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

Monday, February 27, 2006

Social Cartooning @ CCS / Trees & Hills Comic Group

Just a reminder for anyone who lives near enough, this Saturday (March 4) is Social Cartooning at the Center For Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. It's an informal cartooning get-together; please drop by to draw and help strengthen the comics community in New England... All local cartoonists, CCS students, and curious others are welcome to join us for a day of drawing. Bring your drawing tools and a snack to share. Drawing starts at 1pm and goes till 7pm. RSVP required. Contact Robyn Chapman at chapman@cartoonstudies.org.

Also, if you live close enough to attend, you may be interested in the Trees & Hills Comic Group for cartoonists in VT, NH and western MA. We have a forum here, and a website coming soon at www.treesandhills.org; we're hoping to foster community, discussion, and get-togethers like Social Cartooning in the area.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Take Care Of Yourself

Important and Sometimes Overlooked Productivity Tip: Keep yourself in good health!

Eat a varied and balanced diet. Move around. Do something that raises the heart rate for at least ten consecutive minutes a day; I felt a bit disgusted when I realized I wasn't even doing that. Get fresh air and sunlight! And SLEEP. It's easy to forget how much more alert the mind can be when it gets regular, proper rest. Find a sleep schedule that works for you, whether you like to rise early or late, and try to keep it consistent.

It's easy to get caught up in creating, but don't neglect yourself! Take your food and bathroom breaks, stretch, breath, and give your eyeballs some rest by moving them around and gazing off into the distance.

It's simple stuff, but fundamental. Everything is better and easier when you're energetic and alert - why subject yourself to the potential heartbreak of careless mistakes?

(This post is definitely made in the "AA" spirit of the blog - I'm trying to change my own poor habits!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Paperless Cartoonist

I was invited to join this blog when I suggested a post about ergonomic and workflow issues while using drawing tablets—specifically pen monitor tablets, such as the Cintiq. Not long after I was joined the blog, K. Thor Jensen posted an article, Wacomics, on his recent tablet experiences. The post covers Mr. Jensen's initial loathing of tablets, through to his eventual conversion and endorsement.

I was an early enthusiast of the digital drawing tablet, asking for one for X-mas when I was 13 so I could draw animations on our Mac—I was such a geek. In university I got a second tablet, a standard middle-of-the-road Wacom Intuos. It worked great. I use illustrator and I liked the brush strokes I could achieve with it. I grew increasingly comfortable with it and used the tablet often for finished comics or illustrations. Eventually I developed the same problem as Scott McCloud—a tingling in my right wrist—and had to stop drawing for a while. It also forced me to think about health & ergonomic issues. In part due to a desire to stop working on paper entirely, along with having read McClouds and various other reviews, I decided to invest in a Wacom Cintiq, referred to as a pen monitor. Essentially it is a flat screen monitor with a drawing pen and thousands of levels of pressure sensitivity.

I spent the first four hours using it chuckling, and often outright laughing. I understood why animation studios are switching to them. There is a massive potential to increase workflow with this tool. And, for the first time in like, fifteen years of doing art on a computer, I actually felt that I was encountering something new. Along with the Cintiq there are already a few pen tablet laptops on the market. Apple is rumoured to be producing some sort of a tablet device. If technology continues to develop as it has, in a couple years from now we should have the potential to make pressure-sensitive sketches on something like an Apple iPod. I've never even used a handheld, but I'm sure they're starting to develop built-in sketching functions.

The pen monitor made me think more about the workflow of a cartoonist/illustrator. I began thinking about the workflow potential of it even more after reading The Pushman And Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (D&Q 2005). This book lead me to read an interview between Tatsumi and Adrian Tomine. The interview is long, but extremely interesting, as it's two grand masters of comics talking in detail about their working methods. I just love this exchange:
AT: Yeah. That's always been a mystery to me. How the Japanese artists are able to produce so many pages. I'm sure my publisher would allow me to create thicker comics, but it would just take me two or three years or something like that.

YT: I've done 50 pages in one night.

AT: What? 50?! Five zero?

YT: Yeah.

AT: How?!

YT: I didn't sleep, and I had four assistants.
A few lines down, it gets even better when they discuss a weekly schedule:
AT: So you were doing 12 pages a week? On your own?

YT: Yeah.

AT: I just can't believe it!

YT: 2 pages, everyday. It's far easier than 50 pages in one night.
Far easier indeed. After reading this I began to wonder how much a cartoonist could potentially produce in a night, using a Cintiq or similar device. McCloud has noted that he produces about a page per day for his new book with his Cintiq. That's 6-7 pages a week. I've managed to do a couple 2-page nights recently as well. They were long nights, though—lots of tea.

I still haven't found the ideal position for drawing on this monitor. I find I'm using the keyboard enough (in illustrator) to position it close to the monitor. I think I'd like the entire table it’s sitting on to be height-adjustable. I still find the best way to avoid getting sore is to regularly stretch, and walk away from the drawing board frequently. The Cintiq is a huge step up from the regular tablets simply in terms of ergonomics. You can lean over it like a traditional drafting table, or tilt it up and work as a painter would with an easel and canvas.

I haven't gotten rid of drawing on paper entirely, not by a long shot, but the Cintiq is a solid step towards the paperless cartoonist. When I have an iPod that I can scratch a few portraits on while sitting on the metro? Now that will make things interesting.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Go big or go home!

For the next Part Time Stories short, I decided to draw the pages at a more standard "comic book art" size. I usually work on 9 x 12 paper with the comic page ruled out at about 7 x 10. It's a little bit bigger then then the printed page, but not much. I have a smaller scanner, and for a long time moved a lot and just need to adjust my art to my life.

Never again.

I took a 14 x 17 piece of Strathmore Bristol Vellum, and ruled it down to 10 x 15. These pages have no bleeds, so I don't have to worry about that. I'm using Brush Pens, along with Higging Eternal Ink (Black Magic next time), and the work is coming out so much easier.

It takes about twice as long at the moment to draw at the bigger size, but having finished the first page's first round of inks (I pencil, then ink, then erase pencils, then go back to detail and touch up inks) I don't think I've ever been so happy with a page. So now I just need to factor in more time when I draw, which is a bummer, but I figure I'll get quicker as I get more used to it. It only took me a day to ink, now that I think about it. I just takes me more time to do the layout.

I took the basic sizes and style for prepping pages from an interview I read about Paul Pope a few years ago.

POST UPDATE:

Here's the page:

Aural Fixation page

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Keep Your Eyes On The Prize!

After a year and a half of work, I just got my finished comic book back from the printer. I now have 300 copies waiting to be sent out to my subscribers, friends and family. And it is a GREAT feeling.

I know it's like the most simple advice in the world: to work towards a goal. But I think it's easy to forget (especially if your project takes a LONG time to complete!) that it feels REALLY GREAT when you are done. It almost makes you forget all the long hours, working by yourself on your project. Now it will be sent out into the world for people to enjoy!

So I just thought, as someone who has just completed a project, I would put up a little reminder for those of you who are currently in that difficult middle-stretch of a project, that it is SO going to be worth it when you are done! Don't give up! Keep working towards your goal!

And now I get to join the rest of you who are at the BEGINNING of a project! How exciting! The sequence begins again!!! : )

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Social Cartooning at CCS


Last Saturday marked the first of what will be monthly (!) drawing parties at CCS. They will be held on the first Saturday of the month, and they will be open to the public (RSVP required.) I'm going to dub the day Social Cartooning at CCS.
This Saturday we had about 15 participants, many of them members of the New England cartoonist collective Trees and Hills. the group was very friendly, enthusiastic, and fairly serious about comics.

Everyone was self-directed, some working on their personal projects, others working on jam comics. In general, I'm anti-jam comics. "No Jam Comics" was basically the first testament of my former cartooning group (AWP, represent.) But I participated in one that I felt was fairly successful.
When the party ended, I had drawn for nearly 6 hours, not bad. I also made several new friends. I look forward to the next Social Cartooning event. Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Interesting quote from E-I-C of Devil's Due

"I think part of the problem is that 80% of our mainstream comic collector audience is getting so old, they've read so many comics, that there's not room for anything new in their life. It's not that they love or hate the new stuff. They kind of just don't care. They have jobs, kids, bills... they want to come in on Wednesday and get their familiar fix. They're old enough to remember all of the failed attempts of publishers past. Kids? Hell, kids want something new simply because it's not what their dad's reading, but those kids aren't in most comic shops." - Josh Baylock

That quote is from a series of articles Newsarama is running on various companies "State of the Union". I've always seen Devil's Due as a very interesting company, mixing creator owned books with a number of licensed properties. They've really seen to manage themselves well, and this quote is spot on to my own opinion.

The thing that makes it tough is that if we takes these numbers it means the rest of are aiming for the same 20%. It's like a bunch of people being forced to take one slice of pie, while 2 others get the rest of the pie plus ice cream.

Now to bring it back in to making comics, it really emphasizes the fact that whatever we as independent creators make, really really needs to be top notch to raise up our status for that 20%. I'm working on the 3rd story for Part Time Stories this weekend and am forcing myself to redraw sketches and panels as many times as need be. It takes extra time sure, but the end product will really be worth it I think.

This is rambley. Wow.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Wacomics

Those who know me know that I've vented a fair share of vitriol at "Wacom jockeys," that almost incalcuable mass of (mostly) online cartoonists whose work is so obviously completely drawn in Photoshop, gradiented and textured to infinity, computer lettered, and shit up on Keenspace or wherevs. I thought that a digital pen was the biggest piece of shit shortcut fuckface limpdick lazyass tool in the universe and nothing good could ever come of using one. Sorry, Scott McCloud, I love you like an uncle but that's how it is.

And then I got my boss to buy me one for shits and giggles since we needed to spend money on computer hardware for our taxes. I figured I'd fuck around with it, see what I could do, maybe it'd speed my photoshop work up a bit.

Well, I really like it and it has a lot of potential as a drawing tool, surprise surprise. It's still really easy to make shitty drawings on. Because you can't "rotate the paper," drawing straight lines freehand is impossible. A lot of people recommend the Pen tool in photoshop but I can't get the hang of that thing. But it's really good for a lot of things.

Exhibit A. This is the first finished thing I drew with it. It's heavily photo-traced, obviously, but you can see a lot of interesting effects in it. The line width can be set to pressure sensitivity, giving a natural woble and variance to the brush tools. For coloring, you can set the opacity to pressure, giving you an easy watercolor effect. I used a ton of layers on this project - breakdowns, line art, flat color base, modeling, black shading, color shading, white highlighting, etc, which was tough to keep track of, but if you work from a traditional accretive model it gets pretty intuitive.

Exhibit B. Completely drawn digitally. Very satisfying. Did two panels a day. This kind of style is easy. Love the linework on the clouds. The pressure variation thing made this feel really natural.

This tutorial was on Brian Bolland's site until it disappeared. He draws everything with the Wacom, from breakdowns to finished inks. I still can't figure out how he freehand drawns naturalistic human figures, I just can't do it with this thing. I have to slowly work up from skeletal forms and even then it's hard. I think I'm probably just going to pencil normally and scan those if I ever draw a full comic digitally. I'm thinking about it.

You can get a Wacom Graphire 6x8 for like $150. If you do any kind of computer work on your comics, I highly recommend it. Just don't be lazy with it, like with any other tool, and it'll serve you well.