Sunday, August 28, 2011


Check out Derek's colors over my inks before looking over this week's sketches!

Before draw night, I wanted to ink my picture of Bearclaw for Derek to see if the gray thing I came up with a week earlier still produced happy results. Before I began, I played around with the ink brushes to get in the swing of things. The actual doodles didn't matter too much, but I thought someone might enjoy seeing them.

The actual inks -- finished at draw night -- still made me happy with the approach, but of my two light-gray Pitt pens, I may prefer the warm over the cold gray, the latter of which was used here. The next thing I ink, I'll try a warm. It's weird, I was just looking at some amazing inks by James Harren over at Ottley's new side project and found myself wishing I could do stuff like that, but the real point of all this fiddling lately is finding something that matches my pencils, so if anything, I might just be wishing I could wield a pencil the way that guy does inks. O artist envy.

Once draw night got going, it was the usual fare, which I was happy with. I doodled naked ladies, which I always love; hair, which I also always love, and a weird demon-looking fella with scary wings. The page started with a guy on a saddle (top-center), but I had no reference for a horse so I caved.

Sometime last week I got stuck on game progress, and when I'm busy thinking about different approaches to my Unity scripts, I start mindlessly doodling in the borders. That's what this and the next two pages are.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ink Stab

If you follow my blog, you know that I occasionally play around with inks. Inks pique my curiosity because it's so important to the comic craft but such a struggle to do without taking something away from the feel of the pencils. This is true even when the inker is the same person as the penciller; it's simply too deep a craft, with enormous room for growth and mastery independent of all the other things you might learn as a comic artist, like composition, design, backgrounds, animals, tech, or any other unusual thing you might regularly asked to pull out of your arse.

This page was done during one of my breaks from coding. Using Ryan's scanner and printer, it's possible to print out "blue line" versions of pages (in this case, two pages) onto Bristol board. This paper was somewhere between rough and smooth, and Ryan let me borrow some pens to play with. My goal was just to find which pens and which inking approach kept the spirit of my original pencils the best, using doodles from the previous day.

I began with a brush pen that is pretty standard (and to my feel, loose). I started with the guy with the outstretched arm at top-center, then moved to the nude female figure, and then the woman with the upturned head at page center. I didn't feel like I had much of a natural grasp with the pen, and I started to wonder how his .3 and .1 non-brush pens might work. I moved to the head in the upper-left, and though it was nicer, I still felt like a lot was lost. I tried going even thinner, using the side of the .1 pen for any fine or any suggestive detail as seen on the pondering boy, with edges done using a .3. It still looked a bit stiff, however, so Ryan gave me a much tighter Japanese brush pen that he says Cory Walker uses (I used the same brush pen for the 24 hour Zombie Bean pages) I redid the edges around the boy and liked the result enough, but wasn't very happy with the process because the thin lines process still felt unnatural to me. Regardless, I tried pushing forward with it, and repeated the approach for the remaining drawings. Any gray you notice on the page came after the next page...

After Ryan looked over the inks, he suggested I use a smoother Bristol board and printed just the Fat Vampire doodle. I began inking the surprised guy with the same approach I used on my previous doodles, but I was still unhappy with the result. I put a finger on what I disliked about the process: when sketching, I intentionally use loose and "sketchy" lines to vaguely suggest shapes that I expect the viewer to fill in with their mind. For example, a lot of times when I'm drawing lines around the nose or even things like abdomen muscles, I'm not making a statement with each line, just suggesting some definition or bounding shape that makes the drawing come together. The problem is inks set those lines in stone and make them pop, and unless it's very thin, it comes across as a very purposeful and important definition. The thin line approach worked in the earlier doodles, but wasn't very natural-feeling because it had to be done so carefully. What I wanted was a solution that let me ink in "suggestion lines" confidently. It struck me that maybe gray would be a decent approach, and I tried it on the fat vampire behind the guy. I used the "Cory Walker" brush pen for blacks and it had a more confident and flowing feel, and any place where I knew I was using "suggesting lines" I swapped to gray and confidently threw those down as well. The end result was an ink job that I felt captured my pencils while being true to the original drawing (in my estimation, at least) all while feeling comfortable in my hand.

I asked Ryan if this approach was okay in comics, and he thought aside from having to figure out how to send larger comic files it wouldn't throw anyone for a loop. At his suggestion, I bought some gray Pitt pens the next day and tried to decide on a gray I like. I'm still deciding on the lightest Warm or Cold gray in my set but regardless, I'm excited to play with the technique more to see if it works on smaller drawings, because the fat vampire doodle was on a pretty big page and I think that helped.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fat Vampire!

Some of you are aware of the game I'm trying to solo build, but it might be a surprise how much of a struggle focus can be when working at home. This past week I finally took Ryan up on a gracious offer to to spend time at his office space during the day, and it's been an incredible boon for my work. I couldn't be happier that he's let me work there, or more hopeful that he lets me continue to do so. And a perk of being around Ryan is putting me in the mood for drawing. Breaks from coding have thus far been spent on doodles and practicing with inks. This page is one of the former.

At draw night later in the day, I was in the mood to do some fan art, and picked Derek's Bearclaw. I'm not sure what his age is in the comic, but I wanted to try a "realistic" take on the character. I imagined him as kind of a grubby, poor white kid with a self-destructive streak and aggrandized ego, though I'm not sure how much I got at that with a few lines. Regardless, it was really fun to draw.

My last draw night sketch page began with the guy in the stiff pose and look of surprise. I wanted to draw something for him to be surprised at, and a fat vampire seemed to do the trick. I really the doodle, because fat is fun.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Brush with Comics

This a big post about a journey I went on back in 2004. I had just quit my job at Saffire after working for 10 years in the video game industry, and was trying to decide whether I wanted to continue in games or explore a childhood dream of working in comics. I knew that Comic Con was coming up in about 2 months so on the day of quitting I called up my childhood pal, Joe Abraham. Joe was living in Jersey City penciling Hero Squared for Boom Studios. I wanted to hang with my childhood art peer and work on a comic portfolio for Comic Con. Joe agreed to it and I booked a flight to leave the very next day.

The Portfolio
You can see my comic portfolio here. The format is something Joe told me about, invented by Joe Quesada. It's a 12 page portfolio featuring three stories: one team superhero story, one solo superhero story, and one about pedestrian story, with covers for each story included at the end. The point of the approach is demonstrating an aptitude for any kind of topic a writer might throw at you.

The Approach
With the 12-page format in mind, I had a basic plan to spend most of my time brushing the dust off of my drawing skills. Since my drawing had been limited to once a week at draw nights, drawing every day would help me get into a groove and sharpen what I could do, and give me confidence to commit something to the page. I also wanted to do 12 pages in 12 days, waiting two weeks before the Con to begin. If someone liked what they saw, I wanted to feel confident promising them similar work in a similar time frame.False advertising is not my bag.

The Doodles
Every doodle page over that two month period follows -- 43 in total (excluding the portfolio) -- never before posted, along with my usual blather.

After arriving in Jersey City, I split my time between doodling and pressing the flesh in video games. Joe was working on cover layouts for an issue of Hero Squared, and I was excited to help. In the upper-left of this drawing is a cover-rough for the armored villain of the series, holding its hand over the crumpled protagonist, who has Kirby-energy coming out of his eyes. It's probably hard decipher but layout doodles are often done just to get an idea across, with explaining to go along with it.

This next page should seem familiar to a regular visitor -- lots of random figures to get in the swing of things. I often complain that my superheroes look very awkward, and until I start envisioning them not as a person wearing a costume but rather a person-costume hybrid that embodies the point of the hero, it look like ass. I knew this was something to work on, so you see a couple efforts to get superheroes on the page here -- Superman, and someone that looks vaguely like my memory of Black Widow.

It crossed my mind to work on an old comic idea set in a future city surrounded by a vast desert filled with nasty robots (called "viruses," constructed by kids for lulz). The twist to the world is that everyone trains towards a particular destiny in their dreams. The protagonist has dreams of being an unmatched swordsman but nothing about it matches his meek personality. The story revolves around how he comes to grips with this incongruity.

I liked the setting because I could keep drawing shirtless dudes with swords -- a common theme in my work prior -- but there was a hitch in my struggle to doodle interesting robots. I explored that inability here. Two ideas that interested me were, (a) using "non-specific bunches of metal" as seen in the upper-right (with the dark robot head) and (b) limbs made of some kind of accordion-ing bands that didn't require me to figure out robot hinges.

The metal bunches and accordion bands were explored further on this page. I tried to expand on the dark head seen in the previous page with a full side-body shot, and even showed what expanding arms might look like in action (upper-right). In the end, it might have simply felt wrong because I kept struggling to solve the joint problem.

The focus on this older story culminated in this drawing, of my hero reacting purely on instinctual training from his dreams to avoid an attack by a "virus." I wanted to capture the fear and incredulity someone might feel using abilities they don't believe in to save their life from an impossible obstacle. The robot I settled on is kind of a tin can -- at this point, I think I decided that avoiding the logic of mechanics might be forgivable if the picture was fun.

After the robot fun I went back to everyday figures. A lot of days were just me getting comfortable by fiddling on the page.

Two things stand out to me on this page: first is the perspective punch in the upper-right because I remember thinking to myself that I need to get some practice at swinging, dynamic figures, and the second is noting another shot at the hero from Hero Squared positioned at mid-left. I see myself trying to get into the "hero-costume" hybrid by drawing a naked guy and adding the barest of lines to suggest a collar poking out. All the fire on the page is a mystery. Maybe Joe made a comment about how I draw fire, and it led to some doodles.

At the top of this page is a loose shot of the desert city in my mind's eye. I thought it would be a stacked ghetto with a perimeter of devices that prevented the viruses from wreaking havoc in the city proper. I'm not sure why everything is surrounded by smoke / sandstorms / fog; either it had some important role in the narrative or I didn't feel like drawing more. The other figures have more visual variety than I usually doodle, so I think I was getting in the mood for comics, which are filled to the brim with freaks.

One of the things I remember wondering about was curvilinear perspective. I don't remember if I knew an approach to drawing it or if I was trying figure it out on the page, but it explains the center-left doodle. The awkward joy of this page was my attempt to draw someone with Down's syndrome sans reference (bottom-right). I remember it took a lot of light sketching and erasing but eventually I was happy with the result. It might not be accurate, but I was fooled. 

This page is more Hero Squared cover roughs. I hope I wasn't pestering Joe with them, but I remember them being fun regardless. I also feel like noting how much I like the top-down view of the character on at center-right. Something about him tickles my fancy.

Though most of my time in Jersey City was spent doodling, an itty-bit of time was spent socializing. I remember one night going into historic downtown for a party and I doodled the scenario from memory as a "pedestrian" exercise. I'm the guy schlepping it up at the table with video game shirt while everyone else parties. What a nerdy Nerdly McNerdlington.

This page is where actual portfolio page roughs appear, about three days before portfolio work actually began. The roughs are for the skinny dip story which -- the last of my three stories. Perhaps it was cheating not doing the roughs on day-and-date of the actual pages! I think they match the final product fairly well, but the look of the girlfriend changed.

This random head doodle was my only output two days before I began my portfolio work.

My first portfolio story was going to be the X-Men so I needed to get familiar with the current team. Joe took us to New York to get some comic reference from the comic shop, and the day before my portfolio work began, I did research and exercises to help me learn how the characters. Characters like Nightcrawler and Marvel Girl were nice and straightforward, but I knew that Juggernaut and the enemy robot (my invention) would be a problem. Why I keep drawing robots when I have difficulty drawing them I'll never know, but I discovered an interesting thing about drawing robots -- that I was much better at it in the beginning of the day than I was the end. Perhaps it had something to do with my patience level and attention to detail in the morning. Regardless, I made a mental note to try to do robots in the morning whenever possible.

X-Men's Beast was the strangest to revisit. I grew up with the blue, furry, and ape-like Beast but in 2004 he was ion-esque. The reference I had did a bad job of capturing this quality, so I wanted to punch it in my version of the character. Even without reference, I found an approach that gave me a consistent look to use in the portfolio X-Men pages. Rough layouts for the X-Men story are also visible on the page.

One of the moments in my X-Men story was of Juggernaut doing the "fastball special" with Wolverine as an unsuspecting participant. Since I was afraid of Juggernaut, I wanted to do some tests to make sure this idea would come across correctly.

Storm and Nightcrawler were came out for fun on this page, along with some explosion tests and Marvel Girl freaking out.

Wolverine was the last cast member to attempt, with more Storm and a lot of random figures.

Robin was also on my mind as my choice for the solo hero story. In 2004, the Robin was a female. It was an enjoyable twist, and I was looking forward to the story I had planned of Robin infiltrating and beating down a bunch of thieves in their den.

The roughs on this page were too crammed for the final portfolio page so I eventually went with a different take. Also on this page is a test for Marvel Girl detecting the robot before he falls into the scene, ready to fight the X-Men.

This was the day I finally went to work on my portfolio pages. Most of it went directly on the page, but there were moments where I drew panels on the side and transferred them to the final page with a light table Joe had handy. (The light table was invaluable!) Also notice the space made for speech bubbles. I knew that newbies sometimes forgot about it, and I wanted to make sure I left room for them.

Eventually I found a backside Beast that tickled my fancy, and I transposed it using the light table to the final portfolio page. I also did tests to see where the "X" on the X-Men costumes would connect on a side view.

The tests on this page were ultimately abandoned.

Still on the first day of portfolio pages, I was worried about my rendition of Juggernaut, and I did some crunching to get his costume to behave a little more logically to my mind.

I needed to break down what Juggernaut looked like beneath the costume before I it started to make sense to me. My eureka moment became the basis for the rest of my drawings of him.

After some final tests, I felt confident in my approach to the Juggernaut.

After finishing the first portfolio page, I did some preparatory doodles for Robin and my final pedestrian story, as well as one more test of the Juggernaut throwing scene. That first page was an enormous amount of work -- the number of hours each page took is jotted down and circled on each page -- but the final product was incredibly gratifying. 

The second X-Men page was where my robot appeared. He blasts Beast and Marvel Girl runs to help, but the robot drops in front of her, rising as Nightcrawler teleports her back into the fold. Too much information! The robot was surprisingly difficult to draw -- it always turned out stiff -- until I tried drawing a human figure in the exact same pose and then doodled the robot over that figure. It was a weird trick but it worked great, and I still use it to this day.

I played around with some few poses to see if any of the angles could be useful, but they were looking pretty awkward.

I needed to loosen up, so I did a page of random doodles to get me in the groove of things. After awhile, I felt like I was reaching my happy place.

To make sure I was feeling things again, I did a few tests with heroes. I've always wondered why creators didn't do more with the fact that Nightcrawler was a master swordsman and he can teleport into other objects, so I decided to explore the possibilities. I was happy that my Juggernaut was still looking okay from the previous day.

Feeling prepared, I started on page two of the X-Men story. I used this page to toy around with roughs for Beast getting zapped and Marvel Girl running to rescue him.

Eventually I settled on a behind-shot of the team looking at Beast getting blasted.

I drew out the details and used the light table to transfer the result to the actual page.

Using the robot-drawn-over-human-pose trick, I used this page for the robot-rising panel. Once it looked right, I transferred the results via the light table.

No doodles exist for the final X-Men page because it went smoothly enough, but I have this page of doodles from that day (probably in the morning to loosen up), featuring some silliness with Wolverine, a ring, and a shitty no-reference car.

Being in a top-floor apartment in Jersey City was fortunate because it gave me a lot of helpful rooftop reference for the Robin pages. I remember eating delivery Pizza with Joe on the roof in the evening studying the details of the nearby roofs. It's staggering how many things you need to know how to draw as a comic artist, and having spent most of my life only doodling figures felt like a weakness. On the first Robin page, I actually avoided doing perspective lines hoping my eyeballs would be good enough, and without a ruler hoping it would make the environment seem less "stiff."

The second Robin page to feature a bunch of enemy clones but when Joe found out, it prompted commentary about how much he disliked generic characters because each is an opportunity to do something more interesting.

As I came up with thug ideas, I was haunted by what Joe said. I was concerned about having to do character design for 5 grunts in addition to the actual choreography of a fight scene and complete the page, but it was sound advice and I went for it.

With no real time for revisions, I settled on final thug designs swiftly. The "lineup" was a fun way of highlighting each character, and it made me more excited for the final product. Psylocke because I felt like it.

The choreography for Robin page two was the next bitch. Self-inflicted, because of my gripe that fighting in comics -- much like fighting in movies -- is too often shorthand that didn't allow the viewer a means to collect details about the choreography taking place. I wanted to show moment-to-moment how Robin might actually dismantle 5 thugs in close combat, but with three pages it had to be quick. With a bit of brainstorming and rough sketches, I thought I had a good approach, and I committed to it.

A couple spots needed help, so I used a blue pencil to basic shapes placed and drew simple lines over to transfer with the light table. This relatively bare approach was a nice way of minimizing the work before the final page, where more detail was applied.

No More Doodles
No more doodle pages were made for the remaining pages. The final Robin page was pretty simple, with very little in the way of background and figures.

The Pedestrian Story
The pedestrian story was a lot of fun, but the first page was brutal. I used reference photos from the block where Joe lived, and did the long street-shot (3rd panel) entirely by eyeball and hand, like the first Robin page. On the second pedestrian page I added an Easter egg -- two of the thugs that I designed for the Robin pages. On the final pedestrian page, the trees and grass ended up stiff, but I enjoyed going cartoony with clothes removal as "the girlfriend" does a cannonball into the water.

The Covers
The three covers leftover went quick, and were finished in a single day.

The End Feeling
The net result was really gratifying, and represented a lot of hard work. To this day, I have a strong emotional memory of how difficult it was, and maintain the deepest respect for anyone that consistently turn out a page a day or more. It's a staggering amount of work juggling story, design, composition, and wildly divergent subjects, often on a single page. When I finished, I was reminded of pro wrestling. Wrestlers get addicted to the pain their bodies are subjected to day after day and even become dangerously depressed when injuries leave them inactive for too long. I felt similarly addicted to the grind of drawing comics, and wanted to start another page the next day. Even though it was hard work, I knew it would feel amazing to have a finished comic page to show for it.

The Personal Review
I was pleased with the work, which I felt improved visibly with each story. My speed was still slower than I wanted, but I expected that would improve as I did more comic work. I was disappointed by the X-Men pages because of the sloppy tech and confusion from trying to cram too much information in each panel, but I still liked some of the action involving the robot. The last page of the Robin also felt sloppy to me but I liked the first and second pages, and loved the thugs and their action sequence. Similarly, the last page of the pedestrian story seemed off, but I was really proud of the rest of it, and it really seemed to flow, perhaps because I was getting used to sequential storytelling, or because it was the least established in the first place.

The Professional Review
I thought the reception to my portfolio was good. It was the first year Marvel and DC had dropboxes -- no meeting with editors -- so I don't know if anyone saw the work or cared, but I got one on one time with editors from Dark Horse and Devil's Due and was given cards and positive remarks to follow up on. One of the Dark Horse guys even asked if I would send pages so that he could ink them. My impression from the Con was that if I stayed on it, after a few years of hard work I could probably make something happen in comics.

The Result
But may never know if my assessment was true. After interviewing with some game companies I eventually had to choose whether to go with comics or games, and I eventually chose to see how far the 10 years already committed to games could take me. I never did send that page off to be inked...