Podcasting and the Value of Intent

I’ve been hosting and editing most of the episodes of a little something called the Tres Komikeros podcast since late 2008 — cutting out stutters, non-PC comments, and the occasional five minutes of nonsensical rambling.  It’s a tough job.  It’s an often thankless job, but looking at how far the show has come and the friends we’ve made, I can honestly say it’s all been well worth it.

Last month, TK hit a noteworthy 100 episodes.  Over the span of four years, we’ve grown from a small crew of just me, a kind and bright-eyed artist from Cebu; Alex Cipriano, a relentless comics and gaming fan and one of my closest friends, and EJ Afzelius; a writer/model double-agent based in Manila — to a man-sized serving that includes Miguel Santos, a hotel manager from Davao; and finally Nick Santos (no relation), a film school graduate also based in Cebu.  We are by no means the only comics-related podcast in the Philippines, but I can say with a stout heart that we are certainly the most prolific (for the lowest price consistent with quality).  From reviews to interviews to topic discussions and the like, the podcast has come a long way and, surprisingly, taught me a lot about art.  Specifically, the appreciation of it.

See… when you’re reviewing stacks of comics every week, the temptation to just compare them to each other or to something that came before is certainly present.  And while that can sometimes count as a valid review, it isn’t always a fair one.  All art is subjective after all, and are products of unique individuals with unique weaknesses and strengths.  Thus the act of compare and contrast to “review” their work is in itself a flawed practice.  Doing so not only opens you up to bias, because we all have our favorites, but it also has the potential to hurt feelings.  That may sound like a non-issue to most, but when you’re lucky enough (as we on the show are) to know some of these creators personally, the ice on Critic’s Creek can get surprisingly thin.

So the solution, though it may not come naturally to most, is to critique a piece of work according to what you feel the artist intended to do.  The focus on intent helps get you to the heart of the matter.  What is this story trying to tell you?  Are the characters, setting, dialogue and other elements contributing to a perceived tone?  Does the art do its job?  Does the story get communicated?  Is there even a story there, or is the artist just intending to have fun?  And the line of questioning goes on, because suddenly you’re judging a book on its sole merits rather than the cavalcade of books that came before.

Being mindful of intent helps one grow as both a reviewer and a creator.  And I find it’s helping me focus on the task at hand, which at the end of the day, is attempting to show people something they’ve never seen before.  Less historians, more pioneers.

Let’s all go read some comics.


Voices Carry

So I’m rereading a couple of my own scripts and obsessing over scenes that have a weak flow.  Without any formal training to speak of, one tends to learn to write comics from reading comics.  That being said, the 22-page format isn’t always conducive to lengthy scenes that wrap up nicely.  Movies have the swell, fade, or abrupt end of a piece of music to assist in the leading of one scene into another.  Comics obviously don’t have that going for it.

The thing is though, I’ve gone from riverbottom scum to riverbank fungus… writing skill-wise, and am now paying better attention to the duality of the comics medium.  Picture and Text.  Image and Thought.  It should be very obvious really, but I’m not exactly the easiest person to teach things to.  Especially when the teacher is me.

Sequential storytelling will kick the story forward with images.  It’s the first thing that hits you because it’s passively consumed.  You can’t help but see a picture.  But when scenes are just strung together (my scenes anyway) with just the images advancing the narrative, the story feels jittery and choppy.  I’m learning these days that while the text obviously carries dialogue and exposition, it is also the strongest tool in scene transition.  A speaker’s words can carry over into the next scene even if he is not present in that scene, creating a sense of continuity.  It sounds simple enough, but it’s surprisingly difficult to pull off.

From Remender's Uncanny X-Force

As for how the spillover text relates to the new scene, that’s a whole other thing entirely.  It can act as a simple throughline connecting the most trivial of story elements together, or it can be a foreshadowing narrative.  It’s all depends on how it’s used.  But one thing’s for certain today… Scene Transition:  A skill definitely worth developing.


Creating art as a profession teaches you things.  There’s a big difference between drawing for yourself, for fun, for art’s sake… and drawing to pay the rent, to feed yourself, and to keep the lights on.  It’s a job.  And while this distinction is clear to a precious few whom I love and respect immensely, I figured it’d be peachy to lay down a grocery list of the most common misconceptions that most people have about artists.

#1 Artists are proud of everything they create. Nope.  More often that not, we are painfully aware of how a piece could have been better, even when our peers compliment us or at least gently bend us over.  We know we can be better.  And while most of us can take constructive criticism like normal people, also keep in mind that no one sits at a desk, whips out his art equipment, and intentionally tries to suck.

#2 Artists are insulted by reference material. No way.  There may be a handful of artists who scoff at drawing from reference, but the majority appreciate it and tend to consider it a genuine effort to make our job easier, may you be a collaborating writer or even just a fan commissioning a piece.  Nah.  Whatever helps us make the finished piece better is usually appreciated.

#3 We like flowery scripts. This is a weird one.  Some writers tend to fashion scripts thinking of their collaborators as the audience.  Though there may be a bit of merit to that, nine times out of ten, an artist will prefer that you just say an alley is dark rather than “oppressed by the shadows of the adjacent concrete monoliths.”  While yes, it serves to help the imagery, keep in mind that you don’t need to sell us on the story.  We are already working with you.

#4 We don’t need praise. We do.  Admit it, artists.  The biggest reason you’re still on Deviant Art is the ego stroking.  Take me for example, after a day’s work, I’d like to hear more than “ooh, that’s nice.”  What’s the matter?  Am I a puppy?  Did you pass out because my page is so awesome and that’s why you can’t say anything more?  All I’m saying is… If you’re a writer receiving pages and you like them, tell your artist you do.  Don’t just ask for the next one.  Show the love.

#5 We’re always in the mood to draw. This is probably the most common misconception, and understandably so.  When comic fans see us at cons, it’s at artist alley.  When writers hit us up, it’s within the context that you are a collaborator whose job it is to illustrate a story.  But of course, just like every OB-GYN gets sick of staring at vaginas every now and then, sometimes we just want to sit at our desk and NOT be holding a pencil.

So that’s it.  Five common misconceptions about artists.  I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about a couple of them and very right about others, but this is all from experience, so bear with me.  Now back to work…

Building a Closet

I noticed a slight deficiency around here in terms of new art, so I thought I’d peel some skin back and show some bones for a little bit.  Closetworld is a webcomic written by Matt Yocum that went online a little while back.  As pretty standard procedure for all my projects, I make sure thumbnails are approved by the writer and/or editor before I actually begin work on the page.  Below are the layouts for the first four pages of Closetworld, and the finished sequentials for comparison.  As usual, click to biggify.

Aside from camera placement and shot angle, two other very good uses of thumbnails are the preconception of Shadow Placement and Shorthand of Expression.  Figuring out where your shadows go in this miniature version of the page saves you a lot of time and ink.  It’s not just shadows really, but blacks in general.  If the page reads smoothly as a small sketch, there’s no reason for the finished version to be weak compositionally.

As for shorthanding expression — it can get tedious when you’re already drawing the page and you need to keep checking the script to see if the emotion on your character’s face fits what he’s saying and doing.  If you indicate this in your thumbnails ahead of time, you save yourself quite a bit of hassle later on.

Character Acting

There are a number of elements that factor into sequential storytelling: page design, background, lighting, staging, and a handful of others — but the one I find myself leaning on the most to carry across a narrative is my characters’ acting, and by extension character interaction.

Not to assume at any theatrical skill on my part, but I like to think I’ve seen enough movies and TV shows (good and bad) to know how effective acting can be a powerful storytelling tool.  I’ve broken it down into sub-facets to help illustrate the point:

Expression covers not only facial distortion but also speech delivery.  The wrong look can make a bit of dialogue ambiguous, which is one of the worst things in a visual medium.  It is worth learning that anger isn’t merely a furrowed brow and that surprise isn’t simply bulging eyes.  It is equally worthwhile to remember that someone yelling doesn’t always bear teeth and that someone smiling is not necessarily squinting as well.  Think about the dialogue being delivered (if you have a full script), and more often than not the right expression for your character will present itself to you.  This is where observing the nuanced performances of the likes of Gary Oldman and Meryl Streep pay off.

Body Language and Gesture come into play when wide angle shots or limited panel space leave facial features too distant to make out.  With the right physical presence, any character is able to deliver thought and intent without ever having to say a word.  Some masters of silent sequentials are Stuart Immonen, Frank Quitely, and Dave Gibbons.

Props are of use when a character not only interacts with another, but also with his environment.  Different people will have different ways of holding their glasses, just as one man may angrily rip a phonebook in half in a burst of rage while another will tear the pages out one by one as his anger builds.  In this sense, it helps to know the kind of character you are portraying so that you can vicariously perform the action for him.  Some films I would recommend for prop use are Ocean’s Eleven, Scent of a Woman, and The Usual Suspects.

Tres Komikeros on Inkers and Colorists

My friends and I talk about inkers and colorists on our weekly podcast.

After discussing Locke and Key, Wonder Woman, and Smallville news… John, Migs, and Alex pay their dues to the unsung heroes of comic books – inkers and colorists.  Listen to the panel share their thoughts on the two respective artistic disciplines.

[audio: http://vemp.sanemonkey.com/tkpodcast/tk071.mp3]

Download the episode here

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The funny thing about being a comic artist for a living is that even though enjoying the medium is definitely escapism… the act of actually making the comics is very often not.  In fact, it’s the furthest thing from it.

You may be drawing images of fantasy, and the creative potential in that is near limitless, but I find it difficult to allow myself to get lost in that frame of mind when things are rough in the real world.  Of course, I may just be one of these overly dramatic types who can’t separate their lives from their livelihood, but consider this — how safe would you feel jumping into the deep blue depths if you weren’t sure you’d have a boat to swim back up to?

There is no spacewalk to fix the Hubble if the shuttle is not in place.