Friday, April 1, 2011


Real stuff getting posted to the internet on April Fools Day. How strange.

These past few weeks, while I've been posting process stuff, I've also been preparing a proposal for the Xeric Grant. It shipped out on the deadline yesterday, and it was an enormous undertaking. The proposal itself was a joint effort between myself and my oldest friend, designer extraordinaire Michelle Sukle, and I feel we put together a very good proposal. We won't know until middle of June, but I'm proud of what we accomplished regardless of the outcome.

I think anyone who is doing their own graphic novel should put together everything the Xeric asks for, regardless of whether or not they feel like they have a real shot at it. It forces you to answer the questions you may have been putting off or working around, and to mentally get a complete handle on the project. Writing the Statement of Purpose alone was enormously helpful when making my first pass on the script, and needing printing quotes forced me to finalize a page count and decide which ideas I could keep and which ones needed to be edited out. A lot got edited out honestly...this book needs to get done. Not every good idea I have needs to happen right now.

Where do we go now?

When I started this project in earnest six months ago and when I wanted everything done by March 15th- I don't think the book is running late as much as I didn't really understand how much work was involved. The time that has been involved in writing a full draft of the script, thumbnailing through the end of the book, preparing a final page count was something I hilariously enough thought would be easy. Of course, a Xeric proposal also includes a lot of the business end of the business and a ton of research.

I'm happy with the process I outlined, as far as the pencil-ink-grayscale workflow goes. The writing method will get seriously revamped for a future project. I haven't penciled and inked in the last two weeks, but mentally the project is much farther now. I'm exploring my options on lettering for this project, and I'll have to have that resolved before I know a new completion date. Progress is good though.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Process, Part 4- Grayscale and the Great Beyond

Okay kids, inks are laid out in InDesign. Unfortunately, right now the panels all kind of look like hell. Now it's time to get the final art done. Or in the example above, Karda needs to do his best impression of Longshot.

Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Photoshop

My scanner kinda blows. It'll pick up detail until the cows come home, but God help it it can't scan anything thats actually black. I have a theory it's racist. (On an aside, it can't even remotely scan color right either. If I ever do a painted comic like I want to, my first step will be throwing this thing off the roof of my building)

I scan everything in in grayscale, which the scanner can handle, and manually adjust everything with Curves. In my youth I used Levels, until everyone I knew yelled at me about it, and I can now admit they were right. This is also where I make my corrections. Sometimes it's not just a little whiteout either. I also can use this step to fix certain miscalculations, such as Issalai's mouth below, which now matches how I inked it in the rest of the chapter.

I want Benthic to be atmospheric, so I actually go out of my way to do different things at the grayscale stage. Different brushes, different methods of compiling, etc. If I don't keep this stage fresh I find it painfully boring. There are much better Photoshop tutorials floating around the internet if you're really into it...the truth is with Photoshop, I'm good but I'm not great. There are a few key things I usually do.

I usually use two or three different layers, all set to Multiply. Unless I'm intentionally going for a graphic effect, I usually set the opacity on my brushes pretty far down. Shape Dynamics being on is an absolute must, and Other Dynamics is usually on too. There are also sections where I kinda whore out gradients. I usually make one, copy the layer and then erase out whatever is in the foreground, and then make lots of copies of the background gradient and/or unifying gradient until I get it where I want.

Once the grayscayle image is good, I now switch it CMYK. Theres the correct way, and my way.

The correct way to do this is probably to keep source files of the grayscale, flatten the image at conversion and save a separate CMYK file; but InDesign is tied to the original file name and tha'ts where I figured out how and where I wanted everything cropped to begin with.. The only way I figure to get around this without manually relinking everything is making secondary source backups, storing them elsewhere, later renaming them, and making the original file names the flat versions. Fuck. That. I'm too busy as it is. Working in CMYK has its own host of issues I'm not dealing with either.

I just don't flatten the image, and re-tweak it once its CMYK. Yes it changes the images a bit (sometimes for the better, hooray!) but rarely is it earth shattering and almost never something I can't fix.


Which brings us to where I am now. These pages need text.

Remember back in Process 1, when we had less-bad dialogue? Now it all needs fixed before it can go on the page, and here's where I REALLY screwed myself. Whatever changes I make to the dialogue still has to fit the now-complete art and the facial expressions, gestures, and space allowances made. This severely limits my options. From here out I'm not penciling anything that doesn't have dialogue unless said dialogue is someone else's problem and this is how they want to do it. Ever.

Oh right! Lettering. On the existing versions of Chapter 1 and 2, I did the text bubbles in Illustrator, dropped in each bubble as a separate file, and set the text over it in InDesign again. Needlessly complicated with the added bonus that I'm rusty as hell in Illustrator. Right now, after much discussion with people I trust, the smart move with this process is to do all the lettering in InDesign itself with the pen tool and pathfinder. I've never done it before, so we'll see how it works out when the script revisions are finished and I start lettering.

The final book layout, before it goes to printing, is pretty easy to dial in since everything is already in InDesign anyway.

That's all I know and I'll I've got. I'll post some reflections, and some material and technique stuff next week.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Process, Part 3 - Sex, Drugs, India Ink (and InDesign?)

Now we have a bunch on penciled pages. Since I'm finishing them myself, the pages are still a bit sketchy.

I'm planning on also doing a materials and techniques post in the next couple weeks, after I finish this series. I'll expand on inking quite a bit then, but I'll touch on a few things I'm currently using...


I start by taking a really good look at my pencils, which I now probably drew a few days ago, and seeing what bullshit I left myself for today. Sometimes I see the line I had intended to use when I'm drawing it, and now that I'm out of the moment I'm not sure what I had in mind. I make my fixes with the HB pencil.

I ink in multiple passes over sets of three or four pages at once. I start with a very flexible dip pen, either a #108 crowquil or more recently, a Gillott 303. Often both. I find it easier to re-draw rather than kinda-trace with a pen than I do with a brush. I find strangely enough that if I start with a brush and ink sketchy pencils, I end up really messy inks. I usually have to make two passes over each page at this pen step to keep myself from smudging the the hell out of everything. Three passes if I had a martini for lunch.

Next I make the brush passes and build up my line variations, shade, spot blacks, etc. This is actually the bulk of the work, but it's in a two sentence paragraph; life is kinda like that sometimes.

I then do all the background detail work, which is where I'll use either the #102 crowquil or some of my preferred gel pens. Last, I'll make a effects passes like splatter, dry brush, ink wash, and any white ink that needs put down.

Unless its absolutely heinous or will be a mess to fix in Photoshop, I don't do any corrections at the inking stage. I actually tend to avoid corrections at all. Theres no surer way to let your inking take three times longer than it should by trying to tweak everything. Learn to let go. There's also nothing more frustrating than inking on a big blob of whatever white pigmentation you've just used, since it's probably going to look fucked up and need fixed in Photoshop anyway. I realize there are ways to do this, but I simply refuse to believe that any page going to Photoshop needs white out corrections.

I erase out as much pencil as I possibly can, except for the panel borders I'll need to see later, and get set up to scan.


Next I scan all my pages in sections, usually however many panels will fit on the scanner bed, and save them. In some cases I need to use photomerge, but I now try to design pages that won't (an increased panel count helps). I have a very rigid file naming system so I know what chapter, page, and panels are contained in each file.

I then place all these panel files into InDesign. I set them up on a full size 10 x 15 template I made, and as I drop in the panels I drag out rules to match my original panel borders so the design of the page doesn't change. I won't reduce the files to standard comic book size until the art is completely finished.

The beauty of InDesign is you can move around and zoom in and out of each image inside its panel box. I try to take care of all my tangents here, and tweak any strange crops I had. The other beauty of having all those panels separate is they're saved as separate files. As separate files,you can expand an image in a direction in the file that on paper would have been on top of another panel. It's rare I need to do much of this, but it has come in handy at times. You can also move panels around, so if you want to switch the order of the panels you have options.

I scan and layout an entire chapter in about 6-8 hours, and then I'm ready to finish the images up. Next week we'll open up Photoshop and make this all look presentable.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Process, Part 2- Pencils Mean Never Having To Say You're Sorry

So our thumbnails are done and we're ready to, you know, draw the fucking thing.

I want to preface this by saying I spent a year of college, and numerous times during my furniture building career, trying to figure out some kind of shortcut to combine the penciling and thumbnailing process. Artographs. Scanning and printing. Drawing the panels on separate sheets of paper and putting them together in Photoshop. I wanted to beat the system. I was so damn smart wasn't I? No. No I most certainly wasn't. I have a secret for you. Here it is.

The best penciling process is to take a sheet, mark it out 10 x 15, and draw it right the first time. Thats it. The best process is not sucking. My process is working towards that.


Penciling is the only step I give myself an entire day to do, because it takes a different frame of mind. One of the things I discovered doing administrative work was that I'm not much of a multi-tasker. I work much better focused, I suspect I'm not the only one, and I do wish actually paying attention to what's being done and getting it finished sounded better in job interviews.

When drawing, if my focus is on the story and the best way to convey it, that extra thought will come through on the page. Comics is a lot more about drawing how you feel about whats going on than it is just showing whats happening.

I like to pencil when I'm feeling like I'm at the top of my game. I sleep in as late as I need to and get up when I feel rested. I make coffee and open up all the reference and "mood board" kind of stuff I have set aside to look over while I have breakfast. I stretch, work out, take my shower, and make sure I'm feeling good. Then I put on music and draw all day. I don't text/e-mail/Facebook/Twitter and with very few exceptions, I don't answer my phone or check voicemail. I break to eat, and sometimes I'll catch something on Hulu over dinner. These are good days.


I have four magnetic boards on my wall. I can fit four pages on each one- but I usually do 11-12 pages at a time. I touched on the volume subject early in this project, and it's a good system. Also, I like having the board behind the computer open for any reference (usually pages from previous issues) as well as my To-Do list and random stuff.

When penciling a set of pages like this, I tend to bounce around once my panel borders are sketched in, usually depending on whether I feel like drawing backgrounds or people. Sometimes if I want a page in particular done and over with, I'll set a timer and finish the page before it goes off. I personally find a timer to be one of my most useful tools if I'm getting distracted or having trouble figuring out a panel.

My pencils on Benthic have been reasonably loose since I'm inking everything myself. If something gets to be messy and I don't feel confident inking it, I pull out the lines I want with a darker pencil. I draw in 2H, so even an HB can be pretty effective for seeing something I may miss at a later step.

The Process, Part 1- Ideas Before Pencils

There are always three ways to do something; The right way, the wrong way, and your way.

There's plenty of information out there on this subject that is technical and direct. Screw that. This is how an actual crazy artist, early in his career, tackles the monumental task of a graphic novel. This week is Part 1, so let's get started.

The writing process starts with two-part insanity.

Part 1- Zoning Out. Making coffee, in the shower, goofing off online, and otherwise doing something mundane...and then losing complete track of what I'm doing as something plays out in my head. This is a technique I perfected years ago while tuning out everything my ex-girlfriend said.

Part 2- Stream of consciousness writing. Once I have the tertiary ideas for characters and scenes from zoning out all the time, I sit down with a notebook and basically write out a conversation to myself. I don't edit, I don't erase, and I write out what I like or don't like about what I just wrote. I doodle. Essentially I'm taking a runaway train of thought, and I start pushing behind it. Speaking of trains, I do most of this on the subway since I have time to kill. If anyone ever reads through that notebook, men with butterfly nets will be hauling me off within the hour.

Maybe I shouldn't have shown you that. Again.

I work the story out by breaking down the book into chapters, then I write/blather out the chapters scene by scene. Set design ideas, character motivations, dialogue rough drafts. Eventually I will read over what I just wrote for a chapter (which may or may not be an insane rant), figure out what needs to be in said scene for both narrative and pacing purposes; then assign each scene the number of pages I think they need to be. Once the page count starts, the rambling starts to take form.


The scene-to-page-count outline for a chapter is what I base my thumbnails off of. I have two kinds of thumbnails- the kind that are only for me (sketchy penciled messes) and the kind I want someone else to see (much clearer, ballpoint pen and sharpie). While I'm doing thumbnails in my sketchbook, I also have the notebook out, as I skim the ideas to keep them fresh. I write a rough draft for any dialogue I didn't already write a rough draft for. This dialogue will base where I'm leaving room for text, and who needs to be standing where to talk in what order. Also! This dialogue will be absolutely terrible. Oops! We'll come back to that later, and on the computer. Right now I'm sick to death of writing and am ready to start drawing.

Things like camera progression now need to be fit on top of whatever pages I envisioned for this scene, reveals need placed after the page turns, stuff like that. I thumbnail pages as spreads so I know how two pages will look together, and what the viewer will see at a given time. Design choices are being made. Admittedly I didn't think about this part of the design near as much when I started, so the more recent chapters I don't readily have online yet are better examples. If only I had minored in Graphic Design...

The thumbnail step is really still a writing step though, because it is where I set the visual pacing. In my mind, the book and the chapter both need to breathe. When space opens up, panels get cinematic. When spaces are tight and stressful, the panel count increases and stresses out the page. Action tends to get vertical. These are just generalizations, it varies scene to scene.

There are no hard and fast rules for me other than the basic page rules I set for myself; in Benthic all my vertical panels break evenly in sets of two, three, or four. I don't get over 8 panels a page. No splash pages. Any panel stacks, which are limited, are always stacked on the right, and always when the vertical break is in the center of the page for that row. I never change scene mid-page. In the future I think I'll break up this visual language project by project, but I do think it helps to set yourself parameters at the start.

Once the chapter is more or less thumbnailed (80% is good enough to get things going) I'm ready to pencil! So...I wait. I wait a couple days and work on another step of something else. I have enough to do that these ideas can ferment. I come back to it, and like grease, all the suck as risen to the top to be skimmed off. NOW I can start.

That's it for Part 1! Next week we'll hang 11 or 12 sheets of Bristol on the wall and get penciling.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Broad Strokes

2011 has been, thus far, a year of computer issues that I in no way have had time to lose for. I'm currently on Loaner Computer #2, my own computer may very well be dead-dead, and therefore the inking demo I was going to post today is going to happen next week.

I've found in the last few months working on your own really boils down to two things; routine and self-respect. Not really in that order, since it takes self-respect to stay on the routine. Being unemployed, broke, and facing setbacks left and right - that can be a tough thing to maintain. I admittedly did not start this with the same mental toughness that I've found this requires. Actually, I think its fair to say that any success requires mental toughness. And coffee.

I started working out again a week or so ago as well, and thats been an amazing help. 15 minutes a day very well spent.

Chapter 5 is inked and rescanned too, and will probably get grayscale this weekend or early next week.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

98 Pages but a Bitch Aint One

I'm wrapping up inking on Chapter 5 today with a large establishing shot of the underside of the floating city, and I'm meeting with a friend and client about an illustration gig that should pay for the supplies I need to finish the book.

I'm a fan of this short section on Page 97 here in pencil and wanted to post it. This two panel scene is inked now - I'm extremely happy with the bottom panel inks and not happy at all with the inks at top. I'm thinking it comes together with a little digital paint and grayscale though.

I keep giving Hinei more space in the book , and on the blog, as time goes on cause he's my favorite character. My brother used to talk about how stoners were the best at FPS games cause they stayed so calm when people were shooting at them, and I decided a stoner pilot would have the same advantage. I also had never seen what a stoner-samurai would look like and started drawing - and here we are.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Functional Computer Appreciation

I enjoy this "Whoa" panel.

I've been having major computer problems for the better part of a month now, which sadly has limited my recent blogging activities. After exhausting all my options, it seems the monitor on my laptop really is dead and now I have to rethink how I should best arrange a new computer setup. Unfortunately I have plenty of time for that one.

After years of drawing with a 2H pencil, I ran out of lead about a week ago and have been using HB instead. And the madness has to stop. I feel like I'm drawing with a charcoal briquette.

All my brushes have been thrashed for awhile and I've been in denial about it, but my inability to get a decent thin line out of them pushed me back into doing more pen work and I've rediscovered my love for the 108 crowquil nib.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Learning Experience

I've been working on Benthic is some form since high school, but in the context and confines of how the story is now- I've been working on it in earnest for about two years. The outline I've been working off of this entire time is probably a year and a half old, which has given me lots of time to have at least a vague idea of every scene in the back of my head.

A lot of those scenes were also extrapolated from old versions. There has been some kind of space-suit Tsaigen jailbreak scene for a decade.

Most of my focus had been on the first half, since it was in the foreseeable future, and upon completing Issue 3/Chapter 4 (pg 55-76) I realized there were some problems, thematically speaking, with the second half of the book. The continent-creation plot is what gives Karda's story context, but ultimately this is Karda's story. However, this had taken too large a back seat to a lot of the other things I had kept in the story.

I in no way have room in the schedule for simply adding major sections, so I had to make some additions and then restructure the page count. This took most of the Christmas to New Years stretch where snow had me stranded in Connecticut anyway, so I came back after the New Year and thought I would plow right through.

The major issue was that unlike everything before it, I had only really been thinking about pages 77-92, in any respect for about a week. Versus two years! Also, the setting of this issue is incredibly background heavy- possibly more than any other section of the book. I have done more fucking erasing in the past three weeks than I have in two months before it. I was mad about it at first. And at second.

However, its really changed my approach to new projects and has thus been a great learning experience. Unfortunately, inking on this issue will probably push into Feb., which leaves me 54 pages to do in 4-6 weeks. Is that realistic? 6 weeks is really pushing it, but I'm not the giving up type.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Iguana Life, Part 2

I've gotten pretty well acclimated to the work-from-home, always here thing. The Iguana Lifestyle.

I thought it was past time to share some bits of this life with the world. I also made a new banner for the blog, cause it was time.

- Winter is awesome when you don't have to go anywhere. Cause WOW it looks cold out there.

- No really, it's like I get to skip Winter. I just plan my shopping trips roughly based on The Weather Channel now. I might be inside for days, where it's stupidly warm. This radiator could heat my entire apartment on its own and I sit next to it, in one of those awesome Uniqlo smooth dry V-neck undershirts. I love these shirts so much. I would do a commercial for free. But I should not be hot anywhere on the northern hemisphere in January wearing this damn thing.

- The long war between my internal schedule, which I can now base a career on at whim, and the schedule of the world takes on an ugly new chapter. I know, for a fact now, that I work best going to bed around 5-6 AM and getting up at 1:00 PM. It's great for a few days, and then I go see the woman in my life (a half-day since I got up at 1:00) and she's ready for bed around 1:00 AM. Well, I'm warn out from working for days straight so I actually fall asleep. Then I get up at 8:00 AM when shes getting ready for work. This day is now fucked. The following day I'm kinda back on it, and by the time I really get it back, it gets busted again. I also tried going on a regular schedule, getting up at 9:30 and working somewhat regular hours, and it really wasn't productive at all. I'm trying to figure out a hybrid right now, and I'm hoping that my working life and my, you know, life start to sync better.

- I never know when to eat. Going to the kitchen is a super easy form of procrastination that I caught onto fairly early. I drink water as a nervous habit so I'm constantly back and forth, and every time I was in there I was looking around the kitchen wanting to eat. So I really control when I actually eat now, and sometimes this leads to eating waaaaaaaay too much at once. I'll think I'm saving myself having to break to eat later, but I think it's making me sluggish and kinda fat. I need to lose a few pounds now. I knew all those cookies would catch up with me sooner or later.

- Speaking of fat, I got completely addicted to those stupid CVS cookies for awhile. I would go over there, buy a box, bring it home and immediately eat the entire thing. Oh cookies, I can't have just one or five or more. I have to have them ALL. I kicked the cookies. I'm smoking more now but this is better.

Meanwhile, on the front lines; I'm so busy doing this. Holy shit. I think right now I can comfortably pencil, ink and grayscale 25 pages a month. But I wasn't that fast when I started this, at all, and I need to do quite a bit more than that now. That number needs to be at least 35, which is removing the "comfortably" portion of the description completely. I think a completion date sometime in March is still on the table but I'm not sure I can bring it in by the 15th. We're in for an interesting couple of months.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Drawing Before Drawing - Character Sketching

Inbetween writing and drawing there is a disjointed step where you know what you want to draw, and you know how you want to pace it, and how you want to show it...and somehow you're still stuck with questions about the details. It's like when you move and you have the final table of little random crap that you don't know what to box with what and it all ends up in a box together.

In this case, that one size box would be what I call the design stage. The truth is, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want and just need to refine the details well enough to draw it. I find myself doing all my concept design sketching the first day of a page block when I do thumbnails and layout, and then do pick-ups and clean-ups on those as I keep penciling. This keeps is kind of exciting to me while I'm actually drawing it.

The last issue (55-76), current issue (77-96) and even some of the next issue (98 -120) relies pretty heavily on the map that is tattooed on Karda's body. The map that somehow, I had always been implying rather than actually drawing and I had never sat down and figured out exactly what it was a map of and what it looked like. Easily one of the dumbest things ever. "The main character has a body tattoo of a map. Why should I know what it looks like?"

Posted above is the turnaround I did for the map. The great part about doing turnarounds for yourself is you can change the pose a little bit and be fine. Those arms down were blocking his sides and I wasn't down with drawing disembodied arms. Also, drawing this map is a lot of fun now that its not this thing I always feel like I need to avoid (though leaving it vague did seem to fit the story better back then).

Thankfully this stage is usually just drawing supporting characters and new places. Above are some of the concept work from the (33-54) issue. Again, I always have a pretty good idea of what I want out of a supporting character's look, and that step tends to go fast. On the main characters, I try to re use articles of clothing from earlier issues, both for continuity and for speed. It also makes me feel clever about something no one else gives a damn about but me. "Ah, and in this final scene...Karda will be wearing the sweater he wore two issues ago! I am so clever! IT ALL TIES BACK." The only main character who needs regular concept work is Issa, since she doesn't really reuse her wardrobe. I'm particular about how she should look scene to scene.

Also, Issa gets extra concept work because I like drawing hot curvy girls in dresses. There, I said it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Back in the Saddle

I finished up the grayscale for the most recent issue (55-76) today and decided I needed to come up for air. I've been bad at blogging lately. I'm pushing ahead hard now, as one of the main reasons I'm doing this project under these circumstances is to get faster. I'm easily twice as fast as I was six months ago, maybe even twice as fast as when I started. That may speak more to how slow I used to be, but I can say I penciled and inked 22 pages in three weeks, which should be more or less even with the industry standard.

My thoughts are I need to be faster than the industry standard.

I'm very happy with how this most recent issue is looking, and I'm very excited for the new one. I think I may start thumb nailing that now.