redirects to the new section).

Marvel promises that the paucity of material on the new site is a temporary situation. If so, it's a temporary situation three years in the making. They say they're going to get production up till there's a new comic almost every day. I'll believe it when I see it.

Okay, so we've gone down from 21+ to 12 to 4. But what about the quality?

The selection is... not bad. Not the best items Marvel's published, and only one that even resembles a completed story, but if you like superheroes and their universes they're pretty decent offerings...

...wrapped in an interface that simulates the experience of reading comic books, assuming you read comic books by either holding them at fully extended arm's length, or repeatedly slapping yourself in the face with them. And assuming that the comics' art is highly pixelated while the text is clear.

Marvel has the intellectual property and the talent base to well and truly change the face of webcomics. And print comics for that matter. What it doesn't have is the culture.

Infinite canvas could give Spider-Man more room to swing, leap, and kick. The team behind Runaways could pen a magnificent strip in the Questionable Content vein. Marvel could open up a vast database of characters a la its old Marvel Universe and use hyperlinks to clarify its labrynthine continuity. The new genres and styles and ideas of webcomics and the well-established, much-loved creations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and their acolytes) could interact in ways that tickled the brain and stirred the heart.

But none of that will happen until Marvel, Inc. sees money in it. And Marvel has a 45-year-old tradition of celebrating its past. It's not so good with the future.

Its own online past is proof of that.

Why Gail Simone Remains One Of My Fave Comics Writers.

What she says she's learned this year: "That the stereotypical idea that the audience is full of dateless pasty white guys living in mom's basement is a crock of poo. When I go to a con, I see all these creative readers, all colors and sizes and genders and orientations. I feel like some creators are afraid to admit that the audience is cooler than they are, so they perpetuate this myth. It's irritating. Don't speak down to the audience. Don't take them for granted. Do the best work you can every time, and they WILL be on your team, and that's worth a lot, in my book."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Fighting Distraction, Fighting Boredom

It's tough for me to put in long hours at the drawing board. I get bored, I get distracted, I get depressed. For me, there are three things that are key to maximum productivity: variety of work, variety in setting, and a balanced schedule.

Variety of work:
Doing one task for 11 hours a day drives me batty. It gets monotonous and frustrating. Progress can be slow. I'm most comfortable as a cartoonist when I have several project going at once. If I get tired of thumbnailing my graphic novel, I'll pencil in my sketchbook, or ink my mini comic.

Variety of setting:
This is a step I take towards making drawing a more social event. When I lived in Brooklyn, I would draw at a friend's apartment, or in a coffee shop. Now I live in a small town in Vermont, there is no coffee shop. I've had to become creative. I've gone to restaurants, public parks and bars.

A balanced Schedule:
My weekends are the only time I have all to myself, so I really try to make some progress then. I’ve dedicated my Saturdays to Alec's 11-hour schedule.

Here's how this Saturday went:

11:30 (Damn, I slept in again) I go have some lunch at the Tip Top Café, the only restaurant in White River Junction with a reasonable vegan selection. I get there when they open and order a meal I can nibble on. My mind is most sharp early in the day, so I do work that requires thinking: writing and thumbnails. When I get bored of this, I'll switch to some inking.

2:30 I feel like I'm wearing out my welcome, so walk a block to The Upper Valley Food Co-Op. They have a small cafe area where customers can eat sandwiches or drink coffee. I purchase a vegan cookie and draw for an hour. I switch from inking to thumbnails again.

3:30 Break time! And how convenient, I'll do some grocery shopping, then some errands around town.

4:30 Now back to my apartment – another change of scenery. I work for 3 hours. I listen to various music and audio books to keep from getting bored. I write a little, but then I switch to sketching and inking.

7:30 My biggest block of work is behind me, and I’m not bored or exhausted yet! Now for a big break. I mess around on the computer and call a friend.

9:30 Ugh. I’m not eager to start work. I put in my Ghost World DVD listen to it while I draw in the other room. I do some mindless inking and plough through. When the movie is over it’s almost time for my break.

11:30 Break time, call another friend. I need support.

1:30 This is the tough work block. My brain feels a little mushy. I put on some comforting music make it through. I tell myself I sure am lucky I'm not in relationship, I'd never be able to pull something like this! Yes, very lucky.

3:30 I fall asleep immediately.