Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Fun Comics!

Happy Halloween!

I was reminded this morning by Bully's super-fun post about Ben Grimm's reading habits that a nice little holiday post might help to scare away all the witches and werewolves.*

Here, then, with a little bit of October color and a little larger than you'd see it in our Satisfactory Comics #7, is "The Graveyard of Forking Paths," one of our branching-comic homages to Jason Shiga, master of the mathematical comic. (Seriously, Shiga is one of the real genuises of the new generation of cartoonists; I heartily recommend his Meanwhile..., Hello World, and Knock Knock, as well as Fleep and Bookhunter, if you can get your hands on them. You can get some of his books at Global Hobo.)

You can, of course, click to enlarge this thumbnail; I hope you will. To read the comic, start in the upper left corner as usual, and follow any orange arrow you'd care to follow. (It's basically a sort of maze.)

Isn't that spooky? Why, even the "happy" ending is a little macabre!

Here's hoping you get plenty of candy in your plastic pumpkin tonight, and that the litlte rubber band on the back of your mask doesn't come unstapled while you're blocks away from home.

EXTRA BONUS: Here's a great costume idea:


*(More Halloweeny fun from the blogroll: Chris Sims has posted about a NSFW--and in fact NSFYCS**--story about witches, and Blockade Boy has shown us a bit of a Batman-vs.-werewolf fight.)

(** Not Safe For Your Continued Sanity, that is. Seriously, you may not wish to follow that link.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Page 8, inked

Hey, this time I used my image-correcting brightness controls in "post-production" to make the spot blacks look really black for a change! (My inks were looking a little feeble compared with Isaac's.) Yay, technology! Improvements at the push of a button!

Alas, other improvements were more laborious. Tier three, panel 1 is mostly redesigned away from the pencils I first posted, and I had to bust out some Pro White to add the magical "reins" in tier two, panel 2, where I had stupidly omitted them at first.

But never mind all that! A page is a page, and this one follows close on the heels of Isaac's page 7. We're closing in on the end. Will we make it? Only time—and Matt Madden, our next constrainer—will tell!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Page 8 pencils (obstructed story)

My hope is to get this page inked ASAP, so if you have any suggestions or corrections please post a comment at once. (One goof is still visible in this scan: I had put a sword in the right hand of "the Egg," when pages 6 & 7 show him to be a lefty.) Anyway, the pencils:I will be adding more visible debris from the fight in the inking stage, but this should give readers a chance to vet where it's going.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Page 7, Inked

I had a cloudy bunch of pencils for page seven before I left town for SPX, and I'm only now, a couple of weeks later, done with the inks. But I've had a very busy couple of weeks.

The good news is that we've just got three pages to go. (The bad news, of course, is that we have to wrap up the story somehow in those three pages and still satisfy our final set of constraints.)

Here's the way page seven seems to have turned out. Please click on the picture to enlarge it to legible size.

That kick to the jaw, by the way, is totally dedicated to Chris Sims of the Invincible Super-Blog.

You may also wish to compare the thumbnail of p. 7 with this slightly distorted version of Marcel Duchamp's most famous painting, Nude Descending a Staircase.

This version of Nude Descending is wider than the original, so that I could put it under my page and lightbox the layout of the painting directly. In fact, I was still doing that when I had inked every one of the figures on the page, to get little areas of light and dark to "match up," not that it matters. Not very much of the original comes through, in the end, but I hope that some of the kinetic, multiplanar chaos carries over. When I color this image, I'll try to stick to a yellowy earthtone palette, which should help make the swipe more noticeable. (That will probably also make the captions easier to find in amid all those lines.)

I have to say, it was fun to draw the figures a little larger this time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Thumbnails for p. 8 (obstructed story)

Remember that the following takes place after page 7 (don't let the immediately preceding post of page 6 fool you!):This time I actually drew at postcard size, so the images are mighty sketchy. Hence, some explanations followed by a full script.

The second tier fulfills the constraint wherein three panels must maintain a continuous image (Tom Motley described this, cinematically, as a "pan sequence"). The background may be too sketchy to make this effect plain, but the idea is that the shadow man is staggering to the right, becoming ever less shadowy, while we see all the continuous space he covers. And yes, the birdlike junkman and Kalbi do bridge panels, to reinforce the sense of movement and the passage of time as they watch the shadow man stumble.

The last panel, where Stepan and the shadow man fade into the shadow world, fulfills the constraint that one panel must lack panel borders.

Here's the text for the above panels:

Tier 1, Panel 1:
Caption: All at once, the shadowfolk all disappear with Arntham…

Tier 1, Panel 2:
Caption: All but one.
Stepan: Stay where you are!
Shadowman: Aaaa [no word balloon, just letters]

Tier 2, Panel 1:
Shadowman: Please… [wispy word balloon]

Tier 2, Panel 2:
Shadowman: …don’t trap me here… [overlapping word balloon edges]

Tier 2, Panel 3:
Shadowman: …I’m losing what I am! [normal word balloon]
Toadish Junkman: What’s happening to him?

Tier 3, Panel 1:
Stepan: I saw something similar with Arntham’s attacker. The longer I looked at him, the clearer he became…
Shadowman: Yes…

Tier 3, Panel 2:
Shadowman: This place…it hems us in…fixes us, in form, in time, in space…

Tier 3, Panel 3:
Shadowman: And Arntham’s map would do the same!
Stepan: And that’s why you tried to kill him? So he couldn’t bind your home in place?

Tier 4, Panel 1:
Kalbi: And now they’ve got him over there! They’ll kill him for good!
Stepan: Maybe not. Shadow man…

Tier 4, Panel 2:
Stepan: You’re still bound to my will. But I will release you—if you take me to your home.

Tier 4, Panel 3:
No text as Stepan and the shadowman, in the same pose as in the previous panel, become shadow figures against a blank background in a space with no borders.

You know the drill, gang. Comments welcome!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Page 6, Inked

Well, after a short hiatus and a trip to SPX, I'm back in business (so to speak) and putting some ink on the page. In fact, there's kind of a lot of ink on this page. And yet, I don't think it's quite dark enough. When I look at the fields of black in my scan, there are little flecks of white all over the place. I need a new device for spotting blacks. Anyone have any recommendations? I'm trying not to use a Sharpie because they discolor over time.

Anyway, here's what happens on page 6.

I think that both of the requirements I got out of Ben Towle's constraints for these pages fit in pretty organically. It was fun to set up that end-of-the-page "reveal," in particular.

While I was inking this page, I started thinking of the junkmen as "The Chicken" and "The Egg." I wonder which one of them is named Mutt?

Anyway, let me know what you think; I'll probably ink p. 7 early next week, so please be sure to take a look at it and offer me any comments or suggestions you might have.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Page 7, lettered

My pencils for page 7 are necesarily kind of a mess, because I'm working pretty closely from a source that I'm lightboxing, and because I'm trying to keep them pretty loose until I figure out all of the elements of the composition. (I'm still positioning a lot of debris, and the toadlike junkman's pose isn't settled yet.)

But I thought I'd post things as they are right now, because I'm planning to spend my time inking p. 6 tonight, and these digital photos of the pencilled pages seem to turn out better if I do them by daylight instead of lamplight.

Anyway, here's what I've got on p. 7. You can see that it's lettered, and (if you click to enlarge the image) you'll also see that I've revised my tentative script a little bit, mostly for the sake of naturalness. I've also spotted in a few of the darkest black areas on the page, but there will be a lot more ink in a lot of places before I'm done.

Looking at the image itself, you should be able to see Kalbi and the birdlike junkman in the top "row," fighting with barely delineated shadows, then Stepan and the toadlike junkman and finally Arntham in the lower "row." Plus lots and lots of extra lines, most of which will get cleaned up a lot in the inking process. But first I need to finish p. 6.

Let me know if you think this reads all right, or if any pencilling changes ought to be made before I set about to ink.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SPX Report / Owning Up to It

Things that a couple of my cartoonist friends said at different times this weekend at SPX have got me thinking. Here's a sort of disjointed essay about letting yourself enjoy things that aren't cool.

First, during the panel on “genre” in alternative comics, our pal Jon Lewis was talking about the period in one’s life when one powerfully wants to be taken seriously and therefore loudly denounces or eschews anything that’s not “serious.” Maybe this particular pupal stage is only experienced by a certain variety of nerd, but it’s definitely something I recognized in my own past personality.

At a certain point in your development, though, as Jon said, you start to feel secure enough in your own personality to allow yourself access to the unhip, the non-serious, the mainstream, and so forth. You can even enjoy some of it without irony.

I have a playlist on my iPod that I listen to sometimes on my way to work. This playlist is all ’80s pop songs that I thought were for idiots when I was in high school (and totally into the Talking Heads)—stuff like “Walking on Sunshine” or Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days.” They're actually really enjoyable songs. Now, my only embarrassment when I listen to them is that I was such a snob about them decades ago, when I was green in judgment. And there are certainly analogues from the world of comics.

Later, at the Ignatz afterparty, I was telling my friends from Partyka about the genre panel. There had been this moment on the panel when Gilbert Hernandez, talking about writing Birds of Prey for DC, was joking about how he’d been confused about Barbara Gordon being stuck in a wheelchair. (I’m paraphrasing here, but what he had said was something like, “You see, there was this issue of Superman where Lois Lane had a mermaid’s tail, and Superman learned how to be a surgeon so he could reattach her real legs; why can’t Superman just fix Batgirl’s legs?”) So, as I’m describing this and Shawn and Matt are chuckling, Sara Edward-Corbett goes, “You guys are such total nerds.” Or, anyway, words to that effect. I think she meant it kindly.

And I thought, you know, I’m okay with that. There are things about mainstream comics that don’t interest me one bit, and there’s a lot that I won’t bother reading, but I’m not going to deny that I have a segment of superhero “history” printed indelibly on my brain. (It’s a different segment than Gilbert Hernandez’s, I’m sure, but if anyone needs me to describe Kirby’s run on Kamandi or, God help me, the first dozen issues of Alpha Flight, I can probably do it.)

Come to think of it, I consider it kind of a compliment that one of my cartoonist friends asked me to remind him what Metron’s chair looks like, for a sketch he was doing this weekend.

I’m not even going to disallow the possibility that some unhip, mainstream stuff currently being printed would turn out to be enjoyable. I liked the first six issues of the Waid / Perez Brave and the Bold, for example. I can admit that.

Anyway, all of this has led me to think about why it is that I enjoyed this year’s SPX more than I did last year’s. I think it’s mostly because this year I took it a lot less seriously. I mean, I was a little nervous about the panel I moderated, and I was glad that it went well. I was honored to be the one to introduce Bill Griffith’s lecture. But on the show floor I was neither concerned about being cool nor worried at all about selling Satisfactory Comics. (I gave out a lot of postcards, and traded quite a few copies of #7, but I didn’t sell a single comic.) Basically, I was treating the convention floor as what it is, for me: a venue where I can pursue my minicomics hobby.

Also, I have a couple of notebooks that I’ve slowly been filling with sketches by other cartoonists, one book with monkeys and the other with robots. It’s a fanboy thing to do, and I recognize that; showing the books to someone always makes me feel uncomfortably geeky, and I feel like a dork when I ask someone to do a sketch for me. But I think I can admit to myself that the sketchbooks make me happy. The drawings (some by famous cartoonists and some by friends) are souvenirs, more than a collection, and a lot of them really do put a smile on my face.

Last year at SPX I asked Tony Millionaire to draw the frontispiece in my monkey sketchbook. This year, back toward the back of the book, Gilbert Hernandez:

I don’t think I should feel embarrassed to have asked for that.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

MW meets MW at SPX

Just a quick note, an aside from the would-be Elfworld-proceedings:

This past weekend the Small Press Expo (SPX) took place in Bethesda, Maryland, not far from where I live now. I enjoyed visiting with friends and cartoonists who came down for the convention, including occasional SatCom collaborators Shawn Cheng, Tom K, Bill Kartalopoulos, Jon Lewis, Karen Sneider, and Ben Towle, not to mention my buddy Isaac himself. Smart and generous minicomics artists were in full effect!

But I also enjoyed the chance to talk for a while with some major artists of the reg'lar-sized comics variety, notably Gilbert Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame and Matt Wagner of Mage, Grendel, and assorted DC Comics fame. For a while now I have felt that I might not have stopped reading comics for ten years if the proprietors of my hometown nerd store had seen fit to recommend titles like L&R, Hate, and Eightball when I began to grow restless with Detective; my introduction to Beto's work was sadly belated. But at least I was reading Matt Wagner's work back then, and I think it has had a greater influence on my cartooning than I usually recognize.

My enthusiasm for Grendel was shared with my high-school pal David, and probably it was our short-lived effort to tell our own Grendel story that shifted my cartooning ambitions from comic strips to comic books (in the long run, a smart move for this cartoon hobbyist, as the outlets for amateur minicomics seem more accessible to me than those for amateur comic strips—at least since I won't be launching any comic-strip websites). In fact, David inked my pencils before Isaac ever did, though no more than a single page of Grendel accosting the reader with a plea to "Bring back the Primer"—Comico's erstwhile showcase for fledgling cartoonists, where Wagner himself launched Grendel twenty-five years ago.

Which brings me back to this weekend. Wagner attended SPX in part to promote a silver-anniversary book dedicated to the art of Grendel, and that gave me the chance to thank him, fanboyishly, for the stirring example of his comics on my impressionable young mind. And one of the impressions that Wagner made, even back then, was that steady work can improve one's skills dramatically. Compare the first few issues of Mage with the last, and you'll see a quick development in Wagner's confidence and command. He addresses this himself in the last paragraphs of the introduction to his newly-published Grendel Archives, containing the first few stories of his flagship antihero:
It is my sincerest wish that readers will find a certain inspiration in these pages and come to feel, as I do, that they stand as a true testament to the powerful potential of the creative spirit. Despite any negative response I might have encountered in the press, my own primal urge to express myself in this medium led my efforts onward and upward. I knew that if I opened my mind both to criticism and to craftsmanship, it would lead me to new perspectives and enable me to further develop my skills. It is in the act of making art that one truly becomes an artist.

If I could do it, so can you.

Never falter and never look back.

Except to regard how far you’ve come.
If Wagner comes off as slightly pretentious toward the end, there, I'm prepared to cut him some slack: tone can be hard to manage in prose, and by his own admission he's not great at writing ("—or at art; I'm great at putting them together," to quote him from a panel yesterday afternoon). In person, Wagner impressed me with his easy affability and lack of self-importance. If I have any quibbles with his encouraging declaration that the way to become an artist is simply to make art, it's that he throws up another roadblock when he says "[n]ever falter and never look back." I think that Isaac and I have both learned a lot from our errors and failures along the way, and we've learned from them in part by gritting our teeth and looking back at them, in all their embarrassing clumsiness. Not all of the useful criticism of our work has come from outside, after all. That said, Wagner's surely right that one shouldn't dwell overmuch on past shortcomings—not when there are still more comics to be made.

And on that note, I will next post when I have some thumbnails to share for page 8 of Stepan's story!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Script (Tentative) for p. 7

I was going to email this to Mike, but then I realized that I might as well release it for general kibitzing. I'm going to forego the thumbnails for the single big panel that is p. 7, and jump right into the pencils, for reasons that will become clear. The text in the page is all in captions that sort of slide down the page, sometimes askew, Joe Sacco-style.

Here's the script. Each paragraph is a new caption.

















Now, at least, Mike knows what happens on p. 7, so he can start planning p. 8. And I'm packing in a lot more than three Duchamp references for Tom: the phrase "kicks of all kinds" is from a Duchamp title, as is "Green Box"; also, Duchamp apparently sometimes referred to himself as "the Salt-Seller" (Marcel Duchamp = Marchand du sel), so there's a pun in another one of my random objects...

... and there will be more references, at the visual level, for which you'll have to wait.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Tom Motley's Constraints to Us (pp. 7-8)

I've been sitting on these for a few days, so they wouldn't get in too far ahead of our completion of the preceding two pages, but I think the time has come to post them. These are the fiendish constraints created for our next two pages by our friend and frequent collaborator Tom Motley.

"These are simple, maybe even mundane," he says. "But when you put them together, they could be tricky. The pages so far are feeling a bit compressed, so let's let some air in...

"1. One of the two pages must be a single full page panel.

"2. At least one of the other panels must have no borders.

"3. At least one panel must have pictures instead of words in the speech or thought balloons.

"4. Three panels must link together to form a pan sequence (a continuous background chopped into panels). These panels needn't be adjacent.

"5. There must be three or more subtle allusions to the work of Marcel Duchamp."

Oh, he says they're simple, but in fact they combine in some pretty devious ways. Notice that if I choose #1 for my page (p. 7), I can't use #2 or #4, so I have to leave those for Mike, and I have to take #3 and #5 for myself. One choice is all I get!

I'd have a tiny bit more freedom if I took #2 and #4 for myself—I could choose which of #3 or #5 to foist on Mike—but I've got a plan for how to work the other combination.

...And if you look at my pencils for p. 6, you'll see that I've already built in a couple of allusions to Duchamp that I'll only have to repeat visually on p. 7. By the way, I have some really rough thumbnails for that one already, but I think I'm just going to jump to the pencils in my posts.

Page 5, inked

Well, it's been three full weeks since Isaac posted the last finished page, but here at long last is page 5, more or less finished (you may click the image to enlarge it):

A couple of corrections are in order (stray or wobbly lines here and there, and I still need to suggest the "ring for service" label on the countertop sign in the first two panels). And having just seen a prime version of "the Bagge" by Peter Bagge himself, in the latest issue of Apocalypse Nerd, I am well aware that my distorted version of John the constable in panel 2 is woefully pedestrian. Sorry, Ben! Still, this version should suffice until the final clean-up before publication.

And really, we are planning to finish this, and not too far off our notional schedule, either. Isaac and I have both had a couple of very busy weeks, and this comics-making activity of ours is strictly extracurricular. But Isaac wisely factored in an extra week in our schedule when we started back in August, and now that the fall Jewish holidays are over I have a lot more working hours per week again—so I should be able to get things back on track once I see what's happening with page 7. (Wishful thinking? Wish me luck!)

But before we get there, Isaac's got to finish page 6—so I'll jump back to his just-posted pencils of that page to see if I can offer any useful comment. ("You come, too!" as Frost might have said, were he a blogging cartoonist...)

Page 6 pencils (obstructed story)

Well, I have some pencils done for p. 6 of that Elfworld submission now. I have already made one change since drawing this: the label on the side of the coach is going to end with "SALVAGE" and not with "JUNKERY."

There are going to be a lot of spot blacks in this page, because it's set outside in the dark. If you see a little "x" floating in an otherwise empty field, that means the whole field will be black. (Probably I don't have to explain that convention to most of you reading this, but who knows? I want to be reader-friendly, even for the uninitiated.)

Please click on that image to make it legible, then let me have any critiques or suggestions you can come up with. I want to start lettering the page some time late today or early tomorrow, so I'll really appreciate speedy comments.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

They are the Eggmen...

I'm still working on my pencils for page 6 of the Elfworld submission, but I just made a few funny notes that I thought I'd share...

I wanted to make sure I knew what the junkmen look like, before I started putting them into my page, and I only had a single image of each one. So I drew a few quick doodles to get more familiar with them.

I think I would read a story where these guys were the stars.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Type the what huh?

Hi, folks. I am still swamped with other stuff, though I still have that page out on my art table to be pencilled, and I will get it done this weekend one way or another. After that, I'll post Tom Motley's constraints for pages 7 and 8, and my thumbnail for page 7. It's all on that back burner somewhere.

Meanwhile, just to show that I haven't disappeared from the world, here's a little post. Earlier today, Bully, the Little Stuffed Bull, had an indecipherable captcha. (Those are the strings of letter that Blogger makes you type before you can put in a comment, for example: they're designed to thwart spam engines, not regular people.)

Well, Bully, I've got you beat. A few days ago, before I could comment, I was asked to type this:

My first thought was, "Is this something from On Beyond Zebra?"

Then I thought that first cluster of letters looked sort of like a Space Invader. Or maybe one of the Martians from Sesame Street. Yup yup yup yup yup.

UPDATE: Nope. Nope. Nope. I think maybe it was reminding me of some freaky letter M with eyeballs—I'm having a vague memory here, and it's giving me the creeps, actually. The closest I could get with a cursory look at the YouTube was this animation...

...but I think I'm remembering something else: an angrier M, yellow, a puppet of some kind? I'll keep looking.