July 14, 2012

Comic Tools: Latex Masking Fluid

Watercolor resist is basically just a tiny bottle of tinted liquid latex. There are a number of ways to mask out areas of watercolor and ink drawings, but I like the way the resist leaves natural brush lines around and inside the masked area.

You'll need: a bottle of "Art Masking Fluid" (I used Windsor and Newton, above), and some cheap, relatively stiff, paintbrushes. Paint the resist onto the page, in a medium thick layer, the thinner the coating, the more difficult it is to pull it up and peel it off. This latex is tinted so that you can see where you've painted.

When you are done painting, immediately dunk the brush in warm water. If the latex is allowed to dry on your brush for even a moment it will turn the bristles into a horrible, gummy, mess.
brush-ruining gunk.
You can dry the brush on a paper towel before you use it again, so as not to water down the masking fluid, but it's always best to err on the side of rinsing the brush too often. You'll still want to use cheap, disposable, brushes for this, because no matter how careful you are, the latex will start to build up in the bristles after a while.

Allow the resist to dry completely, then paint over it with watercolor, ink, or gouache. Once the paint is dry, you can carefully peel up the resist. The results are kind of magical.

This is the fun part
Try to peel, not rub, whenever possible. Rubbing at the page can cause any pigment that is sitting on top of the resist to transfer to your fingers, and from your fingers to the blank page below. If you find you need to rub off the smaller areas, the best way to keep stray pigment at bay is to wipe your wingers frequently on a slightly damp paper towel. If you're really concerned about staining your masked areas, you can wait until the piece dries, then clean up the resist areas with a small brush and some fresh water. But I rarely have the patience for that.

You can use the resist to cover an already painted area, as long as the paper is fully dry. Any dampness in the paper will cause the resist to fuse with the paper and become very difficult to remove.

Above, you can see how you get a nice continuity to your brushstrokes when you're using the masking fluid. It would be useful when blocking out characters against a cloudy sky, or to create clean areas next to any kind of splatter texture. I searched around online to see who had made amazing use of this technique, and found a few interesting results, but I bet you guys can do better. Send along any images and I will post them later!

July 7, 2012

Interview with: Josh Bayer

Comics: ROM, Raw Power, Bike Rider, The Fighter Anthologies: Rub The Blood, No Me, Secret Prison, Cake, Digestate, Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever #2, Lazer, Komicaze, Carrier Pigeon, Yeti. Editor: Suspect Device vols 1 and 2
Website: http://www.joshbayerart.com/

How did you start working on comics?
My dad came home with an issue of RAW. He always supported comics in a weird way. He grew up reading them, he loved Will Eisner and Lil' Abner.  At the time, RAW was being distributed all over the place because MAUS was so big. It was in this issue, I think it was Issue #9, where I saw some comics by Marc Beyer. He had this great, sort of primitive style, and I started drawing comics with the same kind of flattened look. I was 17 and I was great (laughs)! I was 18, 19, 20 and I was still doing it, and somehow I kind of lost the thread, I figured out a different studio practice, started doing more gallery-ready art.
As my 20's petered out I wanted to get back into comics because that was my childhood dream, and I couldn't do it anymore. I had to go back to school to figure out how make comics again. In 2005 I was 35 and taking my first comics course. 

What kind of materials were you using when you first started making comics?
My early stuff was all ebony pencils and ball point. Somebody gave me an ink set for my Bar Mitzvah– have you ever seen those cartoons where Charlie Brown trying to write a letter using calligraphy pens? The whole joke is that Charlie Brown can't even write "dear pen pal" without it exploding. That was my experience with nib pens when I was a little kid.  SVA kind of guided me into using the nib pens properly, and so now I use those a lot, but also brushes, markers, all kinds of things.

What else changed about your work at SVA?

There was definitely a shift that happened a couple weeks into my first "Comic Book Hot House" class with Matt Madden, Jessica Abel and Tom Hart.  Matt was a real hardass about students getting their work done. I remember one night when I was at home and I had a bunch of work to do. I started analyzing why I was putting it off, and I realized comics are my favorite thing to do. I tell my students that sometimes, "think about why you're avoiding the work. Is it just garden variety fear?". There was a conversation that I was having with myself that I changed, telling myself, "this isn't work, it's not labor, it's fun".
    That's one of the things that changed, but it also helped just having somebody demonstrate how to get beyond some of the basic stumbling blocks. Like when you're ruling borders with a nib pen and the ink gets sucked underneath the ruler, so the borders get splotchy. My ruler has quarters taped to the underside, which lifts it up off the paper and keeps the ink from getting trapped. Before, things like that would make me feel like fate was against me. It helps when you understand that it's a universal problem with a simple solution.
    The hardest part for me was learning that I had to blueprint out the pages. I had this voice in my head saying, A) "you're able to draw in your sketchbooks free-form without any underdrawings so you should be able to do it on the comic page", and B) "even if you can master that, it's going to take away all the spontaneity", and having somebody open that dialogue and say that yes, it's going to take away some of the spontaneity and it's a trade-off. You can always learn to put that spontaneity back into the work.

So you use blue pencil?
No, I'm talking about blue print in the metaphorical sense. I don't really use blue pencil that much, I just mean my underpencils.
Click through for larger image
Do you work mostly on your own stories?
Yeah. I worked on a collaboration for a few years with my best friend, a comic called Bam Bam and the Barbarians. It's a great script, but it's on hiatus, I got sidetracked by other projects. I worked on developing a comic that was based on a screenplay that my brother wrote, but that project is also on hiatus. I tend to finish stuff more when it's all my own creation. I think I kind of stumble into doing successful writing pieces, and it for me it's always dependent on stitching together a lot of pre-existing ideas.

Do you start with the visual ideas? Character designs, or an image you really want to use?
It's simultaneous. It seems like we all have this idea of what creation is supposed to be, and what writing is supposed to be. And when I am with my students, I'll sort of trick them into doing it. I just did this assignment where I had them all do comics based on childhood dreams. I got the idea from a Corinne Mucha comic about how when she was a kid she dreamt of flying, and she woke up thinking she could fly for an entire week. It's a great assignment because the dream will have happened long enough ago that you'll have no choice but to make up the details. You can't illustrate those memories directly.

But at the same time it's got a clear start point.
While they're working on it, I encourage them to let the ideas marinate, think about what was going on inner lives when they were young. So after they do a few pages of the dream I have them "wake up" and then show a little bit of what their life was like at that time. I did something similar when I made ROM, which was a 25 page adaptation of a old Marvel comic, the sort of thing I might have read as a kid. The whole time I was thinking, "1982, I was 12, this is what my neighborhood was like, this is what my bedroom was like". So when I was done with my riff on the superhero comic, I added the kid based on myself as a framing device.

You teach at 3rd ward?
Yeah, I'm super proud to be there.

What are the students like?
Most of them have an art school background so they've been some of my favorite classes to teach because it's so similar to my own background. But they tend to be young, 20's 30's and 40's, and there isn't as much diversity as there is at the other schools where I teach. At Educational Alliance, where I've taught for 5 years, it's more racially diverse, it's more age diverse. I've had 70 year old students there, and I've had 13 years old students.

Do you find that the people at Educational Allaince are familiar with comics in a different way? Do they have different reference points?
Actually, a lot of times it's the 70 year old coming in with a copy of Epileptic. I've heard that the demographic is changing at other schools as well, there are a lot more female students, a lot more diversity. Comics are out there now in a way that they weren't before. People are reading reviews of Persopolis in Time magazine.
    When I was 12, I found an American Splendor collection at my local library, and I never forgot the boldness of his choices.  There's one story where he's looking right at you for 16 panels in a grid. Just talking. That really stuck with me. Libraries were super important in my development as a cartoonist. My dad was a Librarian and I used to go hang out in his office, and read books about cartooning. There were two Smithsonian collections, and a book called Great Comic Book Heroes by Pfiffer. Those books weren't easy to get back then, and I was lucky my dad had an interest in comics.

So how do you do the coloring, it looks like you're doing a couple of different things?
Right now I'm doing watercolor on my pages and then using gouache on top of it. I'm also doing another project in color where I'm using zipotone. I just had a breakthrough on how to clean up my pages in Photoshop, and I'm hoping that will give me a new lease on life in terms of that program. I've always had a problem with my pages getting greasy and thumb-printed, I carry them around a lot, I do them in sketchbooks, and I've started to notice that the pages get really grimy.
    In the past a lot of my teachers warned me away from doing my colors on the inked page. Mastering that has been a steep learning curve. I go back and fourth between new techniques and my old way of working. That's how it was when I was learning how to use a nib pen. I made it sound like it was an easier transition than it was. My teacher showed me how to use it, and then I had a few days where I thought, "I can't do this, then pens are just fighting me too much" and I'd go back to using the micron again for a while. It's been like that with coloring too, I'm not a tech-y guy, I went into grad school in my 30's, on the tail end of the technological revolution. There were all these 20 year olds I was going to school with, and I felt like, on a scale of 1 to 10, they were a 5 or a 7 with Photoshop, and I was a 1. Now I'm a 3, and gradually coming up to 3.5 or 4. I just discovered the magic eraser tool.
    So I'll use Photoshop when it's a simple coloring job, with flat colors. I use a variety of things when I'm coloring right on the page. When I did fine arts, color was one of my strengths, so it's been about narrowing the gap between doing what comes naturally to me and doing it it a way that makes the images look really beautiful when they come out of the printer. Gary Panter and Laura Winestein, both have really raw styles, and both told me that they do their work with the colors on different layers when the it's meant for reproduction. That way they keep their blacks really black. but then there are cartoonists, like Vanessa Davis, who once said the idea of keeping the blacks really pure seems almost fetishistic, for her it's ok to have the blacks get a little gritty.

What techniques did you use to make your fine art pieces?

I threw everything at those. They're on huge sheets of paper, and I would do them with a lot of oil painting and layers, glazes, gluing things to the page. When I was just starting out,  my bother really encouraged me to use oil sticks. He thought that I was going to be a Basquiat type of artist, and encouraged that in me. My brother was my school for a while, I didn't go to school for art, but he had, and he was like my mentor. So with the big pieces, I'd use oil stick and then let them dry, then I'd go back into them with paint pens and markers, because you wouldn't be able to finesse the line with the oil stick; couldn't get little feather lines.  I wanted to keep it raw and honest– but that got frustrating because I couldn't embellish the line, couldn't polish it. I went through a transition where my work was caught between the styles, then I smoothed it all out. I'm still smoothing it out.
    So now I'll use an ink wash, then oil paint, then oil stick, then paint pens, then maybe some more oil paint, and then more paint pens, and red and black china marker. I'd fake it a little with colored pencils to make it look like I'd sketched underneath the original line.

Are most of your fine art pieces really large?
Most of them. But those art pieces were a full time thing for me. These days I'm focused on comics.
    I make these one page drawings that I give away to people who buy my comics. I have to do them really fast; I don't pencil first, I use a thicker line, and in a way it's like this idealized type of art. A really honest drawing. When I first offered to do it on my website, I thought, "Oh God, every time I get an order I'll have to do this", but it's ended up being my favorite part of the week in terms of drawing. I always learn something about what makes a successful piece of work when I'm done. I think "Why does this work even though I spent just four minutes on it, when in the last two weeks I've spent 17 hours doing zipotone and polishing work on this Henry and Glen comic". I can do really fast, successful, work when I need to, but I've also developed this incredibly time-consuming way of making art.

What are you using for those Drawings?
I mostly use Crayola watercolor markers on those are the backing boards you use to store comics. They're great to draw on because they have a really smooth surface.

What kind of paper are you using to draw your comics?
It's Croquis, you can carry this pad with you, it's portable, and that encourages you to draw.
I read this interview with a former Navy Seal, and they asked him how he got through boot camp, and he said "I changed the conversation I was having with myself". It's about base, ground-level transformation. Transforming the way you think about yourself, and the way you think about what you're doing.

You talked about that earlier, that you changed the conversation that you were having with yourself about getting work done.

And it was that easy?
Not at all. But there's a point where you remember that [your thoughts] are an important component. I don't read a lot of books on positive thinking or anything, but that being aware of that process has helped me. Saying consciously, "I am going to stop feeling this way about making art, and thinking this way about making art; I'm going to think about it in a new way".

Cheat Sheet:
Pens: Semi-flexible nib pens, Crowquills, Paintpens, Cross fountain pens, microns.              
Brushes: Roundtip watercolor brushes, Pentel or Elmers brushpens.
Ink: Yasutomo Ink
Paper: Croquis, Smooth Vellum Bristol; Stonehenge; Transparent Bond paper

June 30, 2012

Interview with: Jess Fink

Be Aware: This post contains images that are NSFW.

Comics: Chester 5000, We Can Fix It
Making Comics Since: 1997
Website: http://jessfink.com/Chester5000XYV/, http://jessfink.com/kwe/

What did you start out using when you first started drawing comics
I think I just used to draw on printer paper, that was the only ridiculously large supply of paper lying around. I started drawing in lined notebooks, stuff like that. in High school I would carry around a big binder with loose sheets of paper in it; I would draw comics on that, and then I would staple them together and make my friends read them.

Did you go to school for art?
Yeah, I went to School of Visual Arts

I didn't realize that. I also went to SVA.
You too?

I went for photography, but ended up hanging out with cartoonists a lot.
That's what I hated about that school, nobody from different majors really hung out much. I know people now who were in the animation program at the time I was in the cartooning program, and I'm like, "I guess we could have been friends in school, but we never met".

When did you graduate?

That was a ways before I went there anyway.
I had friends who were photography majors. I was amazed by how much money everything costs. It's a lot of money for equipment, and film, and processing.

Cartooning is great because the ceiling for really top notch tools is a lot lower than it is in other disciplines.
A lot of people swear by really really cheap tools– it's whatever you feel comfortable with.

What kind of tools did you try in the past did you just pick specific a set of tools and stick with them? things or did you go through a bunch of tools before you found what works for you?
When I was in school, most of our professors would tell us to use nibs, so I used a nib for a while.  I had Tom Hart, who was an awesome teacher. He really encouraged us to try different things before we settled on something. I used a brush for a while, and I did a lot of comics with a nib, but it got really frustrating, because I was always pressing too hard. I would fuck it up. I basically just wanted a pencil that would ink. I finally settled on felt tip, and then I started using microns, and I've just kept using those. Most people think microns are the crappiest things, they run out of ink really fast, and the tip gets destroyed, but they're the only thing I feel safe using.

You get a very consistent line with a felt tip.
When people use a brush they like that it's not consistent, they have a pencil drawing, and then they use the brush to transform it into something else. I can't do that, I like to have a lot of control over my lines.

Do you use microns of different sizes?
I mostly use a 03. I work really really small. Most of my pages are only six inches tall. I like to work really tiny. If I have to do a super tiny little background I'll use an 01, for regular panels I use an 03, and I use an 08 for the borders. I used to use a rapdiograph. I used to use copic multiliners because you can refill them, but the tip still wears out, so refilling them only gets you so far.

How many microns do you go through in the course of a comic?
Oh my god, so many.

Can you venture a guess?
Oh gosh, let me think. I think an .03 will last me 8 pages before it starts to die.

I have microns all over the place because they'll usually still have a little ink in them, but I can't use them for comics because the tip is busted.

Dead Microns
I wish there was something I felt better using because it's so wasteful. I have so many pens. I used to draw caricatures, so I have this giant stash of sharpies and prismacolor markers that I'll probably never use again.

What kind of paper do you use?
I used to be really bad and just do comics in my sketchbook. All the first pages of Chester 5000  were in my sketchbook. I have them in a portfolio now, and they're all cut out in odd shapes. I used to do everything in the easiest possible way. In the past few years I've been forcing myself to get more professional about it. Now I work on big sheets of watercolor paper. I don't use the expensive stuff, everyone loves Arches (watercolor Paper), and it is beautiful paper, but I don't like the away my ink wash works on it, so I use the cheaper Canson paper.

I wanted to talk to you about your ink wash, what's your technique?
I made this little set for myself. It's just five little canisters glued to a wooden board and they each have different levels of ink and water in them. It's like a gradient starting at the top with a skin tone level, down to a super-thick black at the end. So I can just pull from that and paint with it.

Do you have specific formulas for the ink wash or are you eyeballing it?
I just eyeball it, I have a giant bottle of ink and i use test papers. I use higgins ink, but I'm not too picky about it.

Then you do the color tint in Photoshop?
yeah, I work with the levels and then the hue saturation. I have a batch action I just drag onto new scans.

What about when you're coloring other illustrations? I noticed you have a couple of full color comics, and some of the prints that you're selling, is that all digital?
I do work digitally sometimes, I used to use flash all the time. A lot of my Threadless designs were in flash.
Cookie Loves Milk on Threadless

instead of Illustrator? To do vector graphics?
Yup, when I went to school they taught us how to use Illustrator. But I couldn't just draw with it, I had to make a shape– it was more like sculpting. I just wanted to use a pencil and draw, and I got that from Flash. I never learned how to animate it, but I used it all the time. I haven't worked in vector in a long time, so now I mostly use Photoshop at a really high resolution.

There isn't a whole lot of text in your comics so far.
yeah it's silent

Can you talk about that decision at all?
I really liked these books called Tijuana Bibles, they're just these really dirty comics people used to sell in the 20's,30's and 40's. It was illegal to sell porn, so people would just draw these dirty little comics and sell them from their coat pocket on the street. They're hilarious, sometimes it's a completely new character, new story, and sometimes it was Greta Garbo, or Betty Boop– just about anybody. I think there was a Mussolini one, a Babe Ruth one.

Are those mostly silent? the tijuana bibles?
They're not, but they're just tiny black and white cartoons, and I wanted to do something small and simple like that. Then later I got into silent films and other stuff from the 1920's, because the style of the Tijuana Bibles is very much from the 1920's. Then I started thinking about the 1800s and the industrial revolution, and maybe I could do something that felt like a silent film but was set back then.

In the your interview with Sequential Tart, Suzette called it "steamporn".

Was she the first person to use that, or was that something you self-identified?
Lots of people have called it steampunk porn, there's no "steam" in it, it's just a robot!

Do you thumbnail your work beforehand? or are you making things up as you go along?
For the first half of Chester I had and outline for the story, but as far as thumbnailing it and writing it, I just made it up as I went along. I knew that there were points I wanted to hit– a point A, and a point B, and an ending. Now I'm trying to be more efficient and adult in my process, so I've started writing outlines for everything, and thumbnailing in advance.

You've worked on a couple of other comics recently?
Yeah, I used to do dirty comics for Fantagraphics anthologies. I started doing some autobiographical stuff, I did a piece for The Smut Peddler recently. I also have another book coming out from top shelf, that I did a while ago.

You're talking about We Can Fix It?
That should be out next year.

Pencils, Inks, and color
How is it as a cartoonist living in Troy?
It's really cheap! It's super cheap to live here and it's really cute. I really love Troy because it's so Victorian.

I was surprised by how nice the architecture was when I went there.
I used to live on Long Island, and when I moved out here, I didn't realize that everything on Long Island is fairly new, like people started living there in the 1930's. There are no Victorian buildings, they just didn't exist.

What ended up bringing you to Troy?
My boyfriend came up here, and I pretty much realized that there was no way for me to have any kind of life on Long Island because it's so expensive. There are a lot of art people in Troy, and we have a nice art center. There's also a comics collective that my friend, TJ Kirsch, started up. He goes to the local conventions, which are usually just dudes with cardboard boxes full of comics.

That's kind of how Albuqeurque has been for the last ten years, the comics scene there is just starting to get off the ground.
I think it's hard to get comics people together. Because there are so many forms of art where it's easy to congregate around it, like dance troupes, or people who make sculptures out of Bicycles– there are a lot of those in Troy. Cartoonists are all going to be in rooms by themselves, drawing.

I've always gotten the sense that there is a lot of community in cartooning, it's just online, of it meets twice a year at conventions.
Yeah exactly. I have friends here who do comics, but it always feels like there's more of a community online. It's a solitary art form. I love having an online community, especially since I work from home.

What do you do as a day job?
I just do this, I quit my job at a video game company 2 1/2 years ago. I've just been freelancing since then, I sell a lot of jewelry and t-shirt designs.

I am always excited when I hear people can make a living doing what they love.
But I wouldn't have health insurance if it wasn't for my boyfriend.

Does he make comics?
He works at a video game company, but he also makes a comic called Rutabaga, you should check it out.

How did you get the show at the museum of sex?
The curator, cartoonist Craig Yoe, contacted me about it, so then I got in touch with the museum.

It was a group show with other erotic cartoon artists?
I probably would have crapped my pants if I'd thought about it too hard because there was a Tom of Finland across from my drawing. There was old playboy stuff, Tijuana Bibles, some Anime but not a ton, and then they had more modern stuff. It was an awesome show.

How did you end up getting Chester 5000 published?
I had printed copies of We Can Fix It and the Chester book, to sell at SPX one year. Top Shelf has always been my favorite publisher. I've read Blankets, and Goodbye Chunky Rice is one of my favorite comics of all time. I just loved everything they were putting out, but I never really thought about Chester for them because it's like, "it's dirty, who's going to publish this"? Lee Walton (of Top Shelf) had read my work before, then Chris Staros (who runs the company came by my table), and I gave him copies of both books. A week later he called me and wanted to publish them. They're really nice people. And surprisingly, they like porn.

How did you start promoting your webcomic? Did conventions play a big part in that?
Not really, it's really just word of mouth. I took out ads through Project Wonderful too. It was created by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics), was basically thinking about regular people who want to take out ads of have ads on their comics. You can use Project Wonderful to place ads on different sites. Most webcomics I read now have Project Wonderful ads on their site. It's a pretty good way to get awareness out for your comic.

June 23, 2012

Good advice, part 2

I'm having technical difficulties this week which prevent me from bringing you your regularly scheduled content. I've got a great interview with Jess Fink, creator of the sexy (and NSFW) webcomic, Chester 5000, coming up shortly, but in the meantime, enjoy some more words of wisdom plucked from previous interviews!

Matt Haley:
Create your own comics and put them on the web, instead of trying to get a paying gig right out of art school, there aren't any, and you'll get a lot more notice for your creations than drawing someone else's characters. Draw every day, even when you're sick or you have homework. Get kicked out of class for drawing comics. learn to like staying inside. Stay away from caffeine, drink green tea instead. Exercise. Invest in gold.

Ryan Dunlavey:
Always look for new drawing tools that make things easier or faster or better looking than what you’re already doing. Use a Wacom tablet if you’re going to make art on the computer, even just coloring.

Adrain Tomine:
I know a lot of artists who use tools that I can’t stand and achieve beautiful results, so I guess it’s good to just try a lot of things. I used to think that if I “solved” the mystery of what were the “correct” tools, I’d suddenly be drawing like a pro, and that obviously wasn’t the case. I also think it’s good to not be stingy when it comes to art supplies. I used to try to save money by using cheap paper, for example, and any monetary savings were far surpassed by wasted time, frustration, etc...

Hope Larson:
Never throw anything away. Tools that used to drive you crazy may prove ideal later on!

Grant Reynolds:
When you're just getting started it's more important to make as much work as possible than to worry about whether that work is good or not. What I mean is, all the stuff like style and storytelling will figure itself out in time. The more you just do it, the more quickly and easier it will come. Experience, more than anything else, is going to make you better -- not what pens or paper or other materials you're using. And when you're finished with it don't put it in your desk, put it out. It's important to get feedback, and to see your comic as a finished product. Put it somewhere like Quimby's Comics to sell. It'll make you feel good, y'know.

Don't go out and buy a $20 brush when you don't know what a $2 brush is like. Buy the cheap stuff and upgrade when you've gotten better with them. Then when you get a better brush, you'll know what the difference is & won't kill some expensive stuff with your crappy beginnings & lack of care.
Give yourself a nice setup to work in. It makes it much easier to stay at your desk when you have a place for your tea, an audiobook loaded up on your stereo, and a stack of bristol right next to you. Also it gives you fewer excuses to get up.
Listen to audiobooks, especially long books that would otherwise take you a while to read. Music is too easy to get up from, but good stories are harder to take a break from.
Set a realistic schedule & stick to it, but don't let yourself get burnt out. Take breaks when you need to, but don't get lazy.
Be a shameless self promoter.

Kevin Colden:
Forget everything you've read here and find your own damn tools. That's half the fun!

June 16, 2012

Writing for Comics: An interview with MK Reed

How did you first get interested in writing comics?
I first got into comics by doing stuff for the daily paper at college. Some of the comics in the paper were great, Nicholas Gurewitch, who does the Perry Bible Fellowship, was running his comics in the paper at that time, but there was also a lot of stuff that wasn't so great. I looked at it and thought "I could definitely do that".

Was it gag strips?
Gags, slice of life, serialized stories, there was a crazy range of work. It was like webcomics, only on paper.

And after that, you spent a couple years drawing and self publishing your own work?
Cross Country is the only comic I self published as an actual book. There were also a lot of mini comics, and two longer stories before that that I'm not completely embarrassed to show people now, years later.

How did you transition from writing and drawing to writing comics for other people?
In 2007, after I had started work on Cross Country. My friend and writing partner, Greg Means, wanted a longer story that he could serialize in his magazine, Papercutter. Greg and I threw around a bunch of ideas I was working on at the time, but Americus was kind of a shoe-in from the beginning, since Greg is a librarian, and the story deals with books. It's very library centric. But he knew my time was tied up with working on Cross Country, so he suggested getting another artist involved.  Greg knew Jonathan Hill from around Portland, and when I saw his work I thought, "he's amazing, and we have to get him".

How did it get picked up by First Second?
I knew a few of the people at First Second from the NY comics scene, so I went by their booth at the New York Comic Con, and when I told them I was a writer, they said I should send them something. I submitted the first four chapters of Americus, which had already been drawn, and they were very interested in it from the start.

How do you write your scripts?

I always spend a lot of time working out details before I sit down and do any writing. I start out with a general outline, that includes in all the moments that are important to the story, so I can figure out roughly how long it's going to be. Then I break that outline down into chapters, and the chapters down into pages.
I write everything in Google docs. When I'm working with collaborators, it's easier to have the project online, so that I can be certain everyone has the most recent version. Each script contains dialogue, directions for the acting, and panel descriptions. When I started out with Johnathan I would give him basic page layouts and thumbnails as well, but then he'd come back with something that looked so much better than what I'd come up with, and eventually I just let him work it out on his own.

What's different about the way you work when you're writing without a collaborator?
Mainly? It takes me way longer. The nice thing about working with a writing partner is that you have someone to be accountable to, someone to make sure you finish things on time.

Do you miss working on your own comics?

I'm still working on my own side projects. I'm serializing About a Bull, which is set in Ireland. It's going to be really long and it's taking me forever, but it fills my need to draw, and to work on something that's all my own. I have other small projects as well, but I tend to put them on the back burner whenever someone wants to collaborate.

Do you read a lot of prose books, or mostly comics?
I draw inspiration from other comics, but books and movies too. It's helpful to see stories told in different forms, to see different ways of handling common scenarios. Exposing yourself to a broad range of influences is really helpful during the idea phase. But it's really about letting yourself be bored.

How so?
I spend a lot of time in front of books or screens, and on the subway I'll listen to podcasts.  But it's helpful to spend some quite time just thinking about the story. I get a lot of writing done in the shower, It's where all my problems get solved. I can't tell you how many things have clicked together when I stopped paying attention, when I was looking out the window on train rides or car rides. Just being able to let your mind water is an extremely good way to let things come together.

What happens when the artist when they're doing something in a way that wasn't what you envisioned?

I've been pretty lucky in the artists I've worked with, we've been able to talk about things pretty openly. When the drawings aren't right sometimes it's just because I left out some basic information in the script. By the end of Americus, I had a better sense of what I needed to write for Johnathan, so there were fewer corrections.

Can you tell me anything about your upcoming book?

The working tittle is The Cute Girl Network. It's about a girl whose friends are trying to convince her to break up with her boyfriend, who's kind of a dumbass.

And you and Greg are working on that together?
Yes, we finished writing it two years ago, and we've worked on a couple of projects since then. We've finished a second book that Matt Wiegle is drawing. I'm also working with Farel Dalrymple redoing one of my older stories, once he finishes his current project.

How did First Second end up picking up TCGN?

When we were working on Americus they seemed open to doing other projects, and when I sent them the script they really liked it. I've been lucky in that sense.

Any other advice for people who are interested in writing for comics?
Go be social and meet people at conventions. These people will give you feedback, and help build your network. All the opportunities I've gotten have just been from getting to know people in the indie comics scene over the course of several years.

Do you think it's as easy to break into the scene now as it was ten years ago when you were just starting out?

It's easier to break in, but harder to get attention. The scene was much smaller in 2004 than it is now, and there's a new class graduating from SVA every year full of all these amazingly talented kids. When the internet was a smaller place it was easier to get noticed in the webcomics world. But even now, sometimes you just need the right person to mention your blog to their 50,00 followers.

And there are more people reading comics right now.

It's a real Renaissance in comics right now. There's just so much good stuff out there.

June 9, 2012

Interview with: Joe Flood

Comics: Don't Eat The Electric Sheep, Hellcity, Orcs, The Cute Girl Network (upcoming)
Making Comics Since: 1999
Website: www.kneedeeppress.com

How did you start working on comics?
I went to SVA intending to study painting, but when I got there, I found myself really inspired by the the members of Meathaus, Farel Darymple in particular. They were upperclassmen at the time, and self publishing work that was really different from anything I'd seen before. At the time, I knew nothing about independent publishing, and it was great to see these guys releasing their own work. When I graduated in 2002 I took a full-time job at an art supply store and saved up so I could self-publish my first series, Don't Eat The Electric Sheep. I worked on that for about five years until I switched to longer stories.

Did you know much about indie comics before you came to SVA?
Before? No. My inspiration was all coming from comics like Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side, Sunday comics page stuff.

No superhero comics at all?
No not really. I had a cousin who read Spawn and The maxx, but I never owned any of the books. I never went to comic stores.

I always kind of took you for an action-indie guy because of the way you draw. The storytelling reminded me so much of stuff like the Ninja Turtles.
I liked the cartoon version of the TMNT, but didn't read the comics until later. I worked at the SVA library, and pretty much read everything in their graphic novel collection. That's when I first saw Tank Girl. The stuff I did with Cricket and Frankie in the sewer came out of a mash-up between Tank Girl and Ninja Turtles.

Tell me about your process, how do you thumbnail?
I thumbnail the whole book in advance, on a templates that I create and print myself. I generally keep a 1/4" margin between the panel border and the cut edge of the page, and I like to take that into consideration when I'm thumbnailing. I do all my work on cheap copy paper, in two page spreads. I work at actual size, so if the final book is 6"x9", the paper I'm thumbnailing on is 12"x9". My thumbs are pretty detailed; my goal is the make my thumbnails so tight you could read them almost as easily as the finished book. Once I'm done, I scan the thumbnails and add text and sound effects in photoshop, then email them to my editor and publisher for revisions.

How about pencils?
I work at a larger scale when I'm penciling and inking. I use 15"x20" 2 ply plate Bristol board, the smoothest I can find. I plot out the drawings from the thumbnails almost exactly, two to a page, just like they'll be in the final book. Working this way eliminates surprises. I know that every page turn will be exactly the way I want it to be for the reader.
I use a 7mm HB lead in an Alvin mechanical drafting pencil. I like the 7mm lead because it's nice in-between size, not too think or too thin, and I only use Alvins, because they're indestructible. It's the only type of drafting pencil I've ever owned that's never broken on me. They're made in Germany, and mostly metal. I've stepped on them and had them come out fine. Mechanical pencils are more efficient because you don't have to stop and sharpen them. I like working with wood pencils, but I tend to press to hard with them, which makes it difficult to erase the pencils later. I like the line quality in pencil drawings a lot, but when I'm working, I'm careful not to to fall in love with my pencils, because they're meant to be temporary. Destined to be inked over and erased.

Inks and brushes?
I only use Dr Martens high black star hi carb ink. The high carbon content means it really sticks to the paper when I'm erasing my pencils. Other inks I've used in the past would fade, so that I'd have to go over all the fine lines again. I use Raphael size 1 Kolinsky Sable brushes, which are pretty small, so sometimes I'll use a #2 for larger areas. I also use Tashikawa Spoon Nibs and Crow Quill nibs. It depends on the project. Over the years I've found myself using the brush more and more.

That seems to be an overall trend in comics now.
Well, everyone loves the brush. It's very much in vogue thanks to guys like Paul Pope, Dean Haspiel, trying to bring back that old-school  Jack Kirby style. Craig Thompson too, and Charles Burns, you're seeing brush work everywhere. Primarily, I use Photoshop and a Wacom tablet for coloring. Sometimes is use water color, or, very rarely, gouache. But for the books I'm doing not, at First Second, I work with a professional colorist.

And lettering?
I use a Blambot font called Lint McCreed. They have a ton of free fonts, but I paid for this one, because it looks most like my own handwriting. The $20 fee covers anything I self publish, or publish through an indie publisher. I use the same font at first second, but McMillan, the parent company, pays the additional licensing fee.

Your process is so involved, what's your time frame like?
It takes about 2-3 months to thumbnail a 150-175 page book, the pencils I do 2-3 pages a day, because that's when I'm really going in and using reference and making sure to get the details right. That part takes about 6 months. Then the inks are done in around 4.

I wanted to talk to you a bit about working with a publisher. You started out writing your own works and self-publishing, do you miss it at all?

The self publishing or the writing?
Both, because I can never finish anything. There's something really great about being handed a story with a beginning, middle and end. weather it's a prose piece or a screenplay, or a comic book script broken down into pages and panels. There's no guesswork. No wondering where the story is going to end. If I have to write something I'll start drawing it as well, I'll jump the gun and draw before I've finished the writing.

You never wrote a script out in advance?
Never. I don't like to type and my handwriting is atrocious.

When you're working on someone else's story, is there a particular format you like best?
They all have their benefits; prose stories have more great descriptive language, which gives me some context and an idea of what the writer was thinking. You have a lot of freedom with a movie script because the rythm of it translates well into page turns, reveals, etc… Working with a comic script is great because so much of the work has been done for you, but it's also a little confining. As a comic artist you are set designer, costumer, makeup, set design, cinematographer. You're in charge of continuity. When you work from a comic script that's already broken down into panels, part of that directorial role has been shifted to someone else.

Thanks for sharing Joe!

Cheat Sheet:
Thumbs: Pencil on printer paper with pre-printed digital margins.
Pencils: 7mm HB lead in an Alvin mechanical drafting pencil. 2 ply plate bristol.
Lettering: Lint McCreed Font by Blambot
Inks: Raphael size 1 Kolinsky Sable. Will use #2 for larger areas. Tashikawa Spoon Nibs and Crow Quill nibs. Dr martens high black star hi carb ink.
Color: Photoshop and Wacom tablet. Sometimes water color, gouache very rarely

June 2, 2012

Interview with: Koren Shadmi

Comics: In the Flesh, The Abaddon
Making comics since year of: 1990
Art education/schools attended: School of Visual Arts

What did you first use when you were making comics?
I grew up in Israel, where I worked with cartoonist Uri Fink. He was a mentor to me, and so I  just used whatever he used at the time - which was Alvin pens for inking, they were pretty awful in retrospect None of it was archival so all of the drawings I have from those days have faded to a gray-brown color. We colored everything with pantone markers. 
While serving at the army I started making comics for myself rather than for clients -  and for that I switched to inking with nibs and an inkwell. I switched to brushes when I came to the US and started studying at SVA. Now I use Rosemary Kolinsky's brushes; they've held up really well for me, and I like them far better than the Windsor and Newton 7 series. There wasn't much of a comics community in Israel when I was first learning to draw. I took classes in Israel, but mostly learned from working with Uri, so when I came to the New York I was introduced to a bunch of new ways to work. 

Was there a big difference in what supplies were available when you were working in Israel? Is the selection any better now? Or do you bring supplies with you when  you travel?
All the stuff that's available here is available there,  and if it wants you could mail order it or now get it from the internet. It's a matter of knowing what to use that makes the difference. when i travel I usually just take my wacom and ink digitally, since I don't want to carry a jug of ink in the suitcase.

How do you ink your comics now?
I actually don't ink most of my work these days. I use a 0.9 2b lead, the thickest you can get– so the line gets soft, and a bit messy. I end up doing a lot of clean-up afterwards on the computer but I like the look of it. I found that something was lost when I went over the pencils with ink. I preferred the delicate quality of pencil line. This style has worked particularly well for The Abbadon because it has an almost ghostly quality. Nothing looks too permanent. For a long time inking was a product of necessity. In the 30's and 40's, when printing presses were really bad, you needed these thick black lines so that people could see what is going on and the reproduction would be clear. The techniques used to print comics now are much more sophisticated, so I don't think inking is always a must.

And so many people are viewing comics online on high resolution monitors. 
That too. 

What about thumbnails?
My thumbnails are very loose, and I only make them for next 3-4 pages. And once I've drawn the thumbnails I have to use them right away, because an sometimes even an hour later I don't know what I'm looking at. There will be a circle in a square and that's it. Sometimes I just draw it in as I go, and don't thumbnail at all. 

Did you script out the whole story in Advance?
I started with an idea of the plot, a rough script. Working with a project that wasn't completely scripted out in advance means that there have been a lot of small changes over the course of the story. I've been working on it for two years so I've had time to really think about it. 
It's such a huge project that I've also had to find ways to keep it interesting for me– there are a lot more naked ladies in part two. I think that's part of why so many people get into comics by drawing superheros, it's fun to draw muscular men and sexy women. But the art is definitely in service to the story in The Abbadon. I recently drew 12 pages of dialogue because that was what was necessary to advance the plot. so the story is still more important than 'drawing something fun'. 

Are there any concessions you make to the webcomic format? Anything you change to make it read better from week to week?
Not really. It's not a gag comic, there aren't a lot of little endings. It's a difficult comic to break down, but it's more important to me that the read well when it's all finished. There's an almost entirely black page in part one because it was necessary for the pacing. Sometimes people get angry about stuff like that in the comments.

How about the color?  

use watercolor textures in photoshop. Used two color palettes to differentiate between the flashbacks and the main story. I hand-color a lot of my illustrations with water color paints, but for The Abbadon I've needed to streamline the process and maintain a consistent palette, so I use the same background texture for each page - and do a lot of the additional coloring a top of it in Photoshop.

May 26, 2012

Good advice, part 1

Greetings readers!

I'm filling in for Matt while he is off the grid this summer, working with the Maine Conservation Corps. I am working on getting a few Bernier-style tutorials together, but in the meantime, I will be posting a series of tool-and-technique focused interviews.
Long time readers may remember that this blog started out as a weekly survey, curated by MK Reed, that focused on tools and working methods.. I recently took a look through the archives, and found a few pieces of great advice from past interviewees, some of which are compiled below.

I will be back next week with an interview with cartoonist and illustrator Koren Shadmi, in which we talk about the joys of penciling, buying art supplies in Israel, and part two of his webcomic, The Abbadon.


Karl Christian Krumpholz: "Well, the complaint I hear the most from other artists that are just starting out (and I was guilty of this as well for a time) is that they get stuck on one page. They aren't happy with their results, so they obsess and redraw their comic over and over again. My view is to get over it. Move on. You will improve. It's more important to finish the work and get it out there then to fret on it's not perfect. It will never be. I cringe looking at my earlier work. Even the stuff being published now."

Pat Lewis: I enjoy reading about artists' tools as much as the next dude, but don't let anyone make you feel guilty for how you work. The results are all that matters, and odds are any shortcomings you may have are probably the result of your skill level rather than what kind of pen you use (at least, that's the case with me). No matter how weird or unorthodox your methods, I guarantee there's a professional artist out there doing great work with an even crazier way of working.

Alec Longstreth: "It doesn't matter WHAT you draw with, as long as it reproduces properly. Do some tests with a scanner or a photocopier and figure out what looks the best and feels the best for you!"

Debbie Huey: "Be aware of how some tools may wear out your drawing arm/hand more than others. If your arm or hand begins to feel funny or a little numb from drawing, STOP. Take a break, and stretch everything out. It is a scary feeling when you realize what would happen if your arm gets messed up!"

Liz Baillie: You may not think your pages are worth saving now, but you never know what the future will hold. Take very good care of all your original comic pages and try to use archival tools whenever possible. And don't cut up your original art for any reason (I made that mistake once... it's a long story, don't do it).

Matthew Bernier: "…good tools do help. It's true that a great artist can make good comics with the worst pen available. But- I could never get the exact kind of line I get out of a good brush with a bad brush. Bad tools slow you down, break your rhythm, harsh your mellow. I pay good money so that I can know for certain that any problems I have at the drawing table are my fault and not my tool's."

May 19, 2012

Hi everyone,

I have a new job doing trail work for the Maine Conservation Corps this summer. I didn't know whether I'd be able to get back home on breaks to do posts, but as it turns out I'll be residential, so the answer is no. I'm gonna try and coordinate with some friends to post stuff in my absence just to keep new stuff in the feed, but in the meantime if you have a question for me I can be written to here:

Matthew Bernier, MCC Team Member
c/o Baxter State Park
64 Balsam Dr. 
Millinocket, ME 04462

My address will change in June when I get stationed elsewhere, but I'll let you know when that happens. 

Have a good summer! 


April 22, 2012

This week: 3mm lead holder battle

So finally, a comparison between two of the cheapest currently available 3mm lead holders. There's the Graffiti, given to me by Comic Tools reader Alberto, and the Koh-i-noor, which I bought on Amazon.

First, a word on why I'm using these, when I already have a perfectly good 2mm lead holder, and more leads for it than I could use in several years. As I'm developing a style of drawing for this book I'm working on, I'm being led towards a method involving colored leads. I want erasable leads, and not a lot of colored leads are erasable. If you like thin leads like those in a mechanical pencil, several readers suggested the Pilot Color Eno leads. Reader Greg H had this to say about them:
I can back-up that recommendation for the Pilot Color Eno soft blue. I got hooked on the col-erase pencils while working in animation, but started to look for something that wasn't so hard and waxy. The Pilot leads have a softness that makes them pleasurable to sketch with and they erase beautifully. Aside from Jetpens, you may find a supplier on ebay.

Stay away from the Uni color leads if you're the least bit ham-fisted like me. They snap repeatedly. 
Pilot is a great company and with so many similarly enthusiastic recommendations I'd say that if erasable colored leads for your mechanical pencil is what you want, those are what you should buy. They come in different colors, btw.

But I'm starting to really shy away from thin pencil tips, which is why I like my lead holder. I can go pointy or blunt like with a pencil, but I don't waste all the lead that you do with a pencil. (Yes I know they make special cigarette holder type dealies for when pencils get short, but why pay for the wood and extra assembly?)

Here's where we get to this post from two weeks ago, wherein I dissected out the lead of a Prismacolor ColErase pencil to put into my lead holder and found that it didn't fit.

So, if you are an insane person like me, and you have a wood pencil lead (which is usually 3mm), and you don't want to just use the damned pencil, and instead you want to use it's lead in a lead holder, these are your two cheapest options.

1: Graffiti
 I thought the shortness of this thing would bug me. I figured either it would be awkward to hold, like knives with small handles can be, or that it's balance would be all messed up. I also worried that the thickness would make it feel clunky and imprecise to draw with, the way those things you put on pencils to help ease carpal strain can. In fact, this tool is quite the fleet and natural in hand. The fatness is actually up in your hand, not at your fingertips, and your precision feels just the same as if you were using a fine pencil. Yet because of the fatness farther back, your grip is eased and comfortable. The taper  towards the back hits right about where the webbing of your thumb is, so there isn't thick wood hindering you when you swing the pencil about into different grips. And the length is such that my tiny hands can actuate the lead feed ball without moving my hand up the shaft. 

What affects it's performance the most, and is what in my opinion would divide people over these holders, is the weight. It's VERY light, and what that means for me is my hand will get ahead of itself, especially when using harder leads, and lead me to be less precise with my marks. I've found I love it for thumbnailing, but it's a bit of a nuisance for more detailed drawing. 

One last thing, it lacks an integral sharpener. I don't care because I prefer a knife sharpened pencil point, but if you're not so good with a blade it could be trouble, as it won't fit into a lead pointer. 

2: Koh-i-noor
 I loved this the second I touched it. I was worried about the lack of knurling near the tip, but it turned out that just like with pocket knives, a textured handle often hides the sin of poor ergonomics. This pencil is weighty, metal, and confidence inspiring. It's not so heavy that it's hard to draw with, which I was also worried about after having had a past lead holder that was. But the weight does affect the drawing- the weight of the pencil will make a mark, and when you draw circles and straight lines it steadies your hand with a reassuring pressure that make precision drawing seem easier and less scary. I found myself not needing to hold my breath as much when drawing straight lines or precise curves. On the other hand, if you try to sketch all crazy fast it's intertia will inhibit you, slightly. I've found that I like this holder for finish pencils.

It has an integral sharpener in the lead feed button, and it works well. The pocket clip is VERY robust. You aren't going to lose it.

If you want one, you can buy it here.

Remember the entry I did awhile back where I linked to some articles about how piss-poor movie Hawkeye's archery form was? Well David Aja seems to be doing the opposite of that.  Almost comically so. Google basically any drawing of Hawkeye and these look cooler than whatever bullshit he's doing in those, I'll tell you that.

Remember that entry I did awhile back about Oblique nib holders? Here's Dennis Pachenko using one:

I'm using a Hunt Imperial 101 nib with an oblique nib holder. For the bigger letters I'm using C5 and a C6 lettering nibs. The Hunt 101 is very flexible for some line weight variation, but thicker than the Hunt 102.
I'm really intrigued by the simple and effective way Joseph Lambert conveys Hellen Keller's mental picture of herself and her surroundings in his comic biography of her teacher, Annie Sullivan. It's one of those effects only possible in our wonderful medium.

April 14, 2012

This week: World, meet Elizabeth.

I got the lead holder I ordered, but it shipped from the Czech Republic and arrived a lot later than I thought, so I have not had time to properly test it. So instead I thought I'd share with you a milestone I had this week.

As either a nerd who reads everything too thoroughly and retains everything, or as a stalker compiling facts about my life, you may be aware from past entries that I basically didn't draw anything for almost a year and a half, and that I am nonetheless working on a book written by a friend of mine. I've mostly been doodling and doing character design while my drawing hand slowly regains it's lost abilities and my mind remembers dozens of lost tricks. I've mostly been working on one character, the female lead character, Elizabeth. Some of you have probably had the experience,when designing characters for a story, that there's always at least one character whose likeness escapes you. You can't quite capture their glance, or the line of their jaw. You draw face after face and the expressions on them aren't the expressions your character would make. (By the way, something that goes a long way to solving that, and this is one of those tricks I forgot with disuse, is whenever you draw a character's face, think the thought they're thinking at that moment. Same for the whole pose, actually. Think the thought they're thinking, and your picture will look like a character existing and doing, and not like a posed wax figure.) I had actually captured her general appearance my first time out, in this quick sketch:

But in this sketch she looks menacing, troubled. And she actually smiles a fair amount in the book. But she's not a character to whom smiling comes easily; it wouldn't be her expression at rest. The other tricky thing about her is, her face is designed around animal features, a reflection of her true nature. And although she'll never look as animal as she does in these sketches,

I do want to be able to subtly make her more or less animal in some scenes. All the non human characters will share this general design attribute.

So my quest was, take that first drawing and find out what she'd look like smiling. That proved to be difficult. In the end I'd do 202 drawings, all unsuccessful. Many, like these, looked good as drawings, but simply weren't her:

The problem with character design is, you're trying to capture the likeness of someone you've never seen until you draw them. I finally started making small drawings that almost looked like her, like these,
So I decided to go bigger. That led to this drawing. And there Elizabeth was, finally smiling at me: (at Daniel, actually.)

Now, by no means is this a good drawing as a drawing. It's lopsided, fails the mirror test, and is far, far too overwrought. But none of that matters because this isn't a finished drawing, it's a sketch, and it's the sketch in which Elizabeth finally revealed herself. I can now imagine her making any expression at all, striking any pose at all, in the way Elizabeth would and no one else.

The title image is just this drawing photoshopped a bit to show more of what I see when I look at this drawing: I always see my inks when I look at my penciled drawings, even rendered ones.

Kate Beaton's Katniss
is the best Katniss.

I love it when Craig Thompson posts about pages that would have been perfectly good and shows how he pushed them to make them amazing.

I get such a kick out of this drawing by Sam Hiti: