Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Process and Stuff

So lately--as in the past like 2 years--I've been working on this graphic novel project. Instead of sitting down and just practicing drawing until I was "good" enough ("good" being highly subjective and unattainable), I decided I'd just go ahead and work on the damn thing and get better through the actual process of doing. 

For this project from hell, Mr. Walter, I had decided to try a few new steps in the process--taking a more traditional route. Unfortunately, each step has major issues for me, but I'm learning.

First, I skip the script because you know what? I already wrote most of this story as a novel like 10 years ago and it was terrible and I don't even want to think about it, so I'm just gonna jump straight to thumbnails and stick figures.

I drew/wrote over 400 pages of the story like this:

Once I finished the main narrative arc for this first part of the story (400 pages and the damn thing ain't even done) I went over the whole thing with a ballpoint pen so I could scan the mess and send it to my friend and my little sister to see what they thought.

Long story short, they enjoyed it. (My friend actually preferred the stick figure comic over anything else and wanted me to publish that and I may have to kill her.) 

Once I got the okay, I took out the old trusty 5.5in x 8.5in Canson sketchbook (a horrendous mistake because the pages are hellaciously tiny and it's really hard to draw a comic that small) and sketched the pages in blue pencil.

They look like this:

What's nice about using blue pencil is that you don't have to erase. I've ruined too many perfectly good ink jobs by erasing. (Sometimes I wouldn't let the ink dry and it would smudge everywhere; sometimes I would end up accidentally removing the ink entirely.) 

What I hate about blue pencils (even fancy blue mechanical pencil lead) is that they're waxy as hell. It's a pain to erase, hard to see, and smudges annoyingly. At least with regular pencil lead, I felt I had more control. 

After the blue is down, I go over the whole smudgy, ugly mess with ink. I used to use Micron pens but I tend to break their nibs so I dabbled in Faber-Castell's PITT pens and Prismacolor and ultimately settled on Copic because I like being able to refill ink and replace nibs myself.

So this is a page with ink:

Once the inking is done, I scan the business on my cranky, cheap ass scanner at 600dpi in black and white because I'm lazy and I don't like cleaning up the pages more than I have to.

Now this is where I found myself stuck for a long time. My original ink drawing is quite... well, plain? I'm scared of black, so the pages feel off, like they need color or some kind of balance in the line work. Since I don't use brushes, the line weight generally looks and feels the same all over.

I tried to add color digitally to a few pages to see what that would do:

But I didn't quite like it. I didn't hate it, but it still felt off.

So I tried adding texture, tried coloring in watercolors and colored pencils, but I really have a terrible sense of color theory and aesthetic and it just looked like shit no matter what I did.

In the end, I decided--at the urging of my brother--to go monochromatic and I got some gray Copic markers and decided to try out a tactic I'd seen some illustrators use.

Basically, I took the original inked page, taped it to my mini-lightbox, covered that with Bristol board, and used the gray Copic markers to shade and highlight. After I added the tints, I scanned the Bristol and used my trusty to add the grays to the original drawing as a background layer.

The grays look like this when I scan them:

And then it looks like this when I put them together:

It's... okay? I kinda like it. Better than the colors anyway, but that's just me. I'm still trying out new techniques here and there, but considering the scope and length of this crazy project (and the million more coming after it) I figure this is a good way to go.

Lastly, once these images are all scanned in and overlapped and whatnot, I go in and change the damn font of the stupid text because my handwriting is shit.

And there you go. A process. Not a good one, not the best one, but it works...? 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Well Hello Again

I've completely neglected this blog. Ever since I moved over to tumblr with goofier comics and subsequently fell into a social media blues pit, I just haven't felt the need to write anything worth reading that wasn't some project or another. Even posting random stuff on Facebook bums me out.

"Social" has never been an adjective used to describe me. "Chatty," maybe, or "overly talkative" when I'm rambling about something exciting, like comics or whatever, but if there's anyone who intensely avoids social gatherings outside of class, work, or extremely close friends/family--to the point where you have to physically drag or bribe me to attend--it's me.

For a long time, I felt comfortable rambling on about nothing on the internet because I was a nobody. Who the hell reads my blogs or sees my comics except family and friends and the occasional random guy from Russia? Shit's harmless. I never really thought of having an audience other than myself.

Quite simply, I saw social media as a place where I could talk to myself and sometimes other people could see it. It's like leaving your journal or sketchbook out in a public place while you get up and do something. Sure, someone can read it, but more than likely: no one cares. You're nobody special. You might attract an eye or two, but no one's gonna snag your journal and wave it around, gather a crowd, and start a live reading. No one's gonna make a thousand photocopies of your sketch and send it to all their friends because, seriously, it's just a silly doodle.

Except, sometimes that scenario does happen. You post a thing on the internet at the right time and, hey, what d'ya know, your little baby is trending. Might even go semi-viral.

It's nothing to complain about, of course. And I'm certainly not complaining. It's nice having a lot of people see and like something I did. It's affirming. Bumps up the self esteem. Now I find it hard to say the old:"You're just saying it's good because you're my friends/family/cat/etc." I still say it, of course, but now it's expanded to: "Everyone's being too nice. This is trash." or "You like the joke/story, not the art." (As you can tell, I'm dreadful with compliments.)

Getting all those views and likes can make a person anxious, too, though. "Should I take advantage of this?" "What do I do now?" "Do I make more of the same thing?" "What if no one likes the next thing I do?" "Should I even care?"

Of course, my stuff has never reached Grumpy Cat or Pewdiepie level of viral-ness, just a few comics here and there that got a lot of likes and reblogs on tumblr. But what I'm talking about is at an even smaller scale. Just having a few kids stop me mid-drawing to ask me to make photocopies of my work so they can take it home is enough to send me into self-conscious fits. "Why would you want this? It's terrible!"

Just like going out with coworkers or classmates to some party or reception, my instinct when facing the attentions of a crowd (even a tiny crowd of only three or four strangers or invisible people on the internet) is to clam up, kidnap the nearest cat, and fit myself into a cupboard. My self-consciousness always dominates any sense of near-non-existent pride I have in my work and, if left unchecked, it does that stupid fusion-ha dance with my inner critic and I shutter away completely. Everything I create is shit. It's terrible. Not good enough. Instead of posting drawings or submitting written work all willy-nilly--as I did when I thought no one was looking--I'm back to working on my endless projects secretly, too afraid to show even acquaintances what I'm doing.

Social media can be daunting when you're not invisible. I love talking to myself, love making art and stories for myself, but when other people get involved it's like someone's watching you draw over your shoulder and, trust me, I've got some hyper-critical friends, there's nothing more harrowing (and irritating) than trying to casually draw and impress someone at the same time. (Initial sketches are always ugly. Always. Only magicians draw perfect the first time.)

Honestly, what's important is that I don't stop working. As long as I'm writing or drawing or coming up with ideas, then it's okay. When I find myself stuck on one project, I make myself quickly jump to another until an idea comes to me. It slows progress down, but it helps my mood. It's good to remind myself that I'm the primary audience, at least in the beginning. I can always make changes later. My only fear is that I'll get so overwhelmed with trying to make each project perfect that I'll never submit them, never attempt to get them published, and I'll have this massive collection of "unfinished" work that nobody will see because I think it's never good enough and I'm too nervous to hear what other people think.