December 19, 2010

week on Comic Tools: Eraser Shields

In the course of penciling comics, sometimes you end up with little distracting lines that you want to get rid of, but they're so close to lines you want to keep that erasing one might accidentally erase the other. It's a common problem when drawing fiddly, intricate things like faces, or as I've chosen for this example, skulls.

My usual solution to this problem is to form a point on my kneaded rubber eraser and use it to erase only the lines I want gone. If you do this, make sure your point isn't long and floppy like this, or you won't be able to press on it hard enough to erase.

Make the angle of the tip as obtuse as you can, and the tip will hold up to much harder erasing before losing its shape.

However some artists, like my girlfriend, press their pencil into the paper like a marine trying to stab through body armor, and kneaded rubber erasers aren't enough. Here's her eraser, worn to a blunted nubble:

How is she to erase single lines with this, without erasing everything around them? That is where eraser shields come in. An eraser shield is just a paper-thin piece of steel slightly larger than a credit card, with holes of various shapes and sizes cut in it. You cunningly select and position the holes to mask off the lines you want gone, like so,

And then erase them.

You have to be careful about checking your placement, though,

lest you remove lines you in fact want to keep:

They really ought to make these in clear flexible plastic for better positioning. It wouldn't be too difficult to make one out of acetate, though. Any material that was thin and stiff enough would work.

Anyway, here's the cleaned pencils,

And heres the skull all inked up:

Sorry I haven't been getting to comments yet, my keyboard is broken and my spacebar has been dead all week. I've been inserting every space by copying and pasting, writing this. I have a friend with a new one, though, so hopefully that'll be sorted out soon.

See you next week!

December 12, 2010

Eraser shields: Not for dueling pencil knights.

(Also, not actually the subject of this post.)

I'm ready to start posting every week again. I know, it's been awhile. A lot's happened. I moved in with my girlfriend. I got a full-time job in New York Central Art Supply's paper department. I was removed from the book I've worked on, or worked to be able to work on, for the last four and a half years. I did a shitload of anatomy research, the results of which you'll be seeing in the future on this blog. I started a new project with a friend of mine, which I'll be discussing much more freely than my previous project as I work on it.

I'll talk about my removal from the book I was working on in more detail another time. All I'll say for now is that it wasn't acrimonious, but it was very sad and disappointing for all parties. Basically, I hadn't turned in any work in a long time, and because of my new job, no work was forthcoming any time soon. First Second said they needed the book done by such-and-such time, I said I could not do it by then, and so they were forced to let me go. I think it's important for people to share their failures as well as successes, particularly ones that are learning experiences, so believe me, I WILL go into more detail about this later. But at the moment the circumstances of my being let go aren't totally over with, or even solidified in terms of what will happen legally, and it's still pretty goddamned painful to talk about, so you'll excuse me if I refuse to answer any questions on the subject for now.

But it, in combination with a major move, is the main reason I've been offline so long, and not really been in the spirit of blogging about comics.

Anyhow, I'll be resuming tools posts next week with a post about the eraser shield. And I'll be catching up responding to a backlog of reader comments during the week.

June 7, 2010

Still alive, healthy, have job, no longer in imminent danger of homelessness.

Still getting my shit together, another good month till I start the blog back up, I think. I actually want to be ready to do it every week, on time when I start again.

Thanks to all those who expressed concern.


February 22, 2010

I really wish it wasn't TMI to describe some of the medical issues I've had this week, because it's been dazzling to see one minor malady lead into another and destroy my productive time so spectacularly.

I've been real behind all winter, as I'm sure you all have noticed. It's not because I'm running out of material either, it's because I used up a lot of my easy quick posts, and most of what I have left on my list are posts that are extremely involved to write, take a lot of research, involve coordinating a lot of interviews, or all 3 at once, in some cases. I see most of you regular readers subscribe or follow with a blog reader, and that's good, because it would drive a person mad to check here all the time.

I think what's realistically gonna happen is probably for another month or two posts will trickle in like they have been, and then there'll be a real busy season for posts this spring and summer, and then after that I WILL have run out of material and things will slow up again. If anyone sends me links or reviews of their own, I will as always link to them.

Right, so I'm off to go sort out my work for this week. If all goes well, I'll see you this coming Saturday!


February 3, 2010

So reader Beau won the contest, which I was hoping would be a time killer to fill a week I knew I'd miss, but then I went and missed another week. Beau, please email me at contact(at) to claim your price, this beautiful archival-quality poster-sized print of my postcard design for Patton Oswalt, printed on Arches hot-press watercolor paper and signed by me.
I'm assuming there probably isn't a great deal of demand for them since beau was really the only person who felt like making two lists to get one, but if anyone else wants such a poster, they can write me at the same address. They are $25 plus shipping.

A few folks asked how I was doing- I've recovered from my terrible viral resurgence, and I'm back on my feet. Thanks to everyone who asked.

I have entries coming finally (I spent the last week sending out interview questions to various people I'd been procrastinating about writing), but for this week I have a bunch of neat links:

Remember Sean Murphy, the dude I presented at SCAD with? The harsh Onion's comics reviewer liked the first entry of his new comic with Grant Morrison, Joe the Barbarian, and having seen it in stores, I have to say I do, too! Sean's a crazy-talented inker.

The great Jillian Tamaki, talking about aping artistic styles.

Mark Siegel of First Second books isn't just a great editor, he's a great cartoonist! And he's putting his new book out as a webcomic! It's called Sailor Twain and you should read it.

James Gurney talks about the antiquated but still extremely useful comics tool, the proportion wheel.

SCAD student and friend of Comic Tools Blog Falynn draws fucking amazing apocalypse trucks.

And Hope Larson is doing a cool educational experiment:

"If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I'm working on a short comic and posting the process art on Flickr. When it's complete I'll compile the whole thing–script, thumbnails, roughs, inks–into a short comic for print and web. The idea isn't to make a comics how-to, but to show how much work goes into something as basic as a 10-page short story.

It's nerve-wracking to show work to the world when it's vulnerable and new, but that's the whole point. Once I make it through the roughs I'll enlist someone to play editor, make his/her notes public, and address those notes in the final art."

January 24, 2010


I'm suffering my annual resurgence of a mono-like virus I picked up a few years back, and don't have it in me to put a post together, but I didn't want to just call in sick, so I'm holding a fun little contest.

You may remember my post about lettering, where I showed many of the most common mistakes I see in amateur lettering, and gave a general philosophy about how artists can approach this intimidating subject.

This last week it was announced that the Twilight graphic novel was going to print, and that they'd be making 350,000 copies for their initial print run, an insane number for a comic. As it turns out, Stephenie Meyer cares even less about how her books are adapted into comic form than she does about how they're adapted into film, or for that matter the quality of her writing. Stephenie could certainly pay for quality, if she wanted, but instead chose first-time comic book artist Young Kim (who, it's reported rather vaguely, has a "fine arts" background) for the job. Kim's too-shitty-to-be-called-generic, obviously hastily produced hackwork is hysterical, confusing, and infuriating. It's hard to see how such a terrible artist was chosen to helm a GN with one of the largest print runs I've ever heard of. Maybe Meyer saw in Kim a kindred spirit with absolutely no pride in her work? Meyer has stated that she was involved in every page of the book, and feels very happy with it. But the artwork actually wasn't what caught my eye first. The lettering in this book is literally- and I use that word mindfully- literally the worst published lettering I have ever seen. If I'd known lettering could look this bad, I'd have requested that Meyer actually piss in my face instead.

Here's where we get to the contest. In my post I covered nine distinct types of mistake one can make in lettering. I counted eight major types of mistake in this lettering, and four of them were ones I didn't think of when making my post. Here is a single page from the new book:

The first person who can tell me what those types of mistake were, and which ones I did not cover in my post, will win a signed print of my poster for Patton Oswalt:

Leave your answers in the comments. I'll let you know when I have a winner.

Have a good week everyone!

January 17, 2010

This week: SCAD Atlanta students will destroy us all.

I assume most of you will recognize this episode of the Simpsons:

Basically, SCAD Atlanta is a training ground/hardened military facility for a sixties-era mad terrorist, probably Chris Schweizer.

How else do you explain the decor of the place, space-industrial in gaudy colors and exposed metal (And I'm pretty sure this is a transporter facility)?

The place has custom-designed recycling bins that match the building! This is the oppressive conformity indicative of a cruel dictator who cannot stand opposition even in his garbage disposal.

Look at this cafeteria, large enough to feed a small army, with the SCAD logo covering an entire wall, chanting a visual reminder of loyalty unto death.

Look at this relaxation area, straight out of a James bond film:

These pod chairs are robotically enhanced:

You enter one,

Pull the sensory isolation shield around you,

and then invert yourself, immersing yourself into a technological relaxation bubble no doubt filled with ultrasonic subliminal brainwashing messages. Mere students don't require devices like this to relax- only agents of horror, soldiers that have done things which stretch even morally bleached minds to their breaking point, require such mechanically-assisted relaxation to find peace.

There is a small "theater" which is clearly a single-stage to orbit escape pod for the facility's higher ranking officials, should something go awry:

Surrounded by smaller single-man escape pods:

Make no mistake, SCAD Atlanta students will destroy us all.

(SCAD Atlanta's building was originally a huge federal building, following which it was rennovated to the tune of $40 million by a dot-com that promptly went bankrupt upon completion, and now SCAD has a long term lease and the benefit of facilities that were supposed to be for the man-children of a failed Google. I say Man-children because I have never seen a building LESS decorated by women in my entire life. I've been to strip clubs with a more feminine touch.)

Actually, SCAD Atlanta students ARE coming to destroy us all, with their art.

Way back in October I was invited to be one of SCAD Atlanta's two guest speakers, along with Sean Murphy. We both gave a talk about our careers, two lessons with students, and did portfolio reviews. Tim O'Shea did a fan-fucking-tastic job covering it all, in an article that manages to quote myself and several others at length while never taking any of us out of context or ruining a nuanced idea. In fact, as Sean pointed out, Tim made us all seem smarter than we are, if anything.

Tim's article covers pretty much everything about what happened except stuff that was in my internal monologue. The two main themes in my head were

a: I absolutely do not deserve to be a co-equal guest artist discussing my "career" alongside a veteran artist who's been at this more than 3 times as long as I have,

b: I was so, SO glad that the lessons, which were basically "The best of Comic Tools, LIVE!" worked out.

I actually learned several new things from the students during my tools lesson, which I'll be passing along soon (I'm still gathering materials for that), and the students really responded well to the anatomy lesson. It was a lot like this blog, actually: I was mostly teaching stuff, but then they had info I didn't know, and now we'll all be able to have this information.

Regarding a: seriously, this was awkward for me. It's really stretching it to say I've had a "career" in comics at all, frankly. Sean's been a published, deadline-meeting workhorse for like 7 years now. I'm not even through my first book, and I'm WAYYYY over deadline with that. I tried to deal with my inadequacy by taking it-head on, and being as honest as possible. I ended up being a good counterpoint to Sean, as an Indie artist who has made some serious mistakes early on, but with the perspective of an indy artist, which is that I can just move on, keep working, and my peers and even my editors will help steer me back on course. This was in sharp contrast to Sean's sector of the industry, which is much more cut throat. Some of my smaller screw ups could, if made by Sean, have cost him his career in the industry forever, no joke. I don't think I deserved to be speaking next to him, but the two of us did serve to emphasize what a varied industry comics can be, and that was good for the students.

Here's Sean and me speaking:

Here's Sean doing his inking tutorial, which I sadly had to miss:

And here's me doing portfolio reviews:

Jesus, the portfolio reviews.

Everyone drawing below the industry top 5%: watch the fuck out. SCAD Atlanta is not like it's retarded cousin SCAD Savannah. As iron sharpens iron, so these artists sharpen each other. This is a school that turns down applicants. This is a school that gives failing grades to unpublishable- emphasis on PUBLISHABLE- work. This is a school that listens to it's teachers, fosters a culture of greatness, and turns out the best students I have ever seen. Several students I met were currently working on books for ONI while still in school. Others had gigs lined up, or were in the process of it. I saw exactly 2 students who weren't ready to work at a totally pro level right then.

Most of them were better than me.

That's not to say there wasn't any one of them I couldn't give a good critique to- everybody has weaknesses. But basically everyone was working close to or at a level indistinguishable from the top 30% of actual pro work. It was a huge change from SVA's huge percentage of mediocrity and borderline-retarded losers being strung along with passing grades for their tuition money. Much is demanded of SCAD students, and as people always do, the students rise to high expectations, enforced with stern grading.

SCAD Atlanta is retarded, RETARDED expensive, but if you can afford it, they are a genuinely great school, with a director and teachers who really have a vision and set of ethics for the place. It was an honor to have been chosen to speak at such a place.

(I'd like to give a special shout-out to Falynn, who toured me around the campus so I could take photos without getting lost and accidentally stumbling into the school's fusion reactor. Here is her livejournal, where you can see her lovely watercolors.)

If SCAD Atlanta ever invites you as a guest, accept. I was fed like Caligula every single day. I'm serious- one night my dinner tab was eighty something, and they didn't flinch. I was put up in a great hotel room. I wanted for nothing, and felt very obligated to give them my all in my presentations. HOSPITALITY, spelled in capital letters, is the legal middle name of everyone there.

I got in a little tourism while I was in Atlanta, which, for the record, is the least pleasant city I have ever been in. New Yorkers, if you want to know what Atlanta is like, imagine if every street in Manhattan were I-95. Now imagine the entire city is like the east side from 23rd to 50th street, but with 5 out of every 6 businesses removed from the street and replaced with parking or windowless concrete walls. Now imagine it's a zombie apocalypse, and you can cover the whole distance from 23rd to 50th and encounter only 4 people. Basically, imagine white plains at night, as an entire city.

BUT, their aquarium has whale sharks, and that redeems their entire shitty awful nightmare city:

I also went to the Coke museum, which is sort of sad but also sort of cool. They have a room where you can drink Coca Cola products from all over the world, and these were my favorites:

Notably absent was Mexican Coke, which I'm sure they didn't include because if they did nobody would drink the shitty American Coke.

SCAD did me one last great favor, by flying me out to Austin, where I was able to help my girlfriend move out of her apartment and to New York city. That was one of the most important weeks of my life, and it gains importance the farther I go into this relationship. I'll always be grateful to them for making that possible for me. My special thanks go out to Shawn Crystal and Chris Schweizer, who made this happen and treated me so very, very well. Blessings be upon you and your families.

I don't know what next week's lesson will be yet! We shall see...

January 11, 2010

This week: Brush discussion, and turning Patton into the Moon.

First off, for all those concerned, my fingers have healed creepily well, to the point where I have fingerprints back except on a very tiny bit on my thumb, and they're growing in there too. If you want to see what they looked like after one week, click here. Do NOT click if you're squeamish at all. My thumb, which got the deepest cut, is still a tad tender, but they're both up and running with honest-to-God skin. The skin was really dry until the last few days, because my new sebaceous glands hadn't grown in yet. Now I can sweat and produce oil, so it doesn't look like I have crazy localized eczema.

So, there was a lot of conversation about last week's topic and my retraction of my endorsement of Rosemary and co's brushes, and I'd like to discuss and clarify a few things about that, while also rolling in a couple items that Chris Schweiser gave me to review when I was at SCAD Atlanta.

In the comments Kiel provided a link to a fantastic primer/comparison on five different name brand brushes on artist Mike Crowell's site. Mike has, without reservation, the worst artist web page I have ever seen in my life, which is saying a lot, which makes it all the more bizarre that this amazing tutorial is just sitting there amongst the 4 other pages of his site, which include a home page consisting almost solely of a terrible photo of him, an art page with 2 pages of art, a page with nothing but am email address, and a links page. His brush lesson is as good as the rest of the site is bafflingly poor, and I learned some new things from it. It also serves as a great primer for the point I want to make, which is about consistency and/versus quality.

Mike's brush page confirms yet again what I and many others have always said- they don't do it often, but when they do, Windsor and Newton makes the best brushes in the world. But if you just broke/lost/ruined your brush and you need one NOW for a project, you can't afford to go to 3 different stores and try every brush looking for one that works, and possibly not even find one. (This has happened to me- twice.) Everyone I know who doesn't use Windsor and Newton either never used a great one and abandoned them early, or used them for years until the quality control dropped so low they got frustrated and jumped ship. But the fact is, there are people out there still using 20 year old W&N brushes. I've used my #3 like I hated it for 6 years now and it's still as good as new. Windsor and Newton , a GOOD Windor and Newton, is a mythical beast, the brush that all other brushes aspire to be. As a brand, they suck and are FLAKY inconsistent.

Raphael is the brand most people jump ship to, and with good reason. You still need to test them, but their QC is much better than W&N. You can actually find a working Raphael brush in one store stocked with them almost every time. If you ordered five I'd give you great odds more than one would work. And their best brushes are just a hair under a good W&N, which is like being a shade slower than the Millennium Falcon but not breaking down nearly as much.

The reason I was so excited about Rosemary was not that they were amazing quality brushes- they're not. They are perfectly effective, however. A good Rosemary brush is like what I'd picture a solid military issue brush to be like- it lacks finesse, but it's solidly built and in skilled hands will get the job done. Rosemary brushes won't hold as much ink and have less spring than better brushes, but because every single one I and everyone else ordered was a perfect example, I recommended them because she was the most consistent. Rosemary brushes were, I thought, the first brushes I'd ever seen where you could order ONE brush and get a working brush every time, guaranteed.

But now I semi-frequently have reports sent to me of people ordering brushes from her that are a little off. Now, sure, she has a policy that she'll replace anything you're not satisfied with, but the point was, she was a slightly lower quality but still good brush that I was recommending because of their insane consistency. So if she lacks the consistency, and she doesn't have any edge on quality, why the hell not just tell you to rummage through the art store for Raphaels?

So it is on that basis that I retract my endorsement. I say put your effort and money into a higher quality brush. You really do get what you pay for with brushes.

Mike's brush page has a section towards the bottom about identifying quality brushes that's more specific and informative than anything I've ever posted, so you should read that, maybe even print it out and take it with you when shopping. He inspects every bristle, and if you've ever used a brush you know that's not fanatical- one splayed hair will ruin a brush. It's like a grain of sand in a Swiss army knife.

According to Mike Raphael and Scharff brushes are essentially identical in constriction and quality control, so if you need to dash out to buy one they'd both be good choices. I have never heard of ANYONE being disappointed with either. However, because mora brands means more likely hood you'll be able to find a brush if you need to find one fast, allow me to toss in a brand that's only become recently available in America, but which seems to be in growing demand amongst the students at SCAD's Atlanta campus: the Escoda, made in Tajmir, Spain.

Here you can see the #2 Tajmir on top, over my trusty #3 W&N, and my #2 Rosemary. Click to see the image larger.
I wish I had a #2 Windsor to show you how the belly's compare better, but you can see that the Escoda has a better belly than the Rosemary, though not as much as the W&N.
A simple line test showed that indeed, the Escoda holds far more ink than the Rosemary. I wish I could compare it to other brands, but I don't have any. It feels to me slightly wispier but just as springy as the Raphaels I've tried. It's a good brush and several SCAD Atlanta students and faculty seem to just love them. Chris claims the quality control is very good on them. Look for them if you're ever out brush hunting. If nothing else, it's another good option that increases your chances of coming back home with a tool you can draw with. While I was there Chris also gave me a bottle of a new Japanese ink I'd never seen nor heard of that's carried in a local art supply store that caters to the cartooning students. It's called Holbein ink. According to their company profile they started in 1900 a a Japanese company producing "European" artist materials (They do not elaborate), which presumably explains why they chose a German name. Like everything I've ever bought from Japan, the ink bottle comes in nifty, crazy sturdy plastic packaging that you don't have to destroy to open.

Here you can see the Holbein logo in a calligraphic font, with an Iron cross over it, because I guess that's what the Japanese thought people would think was German at the time.
As usual, I LOVE Japanese infographics.
The ink is one of the best I've ever tried, continuing Japan's total dominance in modern ink making. It's matte and deeply black, sort of like Dr. Ph. Martin's Black Star Hi Carb ink. I like this ink a little better. If you can get ahold of it, definitely try it. My understanding is that it comes in two thicknesses, this one, and another that is very thick and actually needs dilution before use.

Changing subjects, remember how I said you'd crap yourselves when you saw what was delaying me? It was Two large poster projects, one of which I can't show you just yet, but the other of which is finished, and I'll share it's making with you below.

First off, some of you may recall a ways back last year when Patton Oswalt had me do this poster for a show of his:

Well, he liked that one so much had asked me to design the postcard for another show.

I needed a fairly simple design that would read easily at a small size, and something that would force people to look at it, which as every artist knows means face, eyes, hands, boobs or any nudity. Patton has a fantastically expresive and distinctive face (He's one of the comedians who I think almost all of his fans know what he looks like), so I decided to go with his face. Plus, I already knew how to draw him, so that would save time.

You can now follow along with my process by matching the numbered paragraphs to their matching numbered picture:

1: This was my first doodle of what would turn out to e the final composition, although I did more than 30 other drawings to make sure, as is usual with me on illustrations. Illustrations aren't as intuitive for me as comics, and require a lot of planning. I throw away a lot of work doing illustrations. Obviously, the concept is to have his head be the moon from "La Voyage Dans La Lune." The twist is that the rocket in his eye is actually the LCross rocket stage that was launched at the moon to look for water. It took me 3 hours to find 6 good, accurate images of this goddamned thing:
The probe is the gold thing on the top.

2: This was a computer sketch I did to establish the basic lettering shapes in the title, which was to be hand-lettered, and of the overall image. I like using digital when I have to do a lot of drafts to figure out black balance but not necessarily a lot of redrawing.
3: I penciled his face and then found myself stuck for about 2 days as to how the hell to make him look like his head was the moon without making him look like he had a terrible skin condition. Nothing was working. I got really frustrated with the delay when Patton wrote me asking if it was done so he could post it for New Years and I had to tell him no.

4: Finally, I figured it out and successfully tested it it on the computer: instead of making his head the moon, I'd do what the original filmmakers had done- apply the moon like a mast around his head, with his head sliiiiiightly pushing out from the moon, so you can still barely still see his original jaw line, but then stretching his hairline and ears out to the edges of the moon. It worked perfectly- still recognizably Patton, but looking like the moon from the film.

5: Next came the pencils, for the drawing, border, and hand lettering.

6: Then came the inked lettering, which you see me holding here for scale:

Hand lettering is generally drawn large when a very smooth finished product is needed; reduction eliminates any mistakes. I also added in the rest of the lettering, a tedious process, because I wasn't using a computer font, but rather an old font that I'd scanned in and modified slightly. I had to place each and every letter by hand.

My girlfriend swooped in and gave me some help with this- she is absolutely excellent at spacing type, and her adjustments made all the difference in the world.

I emailed Patton about whether his current hairstyle matched the one I used in this drawing, but he never wrote back. As it turned out I didn't need him for that one, because that very night he was on the Tonight show, and I was able to see his hair there and adjust my drawing accordingly. (I ended up making is a mishmosh of about 4 similar hairstyles like his current one, figuring it would be more recognizable to average them.)

I had an incredibly odd moment inking the drawing. I was getting fristrated drawing the Lcross booster and I decided to move in to his face for a bit to relax (I like to eat my veggies before my meat, so to speak), and as soon as I started inking his eyebrows Patton called in live to the Best Show on WFMU, which I was listening to, so suddenly I was getting Patton through the eyes and in the ears at the same time. My night suddenly became a Russian Nesting doll of Patton. I tried emailing him to see if I could get him to talk about how I was listening to him and drawing him at the same time while he was still on the air, but he didn't get it till after. It was worth a shot.

It had been awhile since I inked anything, and in my rustiness I over-inked the left side of Patton's face, requiring me to lightbox that side and re-ink it, as you can see here: 7: I drew the border with a thick bamboo skewer and then inverted the image in photoshop.

8: And voila, the finished product, which you can see better below: (Click to enlarge)
I'm pretty damned proud of it. It's by far my best lettering job, and I love the composition.

I look forward to when I can show you the other poster I've been working on. It's still in development right now.

Finally, I thought you all might like this funny shot of me looking out of the eye window in my camera mask, which allows me to look at things for real and not just through the camera's rear screen. Next week: My visit to SCAD