December 16, 2009

My friend and colleague Liz Baillie does a fantastic, weekly updating webcomic called Freewheel. It's about a girl who strikes out on her own as a modern hobo on an important mission. I've read more of the comic than Liz has posted, and I can tell you that as good as it is now, it gets better.

A page from Freewheel:

For those of you who don't like reading comics online, Liz is raising the cash to print Freewheel, and she's put together a hobo-themed fundraiser with various levels of giving, with names like "can opener," "matches," and the best and highest level, "mayor of Hobotown". Each level comes with it's own special benefits, just like a PBS fundraiser.

Won't you head on over and make her hobo dreams come true?

December 13, 2009


Hi folks,

Loads of content not generated by me this week, which is awesome, since typing is slightly awkward since I lopped the tips of my thumb and index finger off my left (thankfully non-dominant) hand. First time in what's been probably over 11 years straight of multiple-times daily knife use that I've cut myself with a knife I was using. And though there were extenuating circumstances, the fact is that knives are like wild animals- if one bites you, it's your fault. Ironically, it actually happened maybe two minutes tops after I was telling my girlfriend about the silly things I'd seen people do in knife safety training classes.

Anyway, getting on with it:

Here's a video of Erika Moen, Dylan Meconis, and Bill Mudron talking about the art and life issues of being a cartoonist. It is thick with insight and blue humor, my favorite combination. The title of the video will give you a pretty good idea if their humor is for you.

Here's a fantastic essay by Evan Dorkin about the issue of health insurance, specifically as it relates to cartoonists, and even more specifically as it relates to cartoonists living in NYC. Bonus for you NYC people: It lists specific resources that his wife spent a lot of time tracking down, and gives tips on how to best go about contacting them. Bonus bonus: It includes a link to a video interview by Time with my friend Julia Wertz.

Finally, I'll conclude with some real tool talk:

Comic Tools reader Reynold Kissling purchased some Rosemary brushes recently (remember my article about them?) and compared them to his trusty Winsor and Newton, and I'm sad to say that they really came out lacking. Perhaps as she's had to fill more orders her quality control has gone down, but in any event the reason I recommended them was that you could order them sight unseen and TRUST that they'd be great. It seems that this is no longer the case, and I therefore no longer recommend getting them, if buying them is going to be the same crapshoot every other brand is. Better to go to the store and actually try your brushes out. I have reformatted the impeccably thorough, well photographed, and rather Comic Tools-esque report he gave on his livejournal and pasted it below. His website is here. His book "Kingwood Himself" can be read in its entirety over at Top Shelf's webcomics page, Top Shelf 2.0, and he will be selling his new book "Pale Blue Dot" at the Stumptown Comics Fest next year. I thank him for bringing this issue to the attention of Comic Tools readers.

Rosemary & Co. Brushes Review
I've been inking predominantly with brushes now for several years, and have become....somewhat discretionary in my tastes (some would say obsessive). My number one tool, my excalibur if you will, has always been the Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky brush, size #2. Simply put, the brush is perfect. It has a huge variety of line weights, has excellent snap, and holds a preposterous amount of ink for its size. They say the tool doesn't make the man, but when it comes to inking, you NEED a tool that will give you complete control over your linemaking, and the Winsor & Newton #2 does the job. So what's the problem? Well, as I'm sure most of you know, Winsor & Newton's brushes have become steadily less reliable over the last few years. A W&N brush is expensive, and if the bristles are even just a little bit out of alignment, then the whole brush is worthless and you've just wasted your hard-earned money. Three out of the last four W&N brushes I bought have been duds (and I do the water-test at the store before I buy them). I'm sick of throwing away my money for worthless brushes, and for the past few months I've been searching for a comparable alternative. Enter Rosemary & Company. I heard about them from the blog Comic Tools (run by a guy even more obsessively anal than me), and after reading rave review after rave review, I took the plunge and ordered a Series 33 #2 and #0. Suffice to say, my expectations were high. They arrived yesterday, and I've had a good chance to test them out.

I decided to compare them side by side with my Winsor & Newton:

The first thing I noticed was that the Rosemary #2 is much thinner than the W&N #2. More on that later. Then I decided to compare the brushes dry, to see how the bristles fan out when not held together by moisture:

This was the first sign of trouble. With a brand new brush, you expect the bristles to fan out pretty evenly. Here you can see that on the Rosemary brushes several bristles are sticking out haphazardly, pointing in every direction. Here is a closeup of each brush's bristles, starting with the W&N #2:

At this point, I want to mention that my Winsor & Newton brush is over a year old. I've beat that thing to hell, leaving dried ink in the ferrule and dragging it across harsh paper, and yet its bristles are still more uniform than the brand new Rosemary brushes. You can plainly see that many of the bristles in the Rosemary brushes are not aligned. So how were they to ink with? Well, mostly it was frustrating. The #2 couldn't get a fine point, it didn't snap very well, and it did not retain very much ink. This is where its size comes in. As I mentioned earlier, the belly of the Rosemary #2 brush is much thinner than the belly of the W&N. The belly of a brush holds ink and helps provide the snap that is so crucial to making crisp lines. Even more frustrating was despite the fact that the Rosemary brush was thinner, it could not make thin lines like the W&N can. I found that I had to resort to using the #0 to make the same lines my W&N can easily handle by itself. Also, the brushes just felt weak. I had to apply more downward force to get variety out of the lines, and in those instances the entire brush bent with the curve all the way down to the ferrule, instead of just the tip. And lastly, the Rosemary brushes lost their point extremely easily. If they got the least bit dry or if I tried to take too sharp a corner, the tip would split and fork off, breaking the single line into two. Here's a portion of the panel I inked with the Rosemary brushes:

I know it doesn't look like I was experiencing the disaster I just described, but you can rest assured that I was fighting with these brushes the whole way. Last and probably least, the handle of the Rosemary brushes felt inferior to the W&N brush. I took a photo as evidence:

Take a look at the light reflecting off of the handles of each brush. On the left, the reflection coming of the W&N is smooth and regular all the way to the edges. Immediately to the right, the reflection is bumpy and irregular, especially near the edges. These reflections highlight the irregularity of either the wood of the handles or the paint applied to them. This is certainly nitpicking, but it does make a difference. I'd like to think that I am a scientific man, and that you wouldn't be satisfied with me simply describing the problems I had with these brushes, so I thought I would prove them empirically through a series of inking tests:

The first test consisted of me dipping the brushes fully (not to the ferrule of course) and then drawing a straight line continuously until they ran out of ink. As you can see, the W&N ran roughshod over the Rosemary #2, and the #0 could barely hang in there for three lines.

In this test, I simply followed a tight curve in a single stroke with each brush. Now this test probably reveals my weaknesses with inking more than anything else, but you can see that each brush did about the same. I would like to note, however, that the #0 forked out at the end of the line.

This last test is the most revealing. Here, I started a line with each brush at a certain thickness, then tested the limit for how thick and thin a line each could produce. As you can see, the W&N has an extreme capacity for variety of line weight, going from phat with a "ph" to supermodel-thin with no trouble and with me in complete control throughout. The Rosemary #2, however, can't even come close to reaching the same level of thickness, and you can see that the line already starts to break up before I even finish the first fat part. As you can see, I was able to get the Rosemary #2 down to the same thinness as the W&N, but not without losing the line entirely. I obviously am not in control of the brush at this point. The Rosemary #0 obviously can't keep up, and the brush is almost totally dry before I can even get to the second thickness test. The Winsor & Newton runs laps around the Rosemary brushes in this last round. So there you have it. The brand-spanking new Rosemary brushes, which came on the heels of rave reviews and high expectations, couldn't even stand up to an abused ink-clogged year-old Winsor & Newton brush. But really, there are no winners here. As long as Winsor & Newton brushes are going to be so inconsistent, we are going to be left with worthless brushes and empty wallets. The search for a better brush goes on...

December 6, 2009


I'm sorry guys, I'm not actually all that sick, but I'm finding it really difficult standing at my computer and trying to write. I can talk alright, but I can't seem to string more than a few sentences together without getting all foggy.

I've gotten several questions since I announced I was coming back online, though, so let me address those really quick:

Regarding the scanning tutorials, I'm actually gonna pause those a bit to conduct some further research and do some interviewing. I met this fellow named Nolan Woodward at SCAD Atlanta, and he's a true expert on all this sort of stuff. Everyone has different ways of scanning and processing files, and many of them work, but I'm convinced that his information is the very best and the most technically correct available. So, before I start the tutorials, I want to try all of his methods myself, really learn them so I can convey them to you as clearly as possible. Scanning is a super important issue, because what most cartoonists actually make for a living ISN'T drawings, it's digital files of scanned artwork. Which is WHY lesson one was get an external hard drive. And believe me, no matter what else I write, the day will come when THAT piece of advice turns out to be the best thing I ever told you.

I have the next entry partway constructed in the pipeline, waiting for me to get well, and if I'm up to it tonight I'll post some of the links I've been collecting in the off time for you to chew on till I'm well.

Again, I'm sorry for the delay. If it makes you feel any better this cold ain't too convenient for me either.

And finally, thanks to all of you who sent me very warm whoops of joy that I was back online.
Finally back up and running. As Reader Brad pointed out, I said on the second that I'd start posting on the third, and today is actually the sixth. The reason is I started to get sick in the middle of an illustration project, and had to turn my energies to that instead. Yesterday my girlfriend came over and made me soup and took care of me, and as much as I love you all and this blog, I actually LOVE her, so she trumps Comic Tools any night. (Thank goodness, too, because I needed the rest.)

So, the post or two will get you caught up on what I've been up to in my absence.

Tomorrow- Part 1: SCAD Atlanta students will destroy us all.

December 2, 2009

I'll start in tomorrow, folks, I've just blasted my mind out drawing a bunch of little bikes for an illustration job, and I have yet more to do tonight. I'll share the results when I can.

November 30, 2009

Coming back online this week. Each day I'll post a little about what I've been up to, culminating in a return to regular posting this weekend.

October 13, 2009

Hi there Comic Tools readers,

my apologies for not posting this week. I'm spending the time I'd usually use making an entry to get my lesson and materials arranged for my speaking event at the Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta campus (click poster to make it bigger):

The 23rd will just be an introductory day to talk about myself and my (embarrassingly short) career. The 24th will be a workshop on habits and basic tool use, and the 25th will be a workshop on anatomy and perspective for the cartoonist. Plan accordingly.

You can find out about my fellow speaker, who unlike myself has an actual career, here at his website.

October 4, 2009

Scanning Series Part 1: Get an external hard drive.

No, really, if you don't have one, go get one right now. Don't even think of reading next week's entry or any of the rest in the series until you've gotten one.

You'll thank me later, believe me. I have friends who got their external hard drive days before a catastrophic computer failure that would have lost years of work they would have had no way of getting back. I also have friends who lost months of work forever because they didn't have one, or didn't use it.

If you can afford it, buy 2, or use a web-based service on top of the external. External hard drives corrupt and fail too. If you don't have a way to protect your files, you have no business scanning them.

Go. I'd better not see you back here until you have one.

Oh, and check out this nifty little suitcase I bought on the street to hold my originals while traveling! Isn't it just darling? I have some travel announcements forthcoming about my speaking at SCAD's Atlanta campus in late October. My first Comic Tools speaking gig! Woo!

September 28, 2009

Some dickweed from this inkjet refill company spammed the comments. Take note and take your business elsewhere.

September 27, 2009

This week: Replacing a crappy panel

Sometimes you just don't hit it out of the park. Sometimes, you lose your balance swinging your bat into thin air and fall over.

When you realize you've just inked a crappy comic panel, and it's not just a matter of a few corrections, it's that the whole thing needs to go, and you can't sacrifice any of the work around it by starting a new page, you have several options, depending on what tools you have at your disposal, and preferences you may have about your original art.

Example crappy comic panel:

If you had a computer, you could just re-draw the panel by hand, scan it in, and change it out, or even re-draw it digitally if you liked. If you didn't, you could just paste a piece of illustration board over it and draw on that. Both work great and are super-easy. But let's say you're very anal about your originals, or you want the original art to look pristine because you're going to sell it, or give it to someone as a present. Although I'm slowly moving out of it, it used to be very important to me that my art look in person exactly like it does in reproduction. I still find it unsatisfying not to, a little bit. So I developed this technique, which as far as I know I invented, for replacing a panel in such a way that's so seamless you can't tell a repair has been made in the page from the front, even looking closely.

I should mention, this technique doesn't really work if your panel borders aren't straight.

So, first, you take a thin pointy thing, like a really thin pin, or in this case, an antique drafting compass point:
You poke a hole at exactly the inside of the termination of the border lines:Then tape a piece of illustration board (the exact same as you're using) over the offending panel, making sure it's a little larger than the panel you want to replace:

If you turn it over you can see the holes in the back of the original:
Now you should be looking at a setup like in Fig.1. (click to enlarge, I'll explain the rest of the Figures below.)

Fig. 2: Then, cut from hole to hole, being very careful to line up your cut EXACTLY with the holes and being very careful with the corners, as demonstrated in the Cutting Technique post last week. The tip of your cutting tool should start and end in the pinholes.

Fig. 3: flip everything over and carefully extract the newly cut replacement square, being very careful of it's delicate edges. Now clear out the old panel, and lower the new panel into place.

Fig 4: You should have a nice, tight fit, because the way we stacked the paper means that the widest paper left by the wedge of the blade as it came through is now the front of our replacement sheet, and the widest part of the original sheet left by the blade's edge is also facing up. If you look at Fig. 2 again, you'll see that those two edges are almost perfectly even. In fact, the'll often meet with just a little puckering, due to the tightness of the fit. If you do this right you can hold the joined edges up to a bright lamp and not see any light through the cut.

Fig. 5: Finally, you tape the back seam or as I prefer, seal it with a sheet of thin cotton marker paper backed with archival adhesive film. Then buff the edge with a bone folder to flatten any puckering, making the cut edge look like an uninterrupted sheet of paper, and forming a smooth surface you can actually ink over. That's right, you can INK OVER the cut and it won't bleed into it, it's so tight. It feels exactly like drawing on a new sheet of paper, which no correction fluid or patch could ever do.

If you're totally accurate, the seam will lie on the panel border inside edge, and you'll never be able to find it without a microscope:

I actually messed up a border, however, which is good, because you can see what it looks like on open paper:
I marked up the edges of the new panel with HARD pen strokes, to show how it won't bleed, even in the exposed part of the join:

It feels like drawing on a brand new sheet of paper. Unless someone looks at the back, they'll never know the difference.

The back, taped:

(Not my preferred method, but it works. Just make sure what you use is archival.)

Here's the excised panel sitting next to it's replacement:
Next week, I kick off a multi-part series about scanning technique. This and my anatomy tutorial are gonna be the big ones of this whole endeavor.

September 20, 2009

Linky links:

Guy Davis pencils are always good. The coolest part is he hasn't inked these yet. But he'll post them when he does. And so will I. Nick Bertozzi was made to be a teacher, and you can tell because when he's interviewed, just talking how he normally talks he's teaching left and right. Go read this thing.

Jillian Tamaki process shots. This woman throws out more good ideas in a week than I have in a year.

Evidently it's kind of a thing now for people to build their own Cintiq-style monitor tablet. No, really. Links:



And a video of such a creature in action:

I know, right?

This week : Cutting Technique

My High school, Hebron academy, located in rural Maine, was and is the only private school with a dedicated Outdoor education program. I spent seven seasons in the program. The first month was always the same, an intensive month of wilderness first aid training. Once we knew how to handle any emergency that might happen, we headed out to the outdoor workshop area to start learning our tools, and the first thing we learned was knife safety. Everything in knife safety is all about leaning how to use your knife in a way that will prevent harm to you and others. Rules about always cutting away from yourself, how to grip a knife and how to walk with it are designed so that if you slip, fall, or make some other mistake the knife's working end won't wind up in your fingers or torso.

When I went to college my friend Jordan, an accomplished graphic designer, taught me everything I know about cutting art materials. Cutting for art creates a whole new set of demands- not only must you not cut yourself, you mustn't damage what you're working on, either. Mistakes of less than the width of a pencil line can totally ruin some projects. Mistakes can be expensive, depending on the material you're cutting. If you make a mistake while trimming a book, you've ruined a copy of that book. Jordan taught me how to cut absolutely straight lines with a minimum of accidents, and it's one of the hand skills that's served me best throughout the years after.

The modern cartoonist has all sorts of things they might need to cut. You may cut down your own paper, and you need to be able to measure accurate right angles off the edges and run it through a printer without jamming. You might be fixing a badly drawn panel by cutting it out and replacing it with new paper. (I'll teach you that next week.) You might have to face-trim a stack of books by hand for a convention. You might need to trim matte board for a gallery show, or you might be making a sketchbook for yourself. Good cutting technique is essential to all of these tasks.

I'll start off by pointing out the most common mistake: lining up the cut by lining the ruler edge up over the line, and then lining up the cutting tool tip with the edge of the ruler:

This a recipe for an inaccurate cut. The actual tip of your cutting tool isn't exactly aligned with the side of the cutting tool, so to get the tip to line up with the ruler edge you have to angle the cutting tool at the grind angle of the cutting edge, like you see above. Even if you manage to somehow keep the blade in that position for an entire cut, you'll be creating torsion forces on the blade and on the paper, causing ragged edges, increased edge dulling and blade breakage, and increasing the likelyhood you'll catch on a slightly denser patch of paper and whong off in a bad direction because of all the force you're applying dragging a crooked blade through the material.

But chances are you won't keep that angle consistent. You'll feel all the stress you're causing and change your angle as you go. You may even follow the ruler edge but angle out the other way, like so:
What you need to do instead is place the side of your cutting tool flush against the side of the ruler, and see how far the tip is from the side, and then put the ruler that far away from your lines. That way, the tip will fall exactly on the line with the side of your tool butting against the ruler as a guide, and the cutting edge looking straight back at the line it's about to cut like a laser beam. (By the way, this is exactly the technique you should use for making accurate pencil lines- not lining the tip up with the edge, but instead moving the ruler so that the sides touch the ruler and the tip touches the line. Ever draw a pencil line with a ruler it found out it wasn't straight? You didn't do this.)
It's important to stay vertical, in case you have to stop the cut for some reason and resume it again. If yyou change angles at all, this will happen:

The change in angle means you'll start cutting a totally different path, possibly cutting off too much or too little material. Check to make sure you're keeping the blade square with the ruler on every axis, and your cuts will be consistent every single time. No more going back for a second pass and peeling off a thin curl of paper because it wasn't quite lined up with the last cut.

If you click on the photo below to enlarge it, you'll see the terrible gap left by a cut whwre the blade changed angles as it went. You can't measure off of it, and you can't use it for construction, because it won't marry with another edge. If you cut too much off this edge instead of too little you'd have to throw it away or toss it in the scrap pile, at your cost.

Contrast it to the edge cut the right way, which fits pretty snugly. (There are a very few small gaps, because I was wearing my face rig and it was distracting my cutting.) By the way, I really prefer the NT cutter I reviewed for making straight cuts. The wider blade makes it easier to follow the ruler, and the ergonomics of the handle better accommodate long, straight cuts.

Here you can see it leaves an edge so gapless it looks like I put the paper under the ruler instead of next to it:If you draw a line you want to cut with a pencil you can't just keep the ruler in the same spot and make the cut. Why? Because the distance between the sides and tip of your pencil is probably pretty different that that of your cutting tool. You can see how far off it is for me:

You need to do the alignment first for your pencil, and then again for your cutting tool. Here we are all readjusted nice and flush:
Now let's talk about cutting a corner. Sometimes you can keep cutting past the corner because you're going to throw away the excess anyway- but sometimes you need that corner to stop neatly right at the exact point where the lines meet.

In that case, you need to make 2 cuts starting in that point and cutting away. CAREFULLY start by putting the tip exactly on the point and cutting yourself a short slice, making sure you never cut past the point. Once you have a nice, safe cut back from the delicate point, you can proceed as usual. on that side. Then do the same for the other side.
While doing this part of the demo I actually made a mistake and didn't tip-check the line like I should have trusting my eyeballing, and look how far off I was.:
I made the rest of the cut correctly to show how bad a mistake this was. If this was a project meant for display it would have been ruined because of my carelessness. Always, ALWAYS check to make sure the tip of your tool is on the line, at both ends of the line. Actually touch the tool down and check. If you think that little extra time is frustrating, try ruining a tedious project and having to start all over.
Ergonomics is an important consideration in making accurate cuts, especially long ones. You should never cut directly in front of you, because as you draw your hand back your wrist will be put into a terrible position:
What you want is for your wrist to be able to stay in the same position through the entire cut. You can cut down on the side of your cutting hand, like so:
Or you can cut at an angle, pulling down towards the side of your cutting hand, like so:
Either one will allow you to move comfortably. If your light is blocked by your hands in either of these positions, move the light if you can.

Now let's talk about cutting stacks of paper, like when performing a face trim on a minicomic. Never is is as important as with this task that you maintain the same square angle with the blade, as you will be making many cuts, all of which need to be the same.

The temptation when cutting a stack of sheets (or thick material like foamcore) is to get through it as fast as possible with hard, deep cuts. In knife training you learn that the more force you apply, the more risk of accidental damage to yourself, and with art cutting more force means more chance of accidental damage to what you're working on. (and yourself.) What you want to do is make your cuts with fairly low pressure, and work on keeping them as straight and accurate as you can. Imagine a laser slowly eating through the hull of a very thick spaceship, making one pass, then another, then another, forming a clean edge.

Inaccurate cuts will lead to curved, frayed edges like this:

Here's a copy of my comic Out Of Water, face trimmed properly. See how all the pages are straight and flush? (For those of you wondering what face trimming is: When you fold a stack of paper into a book, the center sheets bulge out and make it very hard to flip through, plus it looks ratty. Face trimming is cutting off that excess.)
The final consideration when cutting is what side to place the ruler on. Usually you have a side with stuff you want to keep and stuff you're trimming off.
Knife safety assumes that accidents will happen, and they do, even to very experienced people. Knife safety therefore works to minimize the damage of an accident. You can use your ruler to minimize the chance of damage to the stuff you want when you cut by physically protecting it should the ruler veer off for any reason. Always place your ruler over the stuff you want to keep, like so: This will prevent this from happening:

Now, sometimes you want the stuff on both sides of a cut, and in that case you'd just better follow all my other advice really carefully and hope for the best.

Next week, I'll demonstrate a technique I invented for replacing panels that's so seamless it's almost impossible for someone to tell where the original was cut, unless they know what to look for.