Thursday, August 15, 2013

SECRET HISTORY #1 / Space is Infinite!

I’ve got a new 3-page comic up as part of the EverydayGenius Comics Month.  Big thanks to Adam Robinson (who runs the show there) & John Dermot Woods (who curated this mammoth month) & Jenny Fortin (who snuck me in the door).

I thought I’d run through a quick behind-the-scenes tour of my work on the comic, a kind of DVD commentary track.  You've all been cleared for the secret history of everything.

Before I tackle the individual pages, however, I want to say a little bit about my process overall.  The comic started as a poem, maybe 50 lines, & then I began laying out each comic page, figuring out how I wanted to pace, dramatize & deploy the action – or what the action might even be.  During this process, I cut the poem quite a bit & also - inexplicably - threw it in the recycling bin.  It's gone!

For lay out, I basically scratched some thumbnails on a yellow legal pad, just boxes stacked around over & over until I got the right flow & feel, the right sequence.  Then I created a document in Microsoft Word with the panel configuration I wanted which I printed directly on the paper.  I drew right on that, inside the printed panels.  These lay out sketch pages are also missing or I'd show them to you.  Trust me, they're not pretty!

I draw in pencil, using Prismacolor Black or Non-photo Blue, then ink over that using a Prismacolor or Micron pen.  I tend to like Micron for thicker lines & Prismalcolor for finer ones.  Of course, I use regular old Sharpie to ink the panel borders as well as create any dark patches needed in individual panels.  Not incredibly professional grade, but it works!

I’m most interested in working in black & white so even though this comic – solicited to appear on the web – could have taken advantage of all kinds of color washes, that just isn’t part of my vision for what I’m doing.

After I’ve completed a page, I scan it in – done!  Except the images ended up looking too crisp.  So I degraded each page by photocopying it a few times, messing with the toner, until I got it looking a little less slick.  This helped cover some minor imperfections (places where I had used white out, or hadn’t fully erased my pencil lines).  But more importantly I see my work (such as it is) fitting in with the rich history of zinesters & minicomic artists drawing rough & stapling the pages themselves.  I didn’t want to use a filter program to make my pages LOOK rough…I wanted it to be rough.

Longtime fans of my work, or at least those people who have had it inflicted upon them, will notice right away that I did NOT letter this story by hand.  I usually do, partly because I like the feel of it & partly because I’ve never found a font that doesn’t look too superhero.  This time, though, I went with a font modeled on Charles M. Schulz.  It’s readable & tender.

That's enough ramble for now.  I’ll pop back soon & tackle the secret history behind PAGE 1 of “Space is Infinite!”

Also, I've still got a few copies of THERE WILL BE NOTHINGLEFT for only $1.50!  This is the first issue of my long stalled series about a guy who spends eight pages walking through the snow & feeling conflicted about his life.  Order one now!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Something Infinite?

For the last 3 or 4 days, the online weather oracle has been predicting rain, but it's been wrong.  Today, finally, it's right - rain all day, rain happening right now.  It kept me inside & at my desk, which is where I needed to be. 

You see, I've been putting off starting a new project for a while now...well, maybe not actively putting it off but despite having a loose script & four pages of sketchy breakdowns, I just didn't feel like I had what I needed to get started.  What did I need?  Turns out, I needed someone to give me a deadline.

John Dermot Woods is curating a comics only month this August at Everyday Genius & I'm lucky to have been asked to be part of it all - thanks mostly to another person who got solicited!

So today, I started in on this new thing about which I can't say much because it's developing & changing as I go.  I've already thrown the page breakdowns out the window (not literally).  I spent about half of the morning drawing & redrawing one panel (the other half of the morning was spent trying to figure out what the panel should be!):

How does this fit in with the overall narrative?  Who knows.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


If you are a person who comes to this blog regularly, then you know that I am not a person who comes to this blog regularly.  But, it's summer & as I dust off my pencils for some new projects, I thought it was time to pop back in.  Hello!

It also seems about as good a time as any for another installment of HULK HAIR.  My fascination with the Green Goliath's coiffure is documented here, & is of course ongoing.  Here's a new entry, from earlier this afternoon.  I took a bit of a break & read through the last three issues of Indestructible Hulk, a nice little story arc complete in itself written by Mark Waid & with titanic pencils by Walt Simonson.  I'm a huge fan of Simonson's heavy line, his blocky yet dynamic composition - & now we get to see how he draws the Hulk's hair!

(It looks a little breezy here; the inside panels have the hair more like the upper right Hulk - kind of slicked back with a widow's peak like a Mike Zeck Punisher.)

More to come.  I hope.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How This Happened, pt. III

I’ve been talking about how this all happened on the blog for a while now (see part I & see also part II) but I feel like it’s time to take this particular thread home.

This story isn’t about me.

Once I hit on that phrase, I felt like I had settled into the right frame of mind for the comic.  So though I had done all kinds of planning, though I had sketched out what I thought would be a 3 or even 4 issue plan, the actual process of working on my comic was in fact a process.

The new story of the comic wasn’t really a story at all, but a scope – sort of a growing sense of what I wanted out of it. 

I realized that I wasn’t particularly interested in a narrative or characters, though I was interested in how character gets communicated or changed over time & in response to events, & I was intrigued by the physics of narrative itself.  I also became obsessed with certain images (the leaf cracking under ice & how that might be a symbol for so much of my thinking on this subject, or the geese flying over the snow). 

For me, for this project, it’s hard for me to write about my intent.  So much of what happened seems to fall into place, like tumblers on a lock.  It all happened kind of at once & in a largely intuitive manner.

However, while I was working on it, I started letting my mind run a little bit to further explore some of the chains that were springing up.  To me, that was the real fun!

At this point (as I sit here typing this) I’ve got a really lose outline for issue #2 typed up.  If the process on #1 taught me anything, it’s that the outline probably doesn’t mean a thing.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this all takes me – if the loose plot from #1 gets resolved or if we just move on to something else entirely!

There are still copies of THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT sitting right here on this shelf to my left.  ONE DOLLAR (& fifty cents!) is all it takes to have one sent to you!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hulk Hair!

I've fallen behind in just about everything, thanks to an amazing trip out to California (where I gave a reading & worked with some talented high school writers) & just general busy-ness at the school where I teach.  But copies of THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT have flown all over the country (!) & people have been writing back to let me know their thoughts...which maybe I'll share at some point in the future.  All of it has me aching to get back into the groove of working on pages, trying to figure out where this story is leading me!

I'm going to take a break from my process posts (part I of which is here, with part II located here) for a little real time sneak peek at my sketchbook.  I doodle a lot, & make quick reference drawings.  But also, since I'm still training myself how to move a pencil so that what shows up on the page looks like what I want it to, I spend time copying things too.  I'll see a drawing & then try to do my own version so I can learn the shorthand & the motions.  For whatever reason, one of the recurring features in my sketchbook has become HULK HAIR! 

That's right - the Hulk...that strong green (or grey or red) behemoth.   Everyone seems to draw his HAIR just a little bit differently.  Anyway, here's a page from my sketch book (sorry for the poor reproduction) featuring some Hulk hair by Sal Buscema from DEFENDERS #10 (the first series, so we're talking November of 1973).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How This Happened, pt. II

In my last post, I alluded to some kind of epiphany that helped change the course of my early thinking about my mini comic (I was calling it “Winter Story” at this early stage).  Well, it wasn’t really an epiphany so much as a brick wall.

Again, everything sort of happened at once, so I’ll try to break down how the whole thing broke down:

I started getting tighter on my plotting for issue one, typing out what I thought might be some solid panel progressions & realized that, in order to hit the right notes & hit my 8 page mark, I was going to be using material that I thought would have carried me well into issue 2.  So my plots, & written breakdowns, were turning out to be worthless.

I also realized that much of what I thought would fill pages in issues 2 & 3 wasn’t really visual – I was writing too much & not connecting it to anything that could be dramatized. 

I did some rough thumbnail panel breakdowns for the entire 8 pages, calling out the sequences & blocking.  This led to my biggest mistake…

I started drawing the pages – but out of order, because I didn’t think it would matter.  However, as soon as I committed something to page 4, it set up page 1 or 2 or 3 or 5 in ways that were really constricting.  Maybe if my plotting had been expertly tight or if I had been committed to it, it might have been okay.  But I was more committed to riding out the process than filling out a spreadsheet.


So one afternoon, I had the plot up on my computer screen.  The rest of my desk (which is actually an old Formica & chrome kitchen table) was covered with half drawn pages, a few panels that I liked & had clipped from pages I had already scrapped, & a few random sketches.  I thought, “This isn’t how the story is supposed to work.”  Then I thought, “This isn’t how ANY story works.”  I was trying to dictate how one thing moved onto some new thing & I was getting all twisted around. 

It was getting dark.  I stared out the window & saw a few geese honking across the sky.  That’s when I realized that even though I needed some autobiographical scaffolding to build this story, I was not writing+drawing an autobiographical comic book. 

This story isn’t about me.

What came next happened in a flash.  Literally.  But later for that.  As in, to be continued!

Friday, November 9, 2012

How This Happened, pt. I

I wanted to try to write coherently about how I started working on my mini comic There Will Be Nothing Left, but everything started happening at once.  My process for this wasn’t very orderly, though I tried like hell to make it so.  Actually, the further along I got, the more everything took shape & started to make sense.  But, in the beginning, it looked like this.

·      I drew faces in my sketchbook for an hour or so, for three or four days.  After that, I started drawing bodies.  I knew, sort of vaguely, that the comic would have two or three characters so I wanted to try out a range of styles (sort of cartoony to sort of realistic) & just get some practice at making things look the way I wanted them to look (happy / sad / surprised / incredulous).  I’m not a master of subtle facial expressions by any stretch (you need to check out Seth or Adrian Tomine).  But this became just another limitation that helped me define what I was going to do (ie, no panels where the meaning was communicated through a complexly rendered bit lip, or a slight eye roll).  But I did get to a point where, with just a few lines, I could suggest an emotional state.  Then, varying those lines only slightly, I could vary the emotion as well.  It was pretty cool. 

I'm not this good.  Adrian Tomine is.

·      I wrote out a bunch of material.  Sometimes I wrote out little scenes in a very minimal way (more like stage directions, no dialogue or narration).  Eventually, I settled on a kind of arc that I wanted to draw – just really broad strokes of a story that I thought would allow me to draw something things that I both COULD draw & which I WANTED to draw.  This rough plot eventually got split up into the action of 3 issues, & I worked at really fleshing out each issue.  I knew they’d all be 8 pages, so after I had general plots for each issue, I broke down the action on a page by page basis, just writing down arcs that I thought would pay off & layer themselves in satisfying ways.

At this point, I had not worked out any actual character sketches, had no real dialogue or narration, and most importantly, I had no real idea about what I was trying to accomplish.  Even though I knew I didn’t want to just present a sort of slice of life autobiographical story, that’s kind of what I had roughed out.

The story, at this early stage, was mostly something that happened to me.  All of the faces I was drawing looked like mine.  Luckily, something happened to change the way this was shaping up.

But that’s what comes next.  For now, please remember you can buy a copy of THERE WILL BENOTHING LEFT for only a buck!  Please do!