The Ten Things

Sorry about the lack of updates on here lately.  June of 2012 turned out to be a meat grinder, and I’m only now curling my toes around the foot holds on what I still call my “schedule” — not by any means the least help has been a small disciplinary exercise I came up with and have been observing for the past month.

If you’re anything like me, a creature of ritual, you have a fixed set of things you like to do before you actually start drawing, writing, or whatever it is you do.  The attendant “sup” with the Skype buddies.  The near-Pavlovian Facebook Like.  The snarky midday Tweet.  In the midst of all this, I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a .txt file on my desktop titled “Ten Things.”  If you hate lists, you might as well stop reading now.

What it is, is an enumeration of all the work-related things I accomplish over a work week, as they are accomplished.  But as a play on my OC-ness, it starts out as a blank list already numbered one to ten.  This way, I am always aware of how much I still haven’t gotten done.  A partially complete list exhudes a sort of cognizant want to finish it, or as close to ten as you can get.  The mechanism is simple but surprisingly effective.

Comic pages.  A set of layouts.  A character design. These are all aspects of my job that I can accomplish over the course of the week. Seeing the list build up mid-week not only gives you an idea of how much further there is to go, but also gives you a better sense of accomplishment.  So you did five pages?  Great, that’s five items on the list.  Snuck in a character design or two?  Even better.

There are of course some caveats. One will ask “What about blog updates? Those are work related.”  Sure.  But unless this is what you get paid to do, for all you role-players, This effect does not stack.  So you posted ten blog updates?  That’s one item on the list.  Same goes for personal art.  One item.

It didn’t seem to have a point at first, especially because all it did was make me feel bad about not always reaching my number ten.  And I won’t lie, most of the time you won’t.  But what you learn very quickly is that it’s not hitting that number that’s important, but trying to.  And when all is said and done, it’s still art, right?  Hopefully most of it succeeds, but some of it always fails.  The important thing is that you tried.  And y’know what?  there’s always next week’s list.

 

Scripting for Comics: Best Practices

Here’s the thing.  Writing a good story and effectively writing for comics are two totally different things.  They needn’t be mutually exclusive, but there’s a learning curve for everyone, right? WRITE! (See what I did there?)

Anyway, below is a brief breakdown of best practices I’ve seen my collaborating wordsmiths use in their scripting format.  Note, what is discussed here has nothing to do with actual story but more what the script looks like when it is sent to the artist and other people working on the book.

Comics are a collaborative medium and as such should, ideally, be easy for multiple heads to work on.

1) Indicate important elements at the first page of every scene. Even if the element doesn’t appear until later, if you want a character to wear a specific sort of hat, the pavement to have a specific cobble, or the skyline to have a certain hue to it, indicate this early on and not on the panel it comes into focus.  Artists need to approach the scene with all these factors in mind beforehand, so it is vital that they know what they are or else they run the risk of drawing something completely different.

2) At the page header, include a panel count. Page 4 (6 panels).  While true that an artist takes each and every panel as it comes to make it as eloquent as possible, also note that the page has a finite amount of real estate.  How big you make the first panel directly affects the size of the last.  That action sequence in the middle of the page directly affects your establishing shot up top.  Letting your artist know in advance how many panels you’ll be needing mentally equips him as to how best to approach the page’s flow.

3) One action per panel. A number of writers, especially those coming from straight prose, forget that one panel can’t show a man opening a door and walking through it at the same time.  It’s an understandable fault, but if you want to keep the artist sane, do try to remedy it as quickly as possible.  If it proves a difficult habit to break, be open to your artist’s suggestions to either remove redundant panels or create addendum panels to help progress the page narrative.  Remember that your artist wants to tell the story as clearly as possible as well, so help him help you.

That’s it for tonight.  I love you all, and Izzy you owe me a backrub.

Good vs Good Enough

Finished two pages today.  A cup of coffee for each.  Don’t want to jinx anything in light of the fact that I just bounced back from a pretty heavy creative rut, so I’ll just say it was a good day.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson these past couple of weeks, and it relates to the issue of speed and compromise.

When any novice artist begins working on comic pages, there’s always an urge to make every panel feel like a fragment off the fucking Sistine ceiling.  This is admirable.  Who’s gonna hate someone for giving all he’s got?  Certainly not me.  I mean if you’re a fast motherfucker, go for it.  But me being equal parts comic artist and comic reviewer, I came to realize fairly quickly that no one spends an hour reading any single comic panel.  You might’ve rendered the shit out of that picket fence in the background.  Good for you.  But you’ll be lucky if the average reader spends more than five minutes on that entire page.

The average comic page takes 8–10 hours to draw.  The average reading time for an entire 22 page comic? 15–20 minutes.

Snap.

There’s no shame in economizing your style in order to finish a page fast.  Comics are a serial medium.  By definition, half of the art in comics is the speed with which you deliver your story.  Of course, this isn’t condoning shoddy work either.  No one expects a masterpiece in every panel, but at the very least deliver clear visual narrative.

Strike a balance between Good and Good Enough.  Tell your story and move on.

On Artist’s Block

I hit a bit of an artist block in the past couple of weeks.  Not sure when it raised its ugly unproductive head, but it did, and very apparently so that I’d be reading and re-reading work scripts and absolutely nothing of any interest would take shape in my head.  I was stuck.

And in a freelance profession where income is directly proportional to output rather than “hours spent at the desk,” creative constipation is no joke.

But I seem to have gotten over it and I’m back in full swing, but not without proper remedy.  And so, my friends, I present to you Johnny’s Five-Step program to Getting Your Life Back.

Consume – Most artistic blocks i.e, obstruction of output is usually caused by a lack of creative input or inspiration.  It’s a universal law — you can’t make something from nothing.  So plunge your head into other people’s work, other books, other stories, films, new music, and let it all seep in.  Enjoy it.  Don’t think of it as work, and appreciate it for what it is.  Art.

Commune – But perhaps more important than surrounding yourself with media is surrounding yourself with people.  For comic artists, a hermit-like lifestyle is pretty much the norm; but it’s easier to go stir-crazy  than most people think, so meet up with friends, visit family, or just simply go out into the world and take your hat off.  Spoiler: the sky is blue.

Control – Fight the urge to go back or stay at the desk until you “get through” a block.  It’s not a physical object.  It’s not a boss at the end of a video game level.  Your head is hungry.  Feed it.  Your mind is tired.  Let it rest.

Compose – It can take a day, it can take a week, but when ideas start flowing freely again, it’s incredibly easy to tell which is forced and which isn’t.  Think your process through.  In my case, I like to go back to my illustration and sequential basics, and more often than not, the rest just takes shape for me.

Commit – If you’re something I like to call a human being, any creative endeavor will come with a healthy amount of self doubt.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s okay to suck.  The important thing is that with every pen stroke and every new panel, you try to suck a little less.  Accept that what you put on paper was the very best you could do at the time, but drive yourself  to get better.

There you have it, guys.  The Five (unintentional) C’s of how to get over a case of artist’s block.  Of course I realize that not all artists are alike, and this could work only for me, but if you ever feel like your creative output needs a refresher, you might want to consider at least giving this a try.

Ghost Ink

Time was I’d go through the trouble of redrawing a whole panel with a mistake in it, or at least do a patch or a frisket for a small revision.  I’ve covered up many asymmetrical faces and oversized hands this way, and boy did it take time.  Having to rescan single elements in, then meticulously pasting it via Photoshop like some digital crane operator was never something I looked forward to.

Digital drawing didn’t right away occur to me as the obvious solution.  I’ve been coloring with a mouse for as long as I can remember, and when my peers demanded I get a drawing tablet, it only ever hit me as a coloring tool.  Silly me.

It’s no giant leap, I know.  But now all my page and panel revisions are done digitally.  I erase stuff out and draw things in, all with the Wacom.  Only the correction phase has changed though, all the original art is still done traditionally.  And that retention  makes me happy for some strange reason.

About a week ago I completely adopted the habit of doing absolutely all my spot blacks in the computer.  It’s faster and much less messy, but I’m also left, for all intents and purposes, with an unfinished original page.  There is a balance to be struck here, and I haven’t found it yet.

The irony of being torn between a laborious and messy physical process versus a speedy and accurate ethereal one doesn’t escape me, but hey… comics versus art?

French Toast and Comics

Years ago, when I still had an allowance, a Magic the Gathering obsession, and a fixed bed time, my sister told me that the best way to get to eat your favorite dishes was to learn to cook them yourself. This little nugget of wisdom, of course, was prompted by me always asking her to prepare things like cinnamon french toast and apple pie.  I remember this now, as I am finishing up brunch — french toast and some bacon.

I am at the desk, and there is work to be done.  Today is to be about layouts, a coupla page corrections, and some heavy-duty scanning.  Today is about drawing.

The medium of comics is a funny animal.  Love it too much, and you begin to see the strings; the cyclical nature of the stories get to you and you find yourself scoffing at new ideas, comparing them to some Bronze Age arc you barely remember anyway; and you smell editorial decisions where you could once just sit down, shut the fuck up, and enjoy the ride.

Love Comics too little, and as a storyteller, you feel like a fraud.  There is no passive enjoyment in an artistic medium that is defined by long-term character investment and serial story delivery.

And so we come to a crossroads.  How much do I love comics?

The question didn’t occur to me to ask until I saw this week’s pull list and found myself getting more excited about indies rather than the mainstream.  And more often than not, I feel passionate about the quality of the books I read because I feel a very real stake in it.  I make comics too, having done freelance work for over two years now.  And on top of that, I review them.  I am no longer just a fanboy.  I may be a small fish, but at least my feet are wet.  And this is why the books matter. The better the books are, the better the entire medium is.  And the better the medium is, the more room there is for new stories — not just tights, not just powers.

The best way to ensure that I get to read the comics I want to read… is to make them myself.

Today is to be about drawing.  Tonight, about writing.

Chips

It’s about midnight and Jad and I are working in our dining room/office.  My artsy stuff is on the dining table, and she’s typing up some internet voodoo on the momentarily-displaced desktop.  Studio isn’t quite done up yet, so we’ll at least wait until a proper AC is installed before we even think about actually moving PCs into that space.

That said, working in the dining room ain’t half bad.

I’m allowed to eat chips here.

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1888 #2 is back on track after a brief hiatus to accommodate some editorial changes — nothing too heavy, but I can certainly see the narrative value in what was modified.  Wolfgang and the guys are onto something big, and they know it, and so the blood gushes on.

Been giving JUDAH and CLOSETWORLD a lot of love lately, so those two are feeling all fuzzy, I’m glad to say.  I had a project fall through the other week though, so I’m looking to start moving on a fourth project that I’ve had on the back burner for quite some time.

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Life in Davao is a far cry from how things are in Cebu, but there’s something to be said for living away from too much city noise.  The sound of delivery boys on motorbikes with ridiculously loud tailpipes passing through the neighborhood in the morning has been replaced with the occasional soy curd or vegetable vendor.  Not to jinx anything, but my output has improved and my ideas feel more fresh.  If I want noise (and come on, we all do sometimes), I have the internet.

And chips.