I haven't been feeling up to putting up Curve's lately partially out of being busy, mostly out of being lazy. I'll try to start updating more regularly though still not on a weekly basis like it used to be. Here are the preliminary character designs for a new project coming up. It's scary to think I've been working on some of these characters for over a year and their still in such a rudimentary and placeholder position, but they are all starting to feel unique and from a cohesive universe. Need to get a twice over from Timothy and then I'm moving into pencils.
I recently crossed the 48 page mark on my pencils for MAPS 3. To check on the books progress, and give myself a touch of perspective, I reread what I've done so far. In some ways it's better than I had anticipated. I will want to work on the dialogue in the first few pages. It's a little open ended for the beginning of the story. I think a lot will be fixed with the "our story til now" page, but relying on that exclusively feels like lazy story telling.
I need to seed in the cultures reverence for the sun throughout the story more to best justify actions towards the end as well. I always notice things I should have done differently in previous MAPS when I start reading them aloud to my class. I'm adding in more captions at scene changes, because I always notice improvising those explanations when I read them to my classes.
I hope that I'm striking a better balance in this issue. I want to keep the pacing very quick and have lots of set pieces per story. The trick is putting in the quieter moments to build tension and strengthen the characters. I'm not sure I've hit the emotive notes I want to yet, but MAPS 3 will certainly solidify how powerful Sartr can be, and why Elwood is the hero of our story.
I'm having trouble staying optimistic about the comics. Public Education 3 sales are terrible. No one reads Skeletons. Maps 2 has sold less than the first. We're getting constant diminishing returns on our products even though I feel like the quality is increasing month to month and year to year. All our sales have been off the novelty of us making books, and now the novelty has worn off. I'm excited about future projects but I can't really say they're more commercially viable than anything that's come before, and some of them don't even aspire to be. Cartooning is increasingly difficult in a busy adult life, and while I'm still going to make time for it the financial burden of publishing the books is becoming a very real obstacle in my life.
All that venting aside, I have been productive. Skeletons has entered the final third of the production side. I have to do a few more paintings for backgrounds, but that's pretty exciting. I haven't been painting much at all lately. Maps 3 pencils are over halfway done. They're going slowly with all the retooling I'm doing throughout, but as always, the exchanges between Timothy and I are only serving to strengthen the final product. Public Education is always plugging away fine.
I'm going to try and get into more regular Curve entries, but no promises. Just a challenge for myself. Until we meet again.
Public Education is here and available for sale! Three volumes in six years, I'm meeting every expectation I'd set for myself with this project. I hope you've been enjoying the new strips coming out on this very website. You can pick up the new book here.
I'm glad to have antoher book done, and my goal for this one is to do a better job of advertising. I took a huge drop in sales from PE 1 to PE 2, and I need to make sure that I get this one in front of as many eyes as possible. I've already gotten it onto facebook, twitter and comic forums. The tough things are going to be keeping the advertising up and trying to get the book in front of new people.
The book doesn't look as incongruous as I was fearing switching from pen to brush part of the way through. Most of the book is brush work and while the thinner lines stick out to me, I don't think it's abrasive to those that didn't actually make the strips.
This book also sums up my first two years teaching Kindergarten, and the differences in the strips is noticeable. A lot more fart and vomit jokes mostly. I am a little disappointed in some redundancy of language that may have been less apparent had I ordered the strips differently in the book. I didn't notice it the first half dozen read throughs, but it's pretty glaring now. Something to add to my list of checks in editing volume 4.
I've been negligent of our Comic Curve lately, and I think it just points to how much energy I'm spending on the actual construction of my comics.
Public Education 3 has gotten off the printer and I'm reading through the proof copy tonight. The printer had a few problems on his end, but I have not had a hard release date for this (my third) book of the year. The dimensions of the book have gone a little smaller, but I'm saving a couple hundred dollars on the printing of volume 3 and that feels fantastic. I was also lucky enough to snag a pull quote from David Price from 11 O'Clock comics. This past year has felt like the first I've been able to start leveraging connections in the comic world into tangible benefits to the work, and that also feels really good.
I'm almost a third of the way through the pencils of Maps 3. The pencilling itself hasn't been too difficult, but I've been doing a fairly large amount of rewrites and edits from the layouts, and that slows down production on each page. With the amount of massaging to the pages Timothy will do during inks I don't have to worry about fully rendering much of anything. Instead my time is being spent on composition and the reading flow from panel to panel.
My skeletons work is erratic at best. I normally pound out several weeks worth of material, build up my back log of strips, and then leave it alone for a couple weeks. I don't think this will be too problematic so long as I always do more in my on times than I take weeks off. It's nice to be able to focus on Maps predominately as my webcomics roll along at a leisurely workload.
I also think I may purchase a table for the Tidewater Comic Con. This convention is super super close and the table prices seem reasonable. If we can do as well in Virginia as we did Indiana we could even turn a profit on the trip. I don't think we'll sell as many books without a panel to help introduce people to the work, but it would be nice to have an additional con to try and work out the table before next year at Appleseed.
I'm working through the PE book, and still churning away at skeletons. Today I want to talk about the brick wall I've hit as I started pencilling the next book in MAPS. Character design is crucially important for having your characters recognizable and establishing the tone and nature of your world. As I got to page 2 I realized I did not have a good idea for how the people in the next universe dressed. I knew they'd be ninja esque, but I wasn't going to use the stereotypical black mask and catsuit that I'd shorthanded the characters with in my layouts.
I've been watching some old 50's and 60's kung fu movies to think about my storytelling but for the character designs I began by image searching some outfits from feudal Japan. Robes, swords, layers, pulled back hair, sweet flip flops...I sketched out several guys and picked and chose the more iconic parts of their wardrobe to get some idea for how to set the tone of the universe.
I talked over these sketches with Timothy and we both agreed they needed to be altered significantly to help make our new universe feel unique and alien. These guys need to be light on their feet, they need to be able to soar through the air. We began to talk about base jumpers and the wind suits those guys use. I started thinking about the masks/visors from the Shinobi games or Gatchaman. This is a little more unique, though not actualized yet. I'd say these designs are about halfway to where I want to be.
I've leaned up the character a little bit which strikes me as a lot more 'ninja'. Added a few little design flourishes to start jazzing them up. Trimmed down the billowing of the cape/drag suit. I want to expand off of this sort of direction. Work on the helmet/visor on a structural level. Then it'll be another round of action shots with the new design and I can finally get back to those pages on MAPS.
What makes good art? What makes my art worthwhile? This is what I've been mulling over the past week. I find it important to keep making comics, but can I create something worthwhile to my audience? Can I create something that contributes to my culture's voice?
I often joke about my most popular work being comprised of stick figures. What makes Public Education a worthwhile endeavor when everyone (theoretically) can draw stick figure children talking.
I think it boils down to authenticity and story telling. Humans, even those not trained in art critique, have a keen eye and hypersensitivity toward bullcrap. We are acutely aware when something is generated for commercial value, and when it is created from the heart. It shines through in subject matter, linework, and voice of the characters. If any aspect of the work rings false, our alarms sound off and flags are raised. I've always tried to create the comics I care about and I think that is paramount. Even when working on a project like 'skeletons' that may not appeal to anyone outside my own personal sphere of influence, I have to always create something that means something to me. Every work has to be important to me. If I don't care about a project, I can never expect my audience to care about what I'm doing.
Storytelling is paramount in comics. Something can be drawn crudely or ornately, but if the reader doesn't understand what is going on in the pictures I've failed spectacularly. I think this skill comes from years of honing ones craft, regardless of rendering style. To make a successful comic, one has to understand the pacing involved in panel layouts. One has to understand the job of gutters, and the danger of tangents, and how to pull a reader's focus across the page in the direction you intend it to be read. While I became aware of these pitfalls through reading portfolio critiques by Wally Wood, or dissertations by Scott McCloud, I couldn't get better at working through these problems without drawing my own comics. Not just drawing comics, but drawing hundreds and hundreds of pages of comics. Study makes me aware of the problems and fixing those mistakes in my own work helps me learn how to correct these areas. It's a process, as is everything in life.
My hope is that by remaining aware and current on what professionals have learned in the medium, and by staying vigilant in my own work, that I can somehow transcend my own limitations in drawing and create comics that are genuine and worthwhile. I may never ink a line as precisely as Jeff Smith, I may never touch on themes as transcendent as Larry Marder, but I can be me-better than anyone else. As long as I know I have something to say, there will be someone out there that wants to hear it. That is, in my opinion, the true beauty of art.
Well, I haven't held to my newfound schedule perfectly but I do think my productivity is increasing. I'm now over halfway through with skeletons. The Public Education book is organized and I can begin formatting for pages. Maps 3 has been laid out and I'm waiting for a review and ok to progress into the pencilling from Timothy.
It's always easy to get down on yourself for not doing more, but I'm trying to be ok with moving in the right direction. I'm making steady progress, and I need to be fine with that. I can't finish all my projects at once. It's a process. I know I'll feel a lot better once the Public Education strips are formatted into pages.
On a wholly positive note I've been having a blast working on skeletons this week. I love that strip.
Heroes has lit a fire under my rear and I'm hitting my comic work this week with a newfound ferocity. I've established a clear cut schedule for the summer and I should be able to make tremendous leaps forward in my productivity if I can hold up to my plans.
Public Education has all of the comic work completed for volume 3, and I'll be spending one day a week working on assembling and formatting the new book. I talked with a few big name fans of the book at Heroes Con, and I'm hoping to get a pull quote or two for the back of the new book. Up first for today is sorting through the 300+ strips and figuring out which are my top 180. The assembling of P.E. will start at 3 days a week until the book is at the printer.
Maps 3 will also be on a 3 day a week schedule. I've finished two thirds of the initial layouts and think I should be able to wrap those up and move into edits in a fairly timely manner. I'm hoping to get to the pencils early in the summer so that I can get a good head start on wrapping my work on Maps 3 before the years end.
Skeletons will be getting one day a week until I get to the printing phases of P.E. 3, then those two projects will switch in focus. I'll have much less to do on P.E. later this summer, which means I can really make some headway into finishing up skeletons. If everything goes ideally I could potentially have my work on skeletons finished up this summer and have plenty of time to think about the printing before the project has finished online. Special thanks to Sarah for the pep talk at dinner this weekend to remind me the importance of finishing work that's important to me.
Our first con behind a table can only be described as an overwhelming success.
We survived cancelled flights, broke down cars, torrential downpours, and 16 hours in a car both ways. Appleseed was a cartoonist trial by fire.
We learned a lot about selling books at the table but it was certainly through mistakes. I need to say that John Dudley is a master salesman, it was a wonder to behold the way he peddaled Packs of the Low Country. It doesn't hurt that the book looks great, but a con floor is all about how you present yourself. Next time I think we're going to offer free sketches to kids. We pulled in a lot more eyes when we offered free prints the second day. There also has to be better ways to organize the table, though I'm still unsure of how to capitalize on that. I had a great conversation with Jim Rugg about this very issue.
We had a lot of interactions with top talent all weekend, and it was great to finally meet a lot of fellow Low Concept anthologists. Our table was right beside Jon Westhoff of King Bone Press, and the aforemetioned John Dudley and Don Cardenas. It's really nice to have tables beside friends that could help each other sell a book or make a lunch run.
The coolest thing about the con was seeing all the great guys I've been working with over the past few years on comics. But right behind that is how working the table, being behind the scenes a little bit, really legitimized my cartooning in my own head. For the first time I didn't feel like a teacher doodling sketches in his room, I felt like a cartoonist. And that has been a truly overwhelming experience.
It was a great kick off for Maps 2. Be sure to pick it up from our store.
I'm pretty happy and excited about where I am with the comics right now. When the Warlock is a good project, and the people that have seen it are complimentary. Maps 2 looks fantastic and the proof will be finished soon. I'm getting really excited for Appleseed and it's awesome that Timothy and I have acquired a panel to go along with our table.
I've been giving a lot of thought to our panel, which will feature Timothy and myself along with one or two special guests. I thought it'd be smart to write down some of my spitball ideas.
- How long have you been making comics? What got you into making comics initially? When did you get serious about cartooning?
- How cognizant of your target audience are you when crafting a product? Do you tailor your advertising to those markets?
- How much time do you devote to comics a day/week? What motivates you to keep on the grind?
- Inspiration? Other comics? Other mediums? How does the entertainment you consume warp the products you make?
- Advice to other cartoonists, advice to yourself?
- Pimp books and tables.
I'm not sure how many more questions I'll need between the four of us. I imagine we'll be able to bounce conversation off of each other indefinitely, but if there is anything that teaching has taught me, it's that you always want to be over prepared than under.
When the Warlock is up for sale.
Maps 2 Kickstarter has begun.
Public Education and skeletons roll on uninterrupted.
Maps 3 layouts are in progress as well as the plotting of my work for Avant Garde.
It's a lot of work that goes into keeping Strips4 running. I've been pretty remiss about advertising Warlock, and that's dumb. I want to push it hard for Appleseed Con, but that's no excuse on how little I've been out in public with the book.
I'm really fretting over my original art piece for the Kickstarter campaign. I was worried about my art costing the same amount as Timothy or Harry Moyer's anyway. Now that the incentive has already been purchased the stress weighs on me even more heavily. I've got one finished version already, but it's not where the piece should be. Sarah gave me some good pointers as I was sketching out revised versions of the piece last night. I'm not going to sell subpar work, I just hope I can get a picture drawn that I'm happy with before too many completed drafts.
Public Education has continued to climb it's way to the next summer when I'll start putting together Volume 3. This year, it's been harder to get my strips done over the course of the week. I've been spending a lot of Saturdays and Sundays working on the entirety of the PE strips, rather than just scanning them in like I had been able to.
The future projects are pressing on my mind, but have taken a back burner the past week. I have to make sure everything is ready for Appleseed in May. Then the new work can take the brunt of my time.
Well my short project is finally in print and available for sale after eight quick months. It feels good to have another work completed but I've been pretty slack about getting word out and advertising in general. I probably should have, and could have gotten some spots on friends podcasts to help promote the title, and yet I've just been plugging away at comics very quietly and trying to juggle my life around continuing to get comic work out there and improving.
The books themselves turned out beautiful and I will continue to use Keness for future projects. They were great about questions and helping me get the book off the ground. I really appreciate that after working with some of the 'bigger' print on demand services. There's tons of product out there so be sure to get your book at our store.
The next month leading up to Appleseed will be devoted to the looming MAPS kickstarter and finishing up the last bits of production on that title. It looks to be amazing and I'm really proud of how our series is progressing. I'd like to keep working on MAPS 3, but I'll probably be working more on art for title pages and prints for the second volume for the immediate future.
I've sent the final approval on the printing of When the Warlock and that feels great. I think that the project is really cool and I'm eager to see other people's responses to it. I'm not sure if that'll go on sale prior to Appleseed Con or not. I'm leaning toward starting the sales early though. Spacing out our releases a little bit. I'll have three books completed this year and I'd like to have them as equally distributed as possible.
I also have been hard at work on Maps. Book 2 is nearing it's end and I've gone through my first run through on edits. Not even half as many corrections as I had on Warlock, which I think is pretty incredible. I've also completed the page by page spine of Maps 3 and have begun the layouts for our future installment. I don't know how Timothy feels, but I think it's exciting to be in the last phases of one Maps while in the the first phases of the next.
The draft of When the Warlock has been approved by the printer and sent out. Public Education is rolling along without a hitch. I'm keeping up on my skeletons production and updates. So what's new in the land of Strips4 comics?
Well, the spine of Maps 3 is much more fleshed out. I came to Timothy this weekend with the basic plot progression and we bounced ideas back and forth until we hammered down more of the specifics and figured out a lot of the world building and character motivations. I'm now very excited, and feel like we're going to keep escalating. Each Maps should be the best Maps yet and I'm confident that we're going to keep that level of progress going.
This week has seen a lot of work on publishing When the Warlock. I have to give props to Keness.com They have been really super to work with, and I'm excited to see the print quality of their products. They could end up saving me worlds on printing, as they're rates are far better than Lulu and even Kablam.
I've also begun the spining for MAPS 3, this may seem a bit premature as Timothy is still finishing up the colors on MAPS 2, but I think I want the story written and start the pencils/layouts as quickly as possible. Two years is a long time for kids to wait for each new iteration, and I want to help expedite the process in any way possible.
Public Education and skeletons keep chugging along like clockwork, and I've now got two ideas for the second Avant Garde, which isn't releasing until late December. Lots of projects in the works but I'm constantly moving forward. It's the cartoonists way.
I've been grossly negligent of the Comic Curve lately. Public Education and skeletons keeps rolling along without a hitch, I'm keeping a weekly schedule of 3 P.E. strips and 3 skeletons panels, this keeps me ahead on Public Ed and on pace with skeletons.
I've completed the third round of edits on When the Warlock and we're going to try out a new printer. I need to send the files to the new printer, but all the work is done. I'm hoping to get this sent off later today, before life comes around and gets in the way again.
It shouldn't be too much work, I've just got to ZIP some PDFs and pay for the product. Not too much left to do, and it's nice to have a big window on completion before Appleseed. We're going to be cutting it super close on getting Maps 2 done before the convention.
The past week has been devoted to fixing up the draft print of When the Warlock. As I stated previously the pencils scanned in far lighter than the ink for the word balloons and it was pulling several people out of the experience. Figuring out how to change the balance on parts of the page and not others took some working around, but I think I've finally cracked it.
Some of my problem was that I'm a very sloppy photoshopper. As Timothy described it, I wasn't so much using technology effectively as I was making a collage on the computer. Things were covered over instead of cleaned up, scans were inconsistent, remnants of drafts were buried under layers of final copies. In short, it was a mess. Here's how I (hopefully) fixed it.
First I went into the original photoshop files and merged all the visible layers. This cuts down on my options to move individual objects but it also ensures that when somethings moved I don't have other things peeking out from underneath them. Next I selected a color range, only grabbing the darker blacks on each page and copying that selection. This grabbed all the lines I wanted, and left most of the smudges behind. I would paste that selection onto a fresh pre page and then darken the pencils and balloons with the levels adjustment. This still left a fair amount of disparity between the pencils and balloons even though the pencils were darker. To fix this I duplicated the new layer three times to stack the pencils. This darkened the pencils significantly without really altering the black in the inks at all.
Today I'm turning all these new pages into JPEGs to get ready to send to the printer again for a new trial. I've got my fingers crossed that these turn out a lot better.
I was looking through some old paintings yesterday and having a blast, it made me think I should take a trip through my old sketchbooks and post a few of the gems I found.
This was one of the first sketches where I started to become cognizant of proportions. No character looks too far out of whack on their own, but together they don't work very well. I made the horse extremely small and that's where the dialogue came in. I like the cowboys face a lot, and I did fairly well with the anatomy of the horse.
2011's pick shows the professor from my first couple entries into the Low Concept anthologies. I'm playing with optical illusions on the page as well which was also for the aforementioned stories. Gad and Zoar were some of the earliest character ideas playing with what skeletons would become. We see more practice with anatomy and a little sound effect exploration. I also have a moderately realistic depiction of my friend Joshua. I don't play too much with 'realism' and when I do I go very open line minimalistic.
2012, more open line, I think I did a good job with keeping her in perspective. Especially for sitting and having multiple arms. The scan doesn't bring out a lot of the patterns on the cloth and headdress, but I also put a fair amount of work into the design of the clothing.
Later in 2012, this takes another seated person and renders him in inks instead of pencils. Far less clothing and much more impressionistic. I really like this sketch a lot. I think it's very well balanced and the simplicity of his tree shadow is poetic in a way.
My choice for 2013 keeps the open areas and sense of balance of the one previous. No people in this one. The tree is rendered very much as symbols and iconography. The ukelele is more naturalistic, but the perspective doesn't really work very well. I remember working on the neck of the instrument a lot, but it just never fully came together.
The last entry was doodled last night. I'm playing with icons again with the dragon and eye. I like the little creature I drew last night. He's not planned for any project, but I think I may keep him around awhile. I'm still playing within a very open line style, but there are variances in line weight to start hinting at lighting and the sparse stray hairs and liver spots make the character look unique without being cluttered. I'm most proud of how emotive his eyes and tail are. This guy is so bummed.