Latest Comic Updates:
So I’ve been pretty quiet on this site lately. As much as I hate to give excuses, I think I have a pretty good excuse. Our daughter Ellie was born about three weeks ago. As far as babies go, she’s pretty awesome. She does the normal baby stuff (eat, sleep, poop) but it’s pretty amazing to watch her. I like to imagine what she’s thinking so I drew this little cartoon to show what’s going on in her little mind:
If you’re a fan of comics and you watch the industry news, you probably already know that Mark Waid, who is responsible for the best Flash comics ever written, has started a new comics publishing effort called Thrillbent focusing on digital comics. If you don’t follow the industry… now you know :)
Why should you care? Well, for me this is a big deal, not because a big name comics creator is entering the realm of online comics, but because of the way he’s choosing to do it. He’s focusing on a ‘digital first’ approach which is inspired by Yves Bigerel’s amazing About Digital Comics. I first encountered About Digital Comics a few years ago when it made the twitter rounds. I realized then how awesome it was, but my thought was “wow, that’s so cool… but what can you really do with it?” I wasn’t interested in making comics in flash that would be really difficult to actually sell or distribute. I loved the concept, though, and apparently so did Mark Waid… check out Thrillbent to see what I’m talking about.
There are still kinks to work out with the format and business model of doing this sort of thing, but why am I excited? Well, if you follow this blog or my twitter feed, you know I just launched my new comic, Sector Four, on May 1st. It’s what people call a ‘long form webcomic’ meaning it’s an ongoing story that will be told like a graphic novel as opposed to ‘gag-a-day’ style comic strips, which make up the majority of online comics it seems. Don’t get me wrong… I love gag strips and even did one for a long time (and hope to get back to it at some point). But for Sector Four, I have a larger story I want to tell. I’ve really been struggling with the idea of doing a long form comic and how it’ll be read in weekly updates. It’s been done before and done really well by creators who are far better than me, but it still doesn’t seem like the optimal reading experience. Seeing what Mark is doing has opened my mind to a ton of possibilities that I can’t wait to try out.
As this is so new, I have a few thoughts on the concept and the first comics that Mark put out there. I’m not talking about the content of the stories, which are great… I’m more concerned here with the format that those guys are using.
In my mind, a digital first approach should go a little further than what the Thrillbent comics do. They’re obviously still intended to be printed, so the a lot of the interactivity used is sort of building the page. In reading some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, they’ve divided a comic page in half and are treating each half as a ‘screen’ for the digital comic. It still has the intent of using space and timing as storytelling tools, so it achieves the primary goal of the format, but personally, I found that the “page building” sort of takes me out of the story a little. I found myself thinking, “why don’t they have this panel take up the whole screen or show me all the panels at once?” I mean, I know why… and controlling what the user sees and when they see it definitely enhances the story, but for me, putting multiple panels on the screen at the same time should be done rarely and only for a specific reason in this format. Focusing a little less on having a story that converts easily to print, I think, would enhance the experience. When looking at “About Digital Comics”, I don’t think about how it would translate to print while I’m reading the story… it pulls you in a little more, I think. Not to say you shouldn’t consider how it would be printed if you ultimately want to make a print version, and it would definitely take a lot more work, but to me, it’s worth it.
Maybe the best way to approach it isn’t completely digital first, but a sort of parallel track to create the printed version along side the digital version. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, since I’ve been talking about how great the digital first approach is, but it’s really two products, and two reading experiences we’re creating here and somewhat combining the two to make production easier seems to be hurting both products.
The second thing, and this has been keeping me up at night, is the format. PDFs are great and are universally supported across platforms, operating systems, and mobile devices, but the limitation in this instance is that they’re best viewed on a computer in slideshow/full screen mode… otherwise you get the “page turning” or “swiping” effect that would be cool with a normal book, but not so much for a digital graphic novel. This is where the “page building” effect really hurts, because if you’re not reading it right, you lose some of the timing that is so great about this format. If you are scrolling through pages, rather than clicking/tapping to have the next screen appear, you lose the effect and it takes you out of the story a bit. There are definitely other options but none offer the flexibility and ease of PDFs, so the best bet for now might be a compromise on user experience in favor of this universal format. At least until other technologies present themselves.
Another advantage of the PDF is that it’s a file that readers can buy and own. They can put it on any of their devices and not feel like they’re only paying for access to stories, but actually owning them. In my mind, this is a must for this format to work, so more and more I’m leaning toward PDFs being the way to go here. At least for now.
So what have we learned? Well, I’m really excited for the potential of digital comics, and my hat goes off in a huge way to Mark Waid for the inspiration and pioneering of this. I’ve been a big fan of his work since the 90s but this has lit a fire under me that I’ve never had before. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about making my own comics so for that I’m super grateful.
And I couldn’t help but throw my hat in the ring. I originally created a practice story for Sector Four… just to work the kinks out of the characters and environment, but it seemed like the perfect place to put my thoughts on digital comics into practice. Everything was done, originally, with the thought of a ten page story in mind (which you can also download below for comparison) but it was transformed after the fact into this new ‘digital-first’ format. Click the buttons below to download both formats and please let me know your thoughts in the comments if you would.
Thanks for reading.
It’s taken me long enough, but I finally launched my new comic! I have four pages up so you can start reading at the beginning here. The site will update every monday from now on.
Thanks for checking it out!
Wanted to share some more process work for Sector Four. One area in my artwork that I’m trying to improve and something that stood out to me in doing the prologue story was that I need to put more effort into what animators call “staying on character”. Making sure the proportions are correct and the characters look the same from image to image.
An exercise to help me out with this is to break the character down to basic shapes and look at how they relate to each other. This is a pretty easy task with adobe illustrator (I actually use illustrator for all of my drawing, but even you anti-illustrator folks would find this easy to do there).
In order to keep him symmetrical, I started just doing one half and then used the reflect tool to get the other half (see images below). It took a good bit of trial and error, after seeing how the reflected half threw off what I thought was good when only looking at the first half.
After that I filled in the base colors that I’ll be using. This will be handy to have around and reference when I’m working on the comic:
Back in October during 24 hour comic day, I started working on a ten-page story I wrote up as practice for Sector Four, one of the new comics I’ve been working on. Well, I finally finished it. You can check it out on the official site for the comic: SectorFour.com (click the thumbnail below the main image).
The story is a prologue to the actual comic. It’s kind of a teaser for what Sector Four is all about. I was debating with myself whether I should even put this out there, since it’s really meant to get myself comfortable working in this style, but I figured why not. I’d love to hear what you think of it.
I was going to write a year-end review of 2011, but really, who cares. No one wants to read another one of those anyway. Instead, here’s a Scud drawing I did for my brother for his birthday. Colored with water color and copic markers. The background was done by my super talented wife who, unlike me, is actually good at this whole painting thing:
Here’s some more concept art from the new comic. Just about ready to start working on actual pages.
Here’s an image of the main character of Sector Four. I’ll be posting more design artwork from the comic over the next month or so. Hoping to launch the comic early-ish next year.
After the hellboy sketch, I figured I might as well just run through the list of my favorite comic book characters over the years. Top of the list is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. I’ve loved this comic for about 20 years now… consistently the best book being produced and the fact that it’s been going this long and is still this good is a testament to the talent of Mr. Sakai. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Here’s my sketch (drawn with a prismacolor brush pen and copic markers) – click for a larger version:
I’m going to start doing more frequent “con-style” sketches. The goal of these is to practice up and get myself posting artwork more often. Since my comic work that I have going on right now is in more of a preliminary phase and I’m not posting it regularly, it feels weird to not have stuff out there on a regular basis. These sketches will all be done on 9×6 bristol with pens and copic markers. If anyone has an interest in owning these, you can hit the contact link above and we can work out the details. For now the drawings will be free but I might ask for a little cash for shipping – I reserve the right to change that in the future if the demand goes up :)
Anyway, first up is one of my favorite comics… Hellboy: