January 29, 2012

This week: I can tell your characters aren't where you say they are.

I've been commuting a lot for work, through all sorts of weather, in the morning with the sun in my eyes, and at night in the dark. Driving through so much poor weather I've become very aware of visibility, and it's led me to think a lot about how when we draw, we often clarify s0 much that we don't depict visual distortions like the way headlights will sprout hundreds of tiny whiskers of light in some conditions, of how abstract and unresolved night driving in foggy conditions really is. I've been doing sketches for a webcomic about these sorts of things in my spare time before work. Thinking about this led me to thinking about a pet peeve of mine in comics and movies, which is the tendency of people to depict characters in an environment, but forgetting to show signs of them interacting with that environment.

Two scenes have always epitomized this for me, the two worst offenders I've ever seen.

First, watch this scene, which is infuriatingly also my favorite scene, from Peter Jackson's King Kong:

Notice anything missing? You can't see their breath. Jackson's team went to great lengths to depict the snow, to depict the slipperyness of the ice, to depict the effects of wind and movement on fur- but they forgot, somehow, that when it's cold out, you can see breath. Especially, one would think, the breath of a giant, warm, humid thing like Kong. Actually, no one aknowledges the temperature outside at any point in this scene or after. Later on, she's seen comfortably gripping the burningly coldsteel rungs of the sides of the Empire State building, and not shivering despite being outside at a high elevation in a very windy place in the middle of winter. Because of these omissions, I can tell the actress never left a green soundstage. The illusion is ruined for me. Instead of Kong's hand, I can only picture her embraced by foam coated in a green sheet.

Let's look at another example.

Actually, first, I want you to do something. I want you to put all your winter clothes on at once. Everything you have. Then I want you to exert yourself heavily for a few minutes. Lift some stuff, move some furniture, dance around, whatever.

If you can't exert yourself for medical reasons, then watch an episode of the Food network show Chopped. Look at the contestants after only five minutes of competition. Now watch this clip.

Notice anything missing? Not a goddamned drop of sweat. If you cook for five minutes in a hot kitchen you have to dab a constant dripping waterfall down your face. These guys fight so long it makes the fight from They Live seem brief, climbing and running and leaping, all the while surrounded by temperatures that must easily be skin-scalding. Ever been near real lava? I have. It's uncomfortable to bare skin from ten feet away. These guys are, on a few occasions, a couple feet from a river of it. The soles of their shoes should be melting. Their hair should be plastered to their heads, and they should barely be able to see through the stinging salty sweat pouring into their eyes. Again, you can tell they never left a green sound stage.

The worst part is, all those things that would have grounded the scene would also have increased the drama. In the case of the Kong scene, curls of breath would have enhanced the beauty of the scene, as well as completing the illusion. The problem is that when you're imagining a location instead of being in it, it's easy to forget these things, even for brilliant people.

Cartoonists can have the same problem. We imagine all our scenes, and I daresay we haven't been most of the places we end up drawing. Putting yourself into a scene so much you can feel it, and smell it, and feel your body reacting to it, is therefore of great importance.

Watch this scene from Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark:

Notice the lengths they went to to depict the cold of the Nepalese winter? The the snow steaming as it melts on their hats, his shaking voice, their bundled, pained body language, the contrast with the smoky, firelit interior? How shitty would this scene have been if Lucas did it now? We'd have had a gee-whiz exterior shot of the Himalayas, and they'd have walked in the door looking as comfortable as men in an air-conditioned California studio. Watch Fargo sometime to see what a cast looks like when they're really, for reals, balls-reascendingly cold. The weather is as much a character as any of the actors.

In other news, people who draw crazy costumes should bookmark this terrific tumblr of old clothing, Old Rags, which is searchable for people doing period clothing research. The author of the tumblr also takes written requests and questions. Even if you don't draw costumes much the site is a frequently updated visual feast.

I was fascinated that this image by Jillian Tamaki was drawn completely digitally:
Chris Schweizer is selling paper dolls of his Sherlock Holmes drawings, and he included a bonus one of Sherlock and John from the BBC series! EEEEE! Go buy it!

January 18, 2012


I recently updated my operating system, because the only things it was working with were my out of date software. My browser didn't work anymore, nor my email, nor parts of many websites. But it's not exaggerating to say one thing that pushed me to spend the money was my desire to test out Zygote Body, formerly Google Body Browser. It's a fully rotatable, searchable, zoomable, fadeable, and layered human body that you can search much like Google maps. Programs like this used to cost $6,000 , and they weren't usually this good. This costs nothing and it's fucking amazing. Even the fact that my old copy of Photoshop doesn't work anymore doesn't bug me because I have access to this amazing resource, and now I can share it with those of you who haven't been using it for months already.

In Zygote Body you can rotate the figure:use a slider to fade through several layers of muscles, or organs, or whatever, depending on the body system to choose:
You can select any muscle and it will identify it with a label, single it out, and from there you can still rotate it to see the muscle from any angle, allowing for an incredible level of understanding of where and how it fits into the rest of the body. No physical model could ever allow you to see the underside of every muscle while also allowing you to see that muscle in the context of the rest of the body, at the same time. It's incredible.

Even some organs are fadeable into different layers. Yes, that's the MOTHERFUCKING VENTRICLES OF A HEART, WHICH YOU CAN ROTATE AND LOOK AT FROM ANY ANGLE. HOLY FUCKING SHIT.

This is knowledge that Leonardo da Vinci spent his life trying to catalogue and STILL didn't get it all right, for FREE. This is a goddamned miracle, it's the sort of reason the internet should exist. There mere existence of something like this is like a gleaming trophy for hundreds of years of work by thousands of scientists all over the world. If they could have swallowed the idea that something like this would ever even exist they'd have cried and/or gone insane with joy, which is basically how I feel. If you don't spend hours just playing with this you have no soul, and if this doesn't become one of your most important resources you're a fool. This is the best tool I've ever reviewed, period.

But that's not all this week!

Illustrator Yuko Shimizu interviewed some other illustrators about illustrating!

Look at these amazing webcomics! They're so good just reading them is an education!

I love the different kinds of drape in the fabrics of the different pants in this drawing by friend of Comic Tools, Joe Lambert. I also love all the different shoes.

See you next week!

January 9, 2012

So, after several days of lettering, and as a result of the temporary financial (and therefore mental) security of having a job, I was able to dip into my head just far enough to start doing anatomy studies. I have several anatomy pieces in the works for Comic Tools, and one in particular is a lesson on the pelvis, so I doodled stuff for that. Nothing emotionally involved, so I was able to concentrate and draw.

After awhile of that, I started feeling secure enough to dip down slightly more and start working on the likenesses of characters in the story I'm working on with my friend Emily. I hadn't drawn in some time, so the results were crude, but my hand was loosening up. I still couldn't draw for very long without sinking into my head and being caught in the gravity of the unapproachable ball of sadness, but still, some work is more than no work.

Things went on like that for awhile and then around Christmas I started having an idea for a story set in the world of Emily's stories, so I bought a little notebook and starting taking down every little thought that came. The following two pages describe the premise of the story. While it does address my own breakup and my feelings about it, which in recent months I've been slowly able to approach, it also concerns friends and family members whose lives were altered forever by the effects of losing a lover. It's sort of a theme in my family, not ever fully recovering from these sorts of losses, and one I wanted to explore visually.
Lately I've found that the bakery near my work is a great place to get drawing done, and every time I have a late shift I arrive early and draw a page's worth of anything, and send it to Emily. My hand still keeps trying to make marks like I'm drawing Acorn, but slowly my hand is drawing more and more like it's supposed to for this story.

Comic Tools always follows close behind whatever I'm doing with my comics. I'll hit a problem, overcome it, and then write a tutorial. The anatomy entries were the product of my frustrations with the anatomical teaching materials available to me. And it will be like that with this project. As I go along, the things I teach will likely follow close behind the obstacles I overcome in making it. For now, my obstacle is making it through every day with less pain and more art, so that's what I'm posting about.
So, long term readers of this blog may recall this post on June 7th, 2010. What you might recall about it is that I didn't post a damned thing again until this post on December 12th, 2010. Then I posted some stuff for a bit and disappeared until this post, following which I've been posting regularly, if less energetically than in what might be referred to as the blog's "heyday."

Well, as you might suspect, it all ties into a time line of events you weren't privy to. To put it succinctly, I lost, in part through my own fault and in part through circumstance, three of the most important things to me in the world, in the space of a year. Failed at them and lost them, to be exact. And in each case I caused harm not only to myself but to the other parties involved. Financial, as well as emotional, in two cases. That first post came right after the first, and the second most painful. I needed a jolt of money to have time to do finish the next step in my work on Acorn, the book I was working on, and had been working on for four and a half years. And right then came a project from Patton Oswalt, who, as you've seen, I'd done some posters for. He wanted me to do a comic for his first book, Werewolves and Lollipops. I saw my chance, asked for as much money for it as I could, and being the always good patron of illustrators that he is, he paid me well for it, in advance. About a week and a half later I started suffering from what would become dual illnesses that had me literally bleeding out of my head and my ass at the same time, and that's not even slightly getting into the gross parts. I drew a fevered, unpublishable version of the comic, then drew another, spending so much energy on it I wrecked my recovery and went into remission, and had to finish it sick. It's in his book now. It was a month late, it's the worst thing I have ever drawn, and a man who is a hero to me, who was always nice to me, who gave me a chance, paid dearly out of his own pocket for that piece of shit.

And the worst part is it wasn't enough. I was so late with the project I had to get a job, and I couldn't continue on the book. I was demoralized, more ashamed than I have ever been, and still pretty physically crappy. That was when I made the first post.

The second post came awhile after I'd been kicked off a project I started off on as an ass kicking deadline hero, having not turned in any work to speak of for...many months. And there was certainly no sign I'd be able to for...years. It didn't hurt as much as the Patton thing, because at least I owed the publisher a shitload of money, and I never turned in bad work to them ever. That's how bad it was, that owing them $17,500 made me feel BETTER. But at least I still had my girlfriend, right? Well, you'll notice the posts stopped again.

And let me tell you, those are only the top three things out of a year that would have sucked without them. Psychopath boss at a job that made me miserable, landlord who didn't heat our apartment for the better part of 2 months, to the extent that it went repeatedly got down to the high thirties in our apartment, room mate drama, friends moving away... And this was all after the bitter failure and financial ruin of my move to Portland, which I still haven't gotten over, emotionally or financially.

It wasn't even just that I had nothing in the tank. Writing something, anything, involves settling down into your own head for a bit, and I absolutely could not be alone with my thoughts and emotions. The breakup was the last straw. I marvel at it- it wasn't even a bad breakup. It was about as good as could be hoped for. And I've been through a lot of tragedies and rough spots in my life. I've lost friends and family to untimely deaths, been attacked by gangs and hired thugs in school, helped drag my father's body off a couch so my mom could do CPR while I flagged down the ambulance and then had kids say to me "Ha ha, your dad died!"...All pretty bad stuff. And like I said, fairly good breakup. But I have never, ever been in that kind of pain, ever. It was, and continues to be, much worse than I anticipated. I still haven't cried about it. The rest of my life collapsed around me before the breakup, and until I set it back to at least stable, I'm like a paramedic, staying frosty and trying to contain myself until it's safe for me to react to how I feel about what's happened.

The inside of my head was a no fly zone for months, not even for a second, and that definitely meant no writing, no drawing. Hardly any thinking, really.

It's been almost a year now and you were the first to know when the logjam cleared enough for me to write. For several months now I've been able to feel joy, and I spend less and less time each day feeling terrible. I don't feel as good as I used to- the untouchable ball of sadness is still there, waiting for me to make things safe enough to come out, and it's presence dulls all my feelings. But things are better. And I am, at last, starting to work on comics again.

It's that process I'd like to talk about.

Before I could be in my head enough to post here again, I still wanted to make marks. I'm an artist before I'm anything else. Even rendered incapable of doing art, I have to make something with my hands. So the first thing I did was lettering. I knew my lettering hand would be rusty from disuse, so while I was working in the Shaker store this summer I wrote down all the lyrics from the Shaker songs, words from packages on the desk, whatever sentences came to mind. I filled pages with just solid text, trying to make it as even and perfect as I could. It wasn't art, but at least I could feel competence and confidence come back into my disused hands.

This post is getting pretty long, so I'm gonna continue it in another installment. Before I go, though, here's a video of Fabio Moon inking. Christ I love videos of cartoonists inking.

January 4, 2012

This week: Happy New Year!

First, two great posts about pricing your work from two talented illustrators, Koren Shadmi and Jessica Hische. How much should you ask for for a job? Bookmark these for wherever you'll have to ask that.

I participated in The Beat's annual year-end survey, and you can see my responses here.

This photo is hilarious:


See you next week!