Sunday, April 19, 2015

I'm not dead.

These are the pages for my sci-fantasy comic Hedra that I did this week (in various states of completeditude). 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Current Process

I have a fear of routine. There's something numbing about it. Walking the same way to work every day, you stop noticing anything about the walk. It disappears, in a day or two you won't even remember it. You'll only know it happened because it's what you always do. If you walk down a different side of the street, you suddenly notice new things. The walk becomes memorable.

And maybe because of this fear of routine, I've never found a method of comics that I stick with. Some people have a locked-down process, but mine has remained loose. In fact, it constantly changes. I don't work the way I did last year, and the way I worked last year was different from the way I worked the year before.

My current project, a space-fantasy called Hedra, is heavily focused on the design of the page. The goal is for an interesting page that forces the eye to go in different directions than it normally would. Each page is something of a puzzle. The plot is very simple, which allows the telling to be complex. My hope is that the book will be something of a riddle, perhaps confusing, but enjoyably so.

There is no written script, just a loose plot in my head. My documentable process begins with layouts on 3x5 notecards, which are small enough to let me keep the whole of the page in my head. A page will often go through a number of iterations.

After I've found a design for the page I like,  I work on 11x17 bristol.

For the straight lines I use Microns or Faber Castell PITT artist pens. For characters I'll use a Pentel brush pen. This page is heavy on the geometric, so there was almost no need for the brush pen.

I color the page in Photoshop. My intention is to self-publish this book with Risograph, so I've been working on trying to create a full color feeling with only two colors. I'm not sure why, but pink and blue have just felt right to me.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dot Dot Dot

I was recently asked how to create this cute little Zip-A-Tone dot effect using Photoshop. Here's a detailed guide. It's super easy!

A. You need to make sure the image mode is on Grayscale. 

B. Throw some grays down (you can also take a photo and blow it up to create some interesting effects).

C. Go to Filters, Pixelate, Color Halftone.

D. Fiddle with the pixel radius to get the right size dots. It depends on the dpi you are using and how big you want the dots to be. 

E. Presto!

You can create similar effects in color, but when you do that it gives you CMYK dots, and I kind of feel like you have less control. When I've been working in color, I've created the dots in grayscale first, and then switched to RGB or CMYK.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Buzz and The Boxer

The Boxer by Reinhard Kleist is an excellent comic that came out last year, yet it didn't seem to get much buzz. I don't know how one quantifies buzz, but looking at Amazon, The Boxer has three reviews. Andre the Giant by Box Brown has seventy-nine. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll has seventy-three. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki has fifty-five. I chose these books because they all came out last year.

And I can't help asking why those books were big, while The Boxer wasn't (at least in the U.S.)(it's won all kinds of awards in Europe).

And there are ton of possible reasons: web presence, luck, promotion, hustle on the part of the creator, connections, subject matter, etcetera, and etcetera.

But I think one reason might be that The Boxer's not particularly timely. There's nothing about this book that says, "This is comics now." The story and the art could have been written any time in the last thirty years. Kleist's artwork reminds me a lot of Will Eisner. His panels are a little more rigid, but his line work and his characters, though never as cartoony as Eisner, have a very similar quality. It looks a lot like A Contract with God, which came out in 1978.

This doesn't matter to me, but I feel like it does have an effect.

And I also think this is true with the story to some extent as well. A book like Andre the Giant touches on things that I remember. It hits that nostalgia button, while The Boxer takes place before my time. It's a story of my grandparent's generation, and there is less of direct connection.

Deep down I hope these things don't really. I hope this is just me being silly and overthinking it, but I worry.

Anyway, it's a great book, one of the most satisfying I've read in a while.

I love the brush dot heads in the rows of prisoners. It's so simple, yet so effective. There's such confidence in the artwork. It's art magic.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What Art Tells the Reader

In an interview on Hideous Energy back in November, Eleanor Davis said, "Any time something is drawn in kind of a realistic style, I just assume that it's mainstream." I find this interesting because it kind of gets at the heart of how I (and I think most readers) look at a comic.

Mainstream and indie can be kind of vague terms, but when I think mainstream, I think action-based stories, not necessarily superheroes, but probably some guns, some murders, and the possibility of being turned into a movie starring Bruce Willis or Mark Wahlberg. To me, indie means a little more thoughtful, more idiosyncratic, and murders and car chases are less likely.

Looking at the art, the reader makes a quick assessment of what kind of comic they are looking at: humorous, kid-friendly, spoof, mainstream, indie, YA, arty, diary, whatever. And then they decide whether it's the type of comic they want or not.

So there is an obligation for the artist to tell the reader what kind of comic they are holding in their hands. Mainstream art with an indie story is confusing. It misleads the reader.

This is something that I think about because I feel that my artwork falls somewhere in between mainstream and indie. I don't know that my art sends out the right signals. There's elements of both, and so the reader doesn't really know what they are looking at. The reader isn't misled by the art, it's more that they don't know what to make of it. And then they put the book back on the shelf.

I think the best artists are able to show you something you've never seen before but still let you know what kind of comic it is going to be. And all of this is done at a glance. I think Eleanor Davis is one of these artists. Another is Jesse Jacobs.

With the first panel of this page, you know what you are getting into. You know whether this is for you or not. The reader can pick it up with supreme confidence. I don't think anyone looks at this art and says, "I don't know."

This is an important quality for a comic to have because people want to go home with something that they are sure about. With Jesse Jacobs and Eleanor Davis, I saw their work, I knew I wanted it, and I couldn't wait to get home and pour over it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

In the First Ten Pages - Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

I remember in College reading Syd Field (or more accurately reading about Syd Field) and how he believed that you could tell whether you would like a movie within the first ten minutes. In those first ten minutes you will have seen enough to know. You'll have seen the cinematography, heard some dialogue, gotten an idea of what the story will be about. You could still be disappointed by the ending, but basically you'll know whether this movie is for you or not. I think the same thing is true for comics, and with Skim I knew within the first few pages that it was a book I liked.

It's presented in a diary format and the third page serves as a quick self-definition by the character, and what caught me is that favorite color. Immediately, I think it's funny, the scribbled out black, but I also think it captures being a teenager as well. As a child, favorite colors are a subject of some deliberation. For me, it was always a debate between green and blue. Or blue gray like the ocean. Or aquamarine which is kind of halfway between blue and green. As an adult, you may have a favorite color, and you may not, but it probably isn't something that you spend much time thinking about. Teenagers are in between, and so it seems as if that favorite color is written in somewhat ironically, Skim thinking it's kind of a silly thing to include, but still the answer is taken with some seriousness.

And scribbling out black and choosing red. It makes you think about what these colors mean and what they mean to a teenager. Black is dark and mysterious. Red... passion, energy, blood. Which one represents you? Which one do you want to represent you?

It's a small thing, but it suggests so much. It creates depth.

And that's strengthened by the drawing as well. The body language captures this self-consciousness. The way Skim is looking out almost feels as if she is looking to see if someone is looking at her. There's a cigarette in the other girl's hand. Is she checking to make sure they won't get caught? It's a look that has the worry of getting caught but also the hope of being seen.

And it's almost as if she's looking at the reader.

This is the third page of the book, and I've decided I like it. The story hasn't even kicked it in yet, but I've seen enough to know.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Wish Fulfillment and Oishinbo

I was introduced to Oishinbo (story by Tetsu Kariya and art by Akira Hanasaki) by Ayr Muir at Clover Food Labs, and it immediately sucked me in. It's funny, entertaining, and very informative. I suppose another part of the appeal is just the novelty of food being taken so seriously. The set up for most of the stories are the same, there is a conflict about a specific food, the right way to cook it, or the ingredients to be used, and in the end the argument is settled by the perfect meal. The structure is almost that of a sports comic, and the idea of one person getting up in another person's face and screaming about the proper way to prepare a cabbage is endlessly entertaining to me.

(read right to left)

But also for me there is a bit of wish fulfillment in this comic. American comics are often accused of being simple wish-fulfillment fantasies. Superman's appeal comes from a wish to fly. Comics are often viewed as simple escapism for people who are not satisfied with their own lives.

However, the wish fulfillment in Oishinbo is a little more subtle. The characters speak rapturously about food and get into such little nuances, and I wish I could do the same. I wish I could speak about how a miso soup made with hatcho miso makes the flavor of a turnip become lucid. Wouldn't it be great to note the difference in quality of fish based on the river it was caught in?

But in truth, I have no idea. There are few fish I can identify by sight, but not many, and in terms of identifying where they came from? By taste? Forget it.

It's a nice fantasy though.

(and I think it's a fantasy a lot of people have because there are a lot of faux-foodies out there who go on and on about how much they love food and how important food is to them, but then you eat their cooking and they can't even tell that their potatoes haven't been cooked all the way through, and you just have to smile and suffer through it, I mean really)