What is cheating, anyway?

This post is going to cover several topics – the forum and comments, twitter, what you can expect in content, and then the subject of cheating. But first lets do some house cleaning.

Taking the forum offline and enabling comments

I like forums. They’re great places for group discussions. Yes, Twitter is awesome, but sometimes you need/want more than 140 characters. I took posting in our forum much like posting blogs here. I could expand on a subject over several posts, add all sorts of references, links, videos, images. But that created twice the real estate to cover. Blogging in the morning is a good way to focus but too much of it can get in the way of real work. Having to post content in a forum as well increases the amount of stuff I could be doing instead of drawing and what’s the gain in that? I know running a forum means posting lots of fresh content and getting others to do the same. I had friends who signed up but almost none of them invested the time to even make a first post. These are people I know. If they can’t bother to post anything, what’s the likelihood of strangers wanting to register and post? So for the time being I’m going to be realistic and scale back. I’m opening up comments on the blog. Registering is a plus. I’d like folks to register so I can eventually work on a members area for them to interact and whatnot. But right now just comment if you have ideas, suggestions, or like what you see. You don’t have to register to comment – in fact, I’m wiring Twitter up to commenting to encourage folks to join in.

I’m enabling it for blog posts from now on because, really, turning comments on for the entire archive is silly. If anything I should have a time limit on how old articles can be before commenting goes off. I’ve got too many posts to enable/disable comments on everything easily and offering older posts only opens up more room for spammers. Spam is a big concern of mine. Last time I opened comments I got somewhere between 3-5,000 spam comments. The only realistic way I could remove them all was to nuke the database. I don’t want to have to do that again. But I know folks want to discuss the stuff I post here and I really want to engage them in it. Hopefully things will be more manageable this time around.

Who’s this blog for, anyway?

They say you write what you know. So my audience is, in effect, me. Or people like me. I’ve been reading/making webcomics for awhile now and I’m honestly making a serious effort these days. I have a story I like that I want to tell to the best of my abilities and I want to share working on that with the rest of you. It seems a little esoteric right now because I’m discussing the creative process/struggle from the point before the launch. I’ve set a launch date and I’m working to get as much done before then as I can. Once the comic premiers I’ll be sharing more artwork up here and trying to get some opinions on it. I’ll also be streaming some as I work like other webcartoonists are doing. I just don’t want folks getting sick of seeing the same page before it’s actually complete and they see it in context.

Thoughts on cheating

“Cheating” is one of those loaded concepts, like “selling out,” that usually doesn’t have much meaning beyond what’s in the mind of the person saying it. When I first got into webcomics everybody was hating on sprite comics. Megaman, Final Fantasy, whatever it was, people considered them the bottom of the barrel. Anybody could slap some images together and write a fart joke on top of it. But what about sprites you created? What about reusing your own art? Does that mean even original pixel art done in the style of 8-bit games is cheap? How about comics that use pre-existing art like PartiallyClips or Wondermark? Today we have stickfigure comics and other strips where the art is an afterthought to the joke or concept being expressed. This brings up the question – what is cheating?

This is one of those “I know it when I see it” deals. It’s over-used, sure. There are folks who consider anything that isn’t hand-drawn and lettered a cop-out. Use a digital font? Cheater. Wacom tablet? Cheaty McCheatpants. How about 3D comics that use posed models and there’s no real drawing going on? I argue it’s more about intent and motive than anything else. If somebody throws something together haphazardly  and then goes to a forum and brags wanting to show off their skills, we can see through that. We don’t care because you haven’t given us a reason to care. Two guys sitting on a couch playing a video game and you’ve photoshopped in a blurry background. It’d be a masterpiece maybe back in the day when we didn’t have Photoshop or a thousand bland comics about two guys playing games.

Cover to How to Cheat in Photoshop CS3

This right here is what I think of when people talk about cheating. The author wants to show off some quick tricks that’ll fix up any old thing. As with any technology, there is no “make it good” button in Photoshop. You need to pay attention to every element individually as well as look at your piece as a whole. Sometimes it’s as easy as setting up an action and a work flow to correct a recurring problem. Other times you should just rip the thing up and start again. I mean, do you see the hole in his elbow under the cards? Once it’s seen it can’t be unseen.

But this doesn’t just apply to PS. When we draw we take little shortcuts. We all do. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We want to speed things up and get to the parts we like. But how many times do you redraw a memorized pattern for a hand only to later realize it doesn’t look like the person is actually holding anything? How many webcomics these days have characters with their arms crossed and their eyes half open? Now carry this into writing. How many times does snarkiness replace personality in a character? How many “zany neighbor” types do we see? As much as I enjoy Family Guy the character of Peter drives me crazy because he does insane things because, obviously, he’s the dumbest person in the world. Just like how every sitcom dad has to be so stupid he’s dangerous. This is a de-evolution of comedy that comes from being raised on certain things and regurgitating them. A common criticism of  The Simpsons is that there’s nothing left to do. The show’s been on so long that the writers are running out of material to explore. Then there’s the fact that people coming in grew up on the show. I recall hearing that one of the writers was excited about working on the show because he had a class on it in college. As it is now the series is so engrained in people’s minds that it’s stale. And this brings us back to comics in a strange way. Once a strip becomes successful it often grows complacent and formulaic. After all, less folks are going to write in and complain about an inoffensive comic. This breeds mediocrity.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s Jumping the Shark and Worthless Characters. Fonzie jumping the shark in Happy Days is one of those moments where you sit back and go, “What the hell am I even watching anymore?” In comics you might be familiar with Cerebrus Syndrome. Lots of us have been there. We’ve got this goofy gag strip and our characters are doing outlandish things. Then we decide we’re serious artists and turn some one-off bit into this epic 10 year storyline. This makes a comic like an onion. It’s tightly compact, has many layers, and usually brings readers to tears trying to unravel the damned thing. Containment of storylines, arcs, and plot points can be hard to manage. If you need footnotes to orient readers on what’s going on you might be having troubles. It’s best to have a clear narrative and point to what you’re trying to get across. I used to let my stories meander and go all over the place. You can get lost that way if you don’t set some limits and constraints. It doesn’t have to subscribe to the sitcom ideal of everything returning to the status quo by episode’s end, but it’s easier to work with stories if you think of them in bits as opposed to ongoing continuing sagas that never ever end. Ever.

The kid who played Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch

I rarely watched The Brady Bunch but I know the loathing people had for Cousin Oliver. You see him a lot in TV shows where they try to recreate lightning in a bottle. Cast chemistry is a magical thing. When it works it just works. Sometimes something new doesn’t belong there. Sometimes something new should be it’s own thing and it shouldn’t encroach on the existing property. And sometimes it’s best to just hang things up when the magic is gone. Take a look at this photo from That 70s Show.

Cast pic from That 70s Show illustrating how nobody likes Randy

Somebody look out of place here? That guy peeping out from the left there? Why yes,it’s Randy, the guy they wrote in to replace Eric and Kelso. I have nothing against this actor personally. Yet every time his character was on screen I would get mad at my TV. He was such a transparent fill-in and I hated how we were just supposed to accept him. At some point we become invested in the characters and the series. If you don’t treat them with care this happens. If you have some sort of agenda to push with your comic or fall back on cliches you lose a lot of the credibility you’ve worked for. Characters should be introduced naturally. Another good example is Superman Returns. They really wanted to return to the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve era Superman movies. In a lot of ways you can see that movie as a love letter to Superman 2. (So much so that a good case can be made that it doesn’t actually go anywhere new.) Personally, I think you can take your favorite characters out and play with them, fine, but do something interesting with them. And this comes back to the whole new character problem because in this movie we have super baby. That’s right, Lois had a kid and got married while Superman was gone. That’s not what I sign up for when I go to see Superman. I don’t want to see the awkwardness of them wanting to make out and then the husband comes in. Is that what you watch a Supes movie for? Awkward love triangles? With everything they could throw into that movie – a smorgasbord of villains they could introduce into the movie universe – they pull out Lex Luthor. At least it wasn’t another origin story again, right?

Cultivating Inspiration

Like most creative types sometimes I feel there are days where I’m just on. Days where I get up, shoot from the hip, and it’s all great. Then there are days where it seems every little achievement is a struggle. If your goal is to spit something out with any regularity, waiting for inspiration to strike can devolve into endless waiting. Instead of doing that, I recommend the professional (or even semi-professional or hobbyist) creator actively pursue inspiration. Seek it out. Try to make drawing and writing fun because it really is if you can take the work out of it.

I appreciate the comfort of routine. Getting up every day at a certain time, getting to work, putting my work down at a regular time, and getting to bed at a decent hour, these things help me stay focused. Every so often lightning will strike and some brilliant idea will come from the heavens. Most of the time it’s spread out. It’s much more reasonable to expect regular solid results every day than to work feverishly when the idea hits you. Scott Adams posted this blog about his daily work day. Every so often I like to read over it and think, “That’s not a bad way to spend a day.” Getting up in the morning, petting the kitty, and then coming up with a fun idea to draw. Some of it may be tedious and mindless busywork, but it can also be very zen. Put on some music or a movie/TV show and get in the zone.

I think naturally I’m more of a writer than an artist and I have to work at making my concepts visual. However I’ve had years of practice and I know drawing is a skill that can be learned and improved over time. It’s gotten to the point with me where I come up with the idea and what I need to illustrate, then I go into drawing mode. I lay things out, I change the poses until I’m happy, and all I let my brain think about is making the best image possible. It becomes less of a conscious effort to make something and more of a reaction to what I’m laying down.

Another important thing to remember when establishing a routine is to break up the monotony that can kill your drive. If you’re drawing day after day, give yourself some time to just write. If you’re working on panels and pages, get a sketchbook out and doodle some designs for future characters. If I had to relive the same day all the time I’d go insane very quickly and stop producing. Sometimes I’m not firing on all cylinders when I’m trying to work on a page so I move onto sketching other things like props or settings. Suddenly I’ve found an angle I can work with. The key is to keep busy and to feel like you’re accomplishing something. I’ve found, as the pages start to pile up, you tend to believe in yourself more. “I can really do this. I’ve already done so much, what’s one more page? Bring it on!”

He’s going to take you back to the past…

Today I’m going to share some of the random selections of tunes I have in my playlist. I’m a fan of the Angry Video Game Nerd review series, but I also recommend checking out the Fan Song Page which has a number of remixes and tributes you might recognize from a few episodes. You might also want to check out the fellow who wrote/performs the AVGN theme, Kyle Justin. There’s also Chris Holland who’s done music for the series and offers the tunes on his website.

I also suggest signing up for the mailing list for Fall On Your Sword. You’ll get 3 free songs, including Shatner of the Mount.

Finally, an album I forgot to mention before but really should have – Pat Boone: In a Metal Mood.

Pat Boone doing lounge covers of metal songs. I originally got this for its oddity element but it’s also a really solid record. Put this and the Nutley Brass on in your studio and you’re in for a pretty swingin’ time.

Being Happy

  • On November 5, 2009 ·
  • By ·

Everybody deserves to be happy. But what is happiness? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows us the different levels of needs which can be met to obtain happiness. They’re in a pyramid form because the lower levels must be satisfied first before the upper levels can be achieved. First there’s the purely physical needs to sustain life. Then there’s safety and security. Follow that up with feeling loved and belonging. Above that is esteem and at the very top is self-actualization. This is an interesting way to consider it but maybe a little too methodical and strategic for practical use. It’s good for picking out on which stages you’re falling short in your attempts to correct yourself, at least. I find the older I get the more I agree with this quote from Aristotle,

With respect to acting in the face of danger,
courage is a mean between
the excess of rashness and the deficiency of cowardice;

with respect to the enjoyment of pleasures,
temperance is a mean between
the excess of intemperance and the deficiency of insensibility;

with respect to spending money,
generosity is a mean between
the excess of wastefulness and the deficiency of stinginess;

with respect to relations with strangers,
being friendly is a mean between
the excess of being ingratiating and the deficiency of being surly;

and

with respect to self-esteem,
magnanimity is a mean between
the excess of vanity and the deficiency of pusillanimity.

In Buddhism and the Middle Way philosophy, avoiding extremes is recommended. I’ve seen people extremely ecstatic and extremely depressed. This roller coaster of emotions isn’t a path to happiness. The highs can feel really good when you’re on them but the lows bring you crashing down. It’s much more rewarding to spread the happiness around over-all with a fair consistency. This isn’t always possible but it’s a good goal to strive for with your day.

It’s important to surround yourself with positive energy. I don’t quite mean this in the chakra sense. I mean, if you want to be happy, spend time with happy people. Plenty of people are only happy if they have something to complain about. They’re unsatisfied so they seek to make other people so. I can understand the logic in that but it’s flawed. If you’re unhappy with your own situation you should focus on changing it rather than bringing other people down. This also swings the other way. Some people feel they have to help everybody. This is a noble gesture but it leaves you open to being taken advantage of as well as adding significantly to your own stress and anxiety. You can’t always help everybody and you can’t always solve every problem. You have to be realistic with yourself and your expectations. As long as you do your best, that’s all anybody can ask of you.

Charlie Chaplin became famous for playing the “Little Tramp,” a character who had a pretty sad existence but wormed his way into our hearts through his sympathetic nature and goofy antics. Though at one point he’s so poor he resorts to cooking a shoe, we laugh because of his “oh well” attitude and how he struggles to even manage something as simple as eating it. It’s the struggle we relate to. In his worn-out, ill-fitting suit, this little gentleman never gives up – something we’d all like to remember in the darkest times. If you’ve ever seen the movie Chaplin, you know he really did have a pretty rough life. Yet even today his films entertain us and we remember him with a smile.

Bill Cosby is another interesting case. For his doctoral research he wrote a dissertation, “An Integration of the Visual Media Via ‘Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids’ Into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning.” He’s a very intelligent man. If you ever get the chance to watch an interview with him I suggest you do it. He has a way of speaking to children that isn’t talking down to them but rather speaking as a buddy. He’s often seen as a father figure based on his comedy routines and his series The Cosby Show. I got the chance to see him speak at my college several years ago. I know he’s said some controversial things at times but he’s a very interesting person to listen to and always entertaining.

Fred McFeely “Mister” Rogers is a staple in many people’s childhoods. His show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was a warm, gentle, friendly place. Some people make fun of it for being so inoffensive but it does deliver a certain charm to it’s intended audience. Above that, Rogers himself was quite possibly the nicest man in the world. From everything I’ve heard, he was a Presbyterian minister who didn’t drink, smoke, ate vegetarian, was such an advocate of recycling that he brought trash home with him when he went on vacation, and whenever he was asked to say something bad about non-Christians or gays he would sincerely say, “God loves you just the way you are.”

The Muppets are also a staple of many people’s childhoods. Even if you’re an adult now you can still enjoy Jim Henson’s funny, charming, and entertaining characters. They’re timeless and at their heart upbeat about life. It’s not always easy being green, as Kermit’s made famous, but it’s who he is and he’s fine with it. Just as we all should try to be happy with how we ourselves are.

Charles Monroe “Sparky” Shultz gave us Peanuts, a comic strip that has spawned movies, TV shows, musicals, you name it. Charlie Brown is the perpetual loser. Always hoping to kick that football. Always wanting to talk to the little red haired girl. The prime-time animated special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, dealt with depression and stress brought on by the over-commercialism of the holiday. It’s poignant, charming, and still holds up. At the end of the day, Charlie Brown goes to bed ready to try his luck again in the morning, because tomorrow’s another day.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a movie you can watch over and over again, finding something new each time you see it. Paul Ruebens’s character is a perpetual child and the cartoony situations he finds himself in as he searches for his stolen bike never cease to bring a smile. In some ways he’s like the “Little Tramp,” always facing his challenges with silly optimism.

Robert Norman “Bob” Ross hosted The Joy of Painting. I got into disagreements with my professors in college about this show. I always found him entertaining and it’s pretty fascinating that he got a show about watching him paint landscapes. My profs considered him a gimmick to sell paint to amateurs to use a handful of tricks on. I, on the other hand, appreciate his ability to construct a scene out of thin air and have fun with it. This is important to remember when you’re doing those tedious backgrounds that comics folk hate to spend their time on. Instead of seeing it as a chore, he’d make up little stories to himself about the caves and the mountains, maybe imagining a little bear that lives there. His technique is also very fluid, never making mistakes, only “happy accidents.” He once said, “I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, ‘Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.’ That’s for sure. That’s why I paint. It’s because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.”

All of these people and characters set out to be happy regardless of what the world throws at them. It’s not always easy but I find when you smile at the world it can often smile back. 🙂

Thumbnailing and Layouts (DO IT)

Today I’d like to talk about thumbnailing and laying out comics. I learned very early on in my animation classes that laying things out is the greatest present you can give to yourself. It’s fun, for one thing, and it makes the rest of the process a lot easier. When you remove the mental burden of having to make a drawing a finished image and instead make it a study for yourself it’s incredibly freeing. You can change things, find what works, then refine it in your final piece. You don’t have to layout entire books at once or anything crazy like that, but you can layout sections at a time. This allows you to block out the storytelling early so when it comes to drawing pages and panels you’re focused on making the best illustration you can instead of worrying about how well it fits into the scene.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh, I just draw a gag-a-day talking heads strip, I don’t need to go through all that.” If all you want to do is make something uninspired that we’ve all seen before, go on ahead. Get it out of your system. I resisted myself for a long time because it felt like I was just drawing the comic twice. That’s not how you do good layout, however. Good layout is drawing just enough to make everything clear when you sit down to blow things up and add details. That’s when you can be inventive before scaling back to only using what works. It’s easy to do a first pass of a scene where everything’s very middle. The poses are passable, the camera angles are bland, and the expressions aren’t lively. Then you try things. You consider what can enhance a shot or make it more interesting. You make things more fun to draw and more fun to look at. I really recommend clicking through Bryan Lee O’Malley’s set on Flickr where he documents the development of his series Scott Pilgrim. He shares pages from his scripts, thumbnails and layouts, as well as inks.

Having Fun vs. Making Art

I don’t remember the exact date but I can tell you specifically when I decided to start making webcomics. I was in my college drawing class and we were working on a still life. Which means they pulled out some props from the back room, arranged them, and told us to draw. We all found the most approachable angles and started in. Let me be clear here: I was drawing a pile of shoes. There were other objects in the pile, but specifically there was a red lady’s heel and an old sneaker or two. I have nothing against shoes personally, but I was feeling no inspiration or passion to keep going. You’re not going to have passion for everything you have to draw, but if you find yourself becoming bored and disinterested making it, it creeps into the work. I tried to tell my professor I wasn’t getting anywhere and felt like starting over. He told me that, if I only pushed those darks darker, the whole image would pop more. In hindsight I know he was just trying to keep me from making the common student mistake of abandoning a piece before it can really be finished. But at the time my immediate mental response was, “Screw this, I want to draw cartoons.”

I drew a week’s worth of strips with the resolve to submit them to my school paper. I showed up at the first meeting, however, and was told that they already had a cartoonist and didn’t have room for a full comics page. In the interest of full disclosure, it would have been nice to know that the editor telling me this was also the sister of the current cartoonist. I’m not going to cry nepotism here, but turning artists away sight unseen is not how you find the best talent for your publication. Shortly after all this I got an e-mail from Keenspace (Back when it was Keenspace) that the web space I’d registered for in the summer without any real plans for was finally available. So started my journey onto the world wide web. It was a rocky start with peaks and valleys. A week in I accidentally deleted some necessary file and broke the site. Support at the time was practically nonexistent and everyone on the forums I spoke with said I was basically dead in the water until an admin could be bothered to help me. So I moved to a free site until later when I actually bought a domain and hosting.

Why am I telling you all this? To get across that the projects I was working on were my own and for me. This wasn’t for some class and it wasn’t for somebody else. I wanted to make cartoons and I was observing the rigors of running them on a site. Dealing with the daily grind of making updates, struggling to learn how to code an archive, the hassle of trying to grow an audience, realizing you really can’t just dump things somewhere and expect them to get read. These were all lessons I learned because I had the drive already. I was having fun drawing comics so when I had to learn to do something new I took it on.

So when did making art get involved? Eventually this thing I did for fun became more and more important to me. I started to care about it. The comics became bigger than myself in that I wanted to get better at certain skills in order to better serve the story I was telling. For example, I have an aversion to rulers. It’s a bother to dig them out  and who can’t draw a straight line? Then yesterday I saw a panel I drew without one. It’s wobbliness horrified me and I will use rulers more than ever on this project because I’m terrified to see something like that in a final page. When you’re starting out you can have a tendency to say, “That’s good enough,” and toss it aside. There certainly are times when “good enough” needs to be said. In the interests of a hard deadline, for example. Daily goals need to be set or else you can spend forever intending to post an update but never really getting around to it. But maybe, just maybe, instead of spitting out a million horrible comics every day, you worked on producing three a week that were really spectacular. Sometimes it’s ok to redraw something if you can make it better, as long as you don’t let it get in the way of actually putting something out.

I went to two very different art schools. The first one focused on learning history, on painting, on printmaking, on sculpting, on being a gallery artist or an art educator. The other one focused more on the trade itself and being a commercial artist, animator, graphic designer, computer modeler or  game developer. There are pluses and minuses to both. If you’ve ever seen Art School Confidential, you’re probably aware of the posturing that goes on. Nobody goes in thinking they’re going to be that guy who changes majors three times or drops out after two semesters because it’s just not working for them. But we all can’t be Picasso. We all can’t be Walt Disney or Matt Groening. But we can be the guy or gal who drew that funny picture that got passed around all week on Facebook. We can be that page everyone hits on Monday to forget all the crap they have to do this week for a few minutes. We can be what we want to be as long as we’re realistic, serious about it, and put in the effort and the work to accomplish it.

Monday Morning Music Roundup

  • On November 2, 2009 ·
  • By ·

Alright, lets get this week started off properly. Last week was Halloween but I wasn’t able to post anything. Which means today we start out with Misfits Meet the Nutley Brass: Fiend Club Lounge.

Previously the Nutley Brass covered some tunes by the Ramones. These swingin’ astro-lounge versions of classic Misfits songs are great for a spooky party or every day use. I wish there were more releases like this. And just check out that album art. Speaking of album art, how about some Austrian Death Machine?

This is an album of metal songs based around Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. I know the ArnoCorps were the first to do it, but how can you not love songs like Get to the Choppa? They recently released a new CD, Double Brutal. They also have the single Very Brutal Christmas. And, rounding out the weird music selection of the day, we have Japanese Irish Celtic band The Cherry Coke$.

Cover for The Cherry Coke$ - Sail the Pint

You can check their myspace if you don’t believe me. The video for Bullet for Vapid Beer looks like a fun time. Being an old time fan of Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, I find it enjoyable. I hope they tour the states sometime. The last band from Japan I saw live was Thug Murder so it’s been awhile.

Site Resources

If you’ve tried visiting the site lately you’ve no doubt stumbled upon error messages. This is due to me being on shared hosting and using too many resources. Mostly it comes from WordPress plugins acting up. Eventually I want to move up from shared hosting once I can afford it. For now I’ve been cleaning things up and trying not to rely so heavily on 3rd party plugins. The archive dropdowns, for example, are now powered by the widgets that came with Webcomic and Inkblot. This required some tinkering as I’d tried to keep them working with ComicPress should I decide to switch back to it. That became too much hassle and now I’ve just decided to stick with WC&IB. I also accidentally broke the Lil’ Reaper Books page recently and figured that was as good a sign as any to fold it under the main page with the other sites. I’d only been holding off on moving it since I didn’t really have anything to sell yet and I wanted to look around for a decent shopping cart script. I’ve since found one I’m going to try working with and we’ll see how it goes. Lastly I’ve been dealing with how I’m going to incorporate my twitter posts with the blog and vice versa. Twittertools was a nice all-in-one solution but it sucks up resources by doing so much and has it’s fair share of bugs every update. Not to mention getting it to do what I wanted required more and more plugins as time went on, resulting in more resource hogging. So I went looking for a plugin that could tweet when I update the blog and use bit.ly for URL shortening. At the moment I’m trying WP to Twitter. If that doesn’t work properly I’ll try something else. (I just want auto-tweeting with an on/off button per post) For displaying tweets in the sidebar I got Twitter Widget Pro, though I may just switch back to the default Twitter html widget or something if I don’t do much in terms of styling the tweets as they show up here.

On Solid Drawing

There are many different ways to approach drawing, both stylistically and from a technical standpoint. I’m just going to go over the things I’ve cribbed from my years of studying and practice. Hopefully you can pull something useful from these concepts.

Understructure

This is something I picked up as an animator because we have to be able to turn our characters, keep them solid, and make the actions read well on screen. There are different degrees of understructure, the most basic being the Line of Action, as illustrated by Preston Blair. (And explained further in depth on the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive)

The line of action is a simple line showing the direction the drawing is moving in. This is important because it makes your drawings more dynamic. Rather than the stiff static figure being parked in place, you have fun posing. Once that’s figured out, you can start placing the Skeleton Foundation. The skeleton foundation is a stick figure you use to keep arms and legs the same relative length with each other and to figure out positioning. Once you have that it’s merely a matter of building up the overlapping shapes of the character on top of it. Remember when designing characters to try and give them Unique Shapes and Silhouettes to distinguish them from each other. Another thing to remember when constructing a character is to use dimensional shapes that have depth. Instead of working with squares and circles, think in cubes and spheres. Rotating Screwy Squirrel’s head is a lot easier when you see it as a solid shape that can be moved, rather than the outline that defines it in one drawing. Also, organic shapes like muscles squash and stretch. Usually you’ll find one part of the body squashing while the other’s stretching. This creates a dynamic asymmetric figure that looks more believable. At Disney they explain it as Avoiding Twins. (John K talks in depth about this on his blog)

How to avoid drawing twins

Be sure to draw through your figures to get placement right. We’re all guilty sometimes of hiding a hand behind a head and just assuming we know what it looks like. Don’t just draw what you think you know is there. Draw what is there. Sometimes you’ll be surprised when you realize you have the length of an arm off or need to show more of something because it’s not as hidden as you think it should be. Plus taking the shortcut of always drawing stock poses without developing them underneath can cause the poses to become too stylized and abstractions of what they’re really supposed to be.

Looking Inside a Drawing

Study for a piece by Michelangelo

I had a classmate once who could do very good line drawings of the models in the style of Michelangelo. He was frustrated, however, because he couldn’t turn his drawings or adjust for the distortions brought on by perspective. Once he drew something as he saw it, he couldn’t easily move it to another angle. The professor sat down with him and explained the idea of blocking in a box for the chest which could then be positioned and he could then lay down his linework on top of that. Contour and line is an important part of making a drawing look nice. But if your figure isn’t structured underneath lines are only going to get you so far. Now, some artists have a very design-centric style that doesn’t rely so heavily on depth, but they usually develop that look once they practice life drawing and learn basics. Even the most simple-looking drawing can have a wealth of knowledge behind it on making it work.

Talent vs. Skill

Here’s something that gets brought up on forums and such a lot and I thought I’d mention it. Drawing is by and large a skill. Some people may have a knack for it naturally but anybody can learn and improve over time. Too easily we dismiss the ability to draw well as some magical God-given power that only the lucky ones get. Mystifying drawing like that is a discredit to the hard work artists put into making their art better. If you were a doctor would you rather have somebody say you’re talented for being able to perform surgery or would you rather have them recognize the years you spent in med school? When I hear people say, “I wish I could do that,” I usually turn to them and ask why they don’t. Then I get the litany of reasons why they never had the time, they had bills to pay first, so on and so forth. Which is all well and good. But it doesn’t mean I just got the ability to draw one day. I made a constant effort to improve on the things I was having trouble with. I still make that effort.

Drawing is a skill in much the same way writing is. Some people may take to it early. But an artist learns, grows, figures out what works and what doesn’t. Lots of people who start out wanting to be artists have a few things they’re good at drawing, then they get asked to step outside of their comfort zone and can struggle. Some fall back on the defense, “Well, my family and friends all think I’m good.” That’s great. Your loved ones should be supportive. But when you start trying to sell your pieces your family or friends probably can’t buy them all. Eventually, if you want to make art that appeals to people who don’t know you, you have to work at it. Just as the creative writer who’s really good at poetry has to learn to outline, edit, and reword an essay, the cartoonist who’s really good at drawing anime faces should learn anatomy, perspective, and backgrounds.

Toning/Rendering/Developing an Image

Portrait of Sylvester and Tweety

This is more a word of caution than anything else. Don’t start shading/rendering/toning/whatever your drawings until they’re ready for it. I see this in life drawing a lot when people don’t block in their figures right and then jump into shading only to find they have to move a face or change an angle. Don’t be afraid of reworking a drawing. Do a light, quick gesture and work on it. If a leg’s at the wrong angle, redraw it in a better one. If you’re working in graphite you probably won’t even need to erase the first attempt because it’ll disappear into the reworking you’re going over and developing. Some artists will do a bad drawing and freeze, wad it up and start again or storm off in a huff. There are times when starting fresh is a good idea. Say after you draw a panel and realize the poses are great but the angle needs reworking. Or maybe you’ve sketched up the page with pencil already and you want to draw something new in while keeping older elements. There’s no strike in that.

Photoshop is not some all-magical solution to your problems. It’s a great tool for accomplishing tasks but it’s not a substitute for skills or fundamentals. In the right hands it can speed up workflow and produce some very beautiful and clean art. In the wrong hands it can make a lazy artist look lazy with pizazz. I’m not saying this as somebody in his ivory tower looking down. I’m saying this as a former lazy artist trying to reform himself and encourage others.

Influences

  • On October 26, 2009 ·
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When I was a kid I used to draw detective stories in black, white, and red. Why? Because old movies would sometimes only print one color like red, or sometimes the color element would be hand-colored. Of course I’d grown up with color films, but something drew me to the look of those movies. It was something different and interesting to look at. It also worked well for the subject matter. I think what I liked was how it felt like we were viewing something archival. Like something from out of it’s time that we happened to stumble upon. After movies like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and Sin City, this sort of thing is more common.

Let me ask you, what influences did you grow up on? Most webcartoonists probably have the same immediate answers. Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield, Foxtrot, Bloom County… I loved old Warner Brothers cartoons, like many other animators do. I also read Little Golden BooksCan you think of any up and coming webcomics that might have read some of these growing up?

Something else I remember fondly from my childhood is the Viewmaster. These were the slides that came on a roll and would create a 3D image if you looked through the special glasses with both eyes. Today with video cameras on every cellphone we take novelties like the Viewmaster, 8mm films, and flipbooks for granted. There was a time when watching film meant physically spooling it up and dealing with the projector eating it occasionally. To me this isn’t only nostalgia, considering my family only had a handful of home movies on 8mm and it was always a hassle to talk them into digging them out to watch. It was much easier to turn on the TV and watch something there. It felt more special to set up a screen and projector. It was like getting treated to a real movie with all the production that had to go into viewing it. Though I was born into the beginning of the VCR age where film was more easily accessible, I found some charm in looking to older technology.

Jeff Smith, creator of Bone, made this little video showing us around the Cartoon Books studio, as well as describing some of the research he did for the Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil book he did for DC. He brings up comic book hero clubs and decoder messages.

With that, I want to take us back to a time of pulp novel covers. Amazing Stories, The World Aflame, cover by Leo Morey, 1935 makes me think of the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. Scientists in white lab coats surrounded by tubes and machinery and a curious light. It gets the imagination running just pondering what could be going on there. And that’s what creativity is, at it’s core – letting your imagination out to play and making things up. Since it’s Halloween season, and I just watched Creepshow and Zombie Strippers this weekend, lets look at EC Horror comics.

Yes they’re designed to be ugly and scary, but you can’t deny the style or the skill that went into them. How comic books could be producing art like this and still be considered “throw away entertainment” I’ll never know. Horror can be fun, like hearing a ghost story around the campfire or watching a scary movie. I remember I used to love Tales from the Cryptkeeper in my younger days. It’s not hard to see the impression it, Beetlejuice, and the Real Ghostbusters had on me.