Sunday, April 26, 2015

Saturday Review April 25: Hunter Black

Roll Up, Roll Up Folks!

           Ready For Some Action?

Then Be Sure To See The One, The ONLY

Another day, another dollar. The good, the bad, and....naaah, skip the good. This story is straight up the arcane, the bad and the ugly; deliciously bad and hilariously ugly.
There's no hero in this d'n'd based romp with a definite Clint Eastwood flavor, but the main character is Hunter Black, killer for hire and all around badass. With him is a cast of ner'-do-wells, thieves, snitches, mountebanks and mugs sure to make you grin.
This comic is based around some fairly dark themes; revenge, unlawful death, betrayal and cruelty. And yet you spend most of your time smirking, grinning, or outright laughing at the sheer black humor.
The creation of the working team comprising Justin Peniston, William Orr and Jacob  Bascle, Hunter Black can be found here.

The Rating

A cynical and sly romp through the world of cut-throats, roughs and toughs that's sure to make you smirk.

The Raves

First off, I have to tip my hat to this creative team's ability to take old, tired tropes and make them amusing again with a touch of creativity and a LOT of snarky humor. There's not a lot new in this storyline, but the way it's presented will regularly make you snicker and occasionally spit out your drink laughing. There are some interesting and even thought-provoking insights on trust, revenge, the concepts of morality, magic and betrayal, deftly deployed to give you a moment's thought without slowing the story down in the slightest.  Even better, the team has managed to make d'n'd jokes eminently accessible via snappy one liners, interesting character designs and clever plot (and gag) setup.

In a vectored grayscale occasionally punctuated by swatches of color, the art very well fits the philosophy of the main character and the writing. Expressions, in particular. are really well done, and the backgrounds are quite clever. If you're watching, you'll spot quite a few geeky easter eggs.
The storylines feel very much like
d'n'd campaigns in a good way, with definite goals, macguffins to be found, enemies to be scragged and so forth. That keeps the story jogging happily along, regularly spiced with the main character's need to get back at those who've hurt him and, occasionally, a stop to treat his medical feeding his magical sword the blood of a traitor. I did mention this was a bit dark, didn't I? Mwahaha.

The Razzes

So, I'm merrily reading along, I click on the page....and instead of going to the next strip, the image pops out on a separate URL page. EEEERRRrrrk go my mental gears. Please, creators, fix this. Most comics have we readers trained to click on the comic page and/or the nav button to go forward. My reading enjoyment regularly got held up as I fussed with the back button to get back to the Hunter Black website. It's a small issue, yes, but small issues, like flies, get ANNOYING.
Secondly, could I suggest slightly stronger contrasts in the art? In the image above showing the witch, things are nicely delineated and crystal clear. But in the strip you see here, the featured character's face is almost lost in the background. Often, the eye has to work quite hard to pick out and separate details, especially when the artist is portraying a white building under a daylight sky. In the latest comic, shown below, I spent a good few seconds squinting at the building before I could sort out its profile. A little outlining? Please? Take pity on your readers with less-than-archery-level eyesight?

My last suggestion concerning the art involves the speech bubbles, which are small. And by small I mean 'where's my reading glasses?' small. When the comic began, the font choices and sizes were beautifully legible, but as the art has improved the speech bubbles have gotten smaller and smaller, until I'm squinting at every page to read it. This is a story I'd really like to keep reading; have mercy?
A little more contrast value or use of outline in the line work and a little more readable font, and I'll be a happy reviewer.

The Revue

Grab your mountain dew, a bag of chips, and give this a read.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sunday Review April 19th: The Plucker

Ladies and Gentlemen!

From the Heart of Darkest Africa!

 From the Hidden Places Under The Beds Of Children! 

We Present For Your Astonishment

The Plucker!

Childlike innocence is unwittingly pitted against hellish depravity. Gris-gris and root magic turns a toy into a spirit of vengeance. Old, bone deep magic comes stealing up from the deep, dark parts of our collective psyche to grab you by the throat and drag you through a hell of dark magic and childhood nightmares and out the other side. This is the tale of the Plucker. You were warned.

The creation of a strange creature known as Brom, this book could properly be called an illustrated novel. Technically it's not a comic, but all lovers of comic-style storytelling will fall head over heels into The Plucker, as did I. I know that my pervu is technically webcomics, but I couldn't help but tell you, dear readers, about this treasure.
A link to Brom's work and places to buy The Plucker can be found here.

The Plucker is a tale set in Charleston, South Carolina, 1942, and it begins in a child's bedroom. At first, the themes resemble Toy Story; an exploration of how it feels to be forgotten from a toy's point of view.
And then an African Spirit Doll is brought home by a father on leave from the army. It falls. It breaks. Something comes slithering out.
And that's when things get dark.
Really dark.

The Rating

That's right. This one's so good I'm turning it up to 11!

The Raves

What can I say that explains how good this work is? 
Well, first off, I hugged myself when I finished.
But seriously now....
Well to begin with, the research. It's meticulous. From Gullah lore and mythology, to the back story of a little boy whose parents are both caught up in Wartime duties, to dialect and period slang, it's perfect.
The storytelling IS AMAZING. Told in crisp prose and clean sentence structure, it will hit you in the gut. And yet solid characterization happens and an extremely powerful, thrilling, and uplifting tale is told, without losing the feel of a telegraph to your hindbrain.
And then there's the art.


The art and the story weave together into a gorgeous, pulse-pounding, gut-churning whole that you can't put down.

The Razzes

The poignancy at the end of the tale teeters just this side of syrupy, but trust me, after the terror and the bitterness, you will WELCOME a little syrup to sweeten the finish.
Other than that....I had trouble getting to sleep that night? And jumped at shadows? Does that count?

The Revue


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Revue April 18: M9 Girls

Roll Up Ladies And Gentlemen! Bee Amazed By

Y'know, college can be really hard. Work, school, schedules, social life, internships at the local lab, cosmic radiation, mutating genomes, super powers....
wait what?

And you thought you had it hard in college? Heh heh heh
The creative team under the pen names of Rulo Potamo and Kanela, M9 girls can be found here. 
The story revolves around four college girls who go for an internship in a lab that deals with genetic and morphological experiments....and things get messy. Fast. Next thing they know,
Any' s slowing down time and reading emotions,  Pato's teleporting,
Clau's moving stuff with her brain and Karla's making firecracker sparks come out of her fingertips. Annnnnd then.....
Yep, you knew it was coming.

The Rating

a fun piece that took me back to my Sailor Moon and Inspector Gadget days

The Raves

Aside from taking me back to the days of Sailor Moon and saturday cartoons, which wins it some points from the get go, M9 girls has some really strong suits.  There's a great grasp of subtle expression and foreshadowing, always leaving the reader saying 'uh-oh, what's this?'  I quite enjoyed the constant sense of danger and intrigue waiting just around the corner. That impression is kept strong through good layout choices and strong dialogue.

The four main characters were kept from blending into one another by being given very distinct personalities and features, a good stylistic choice. And the sheer cheerful wonder with which they treat their new powers- 'Hey Professor, we have POWERS!' is pretty irresistible. I spent a lot of time grinning when I read this. While I would have liked to see the plot a little more fleshed out, it was explained in a very strong and direct way that kept you riveted. And sometimes, the art can really take your breath away.

The Razzes

Much as I enjoyed the strip, I've got a few bones to pick with it. And the biggest bone in my craw is the peaks and valleys in the art style. If the art was consistently at the level of its cover pages, it would be a good few notches higher in my approximation, but it seems that the creator saves that kind of focus for splash pages and gives the rest of the comic a much less sophisticated style. It might save time, but I'd like to see a bit more of a focus on quality, especially in shading and line. The sense of anatomy isn't bad, but the lines used are sometimes so thin that that detail is lost. Couple that with a use of very low value shading, and it gives the art a half-finished look that does not compare well to the gorgeous splash pages for each chapter.
There's some weakness in the grasp of human form and movement, particularly during action scenes, leaving characters looking stiff and two dimensional around the face. In certain areas, focus really needs to be given to making bodies and faces look as if they have mass and form; using fewer straight lines when drawing things like the chin might help it look more three dimensional.  Also, shading more heavily under the chin would really help round out the character's faces.
The story is pretty good, but sometimes it trips over its own tropes and strays dangerously close to the Derivative Area. The characters haven't gotten a lot of chances to really distinguish themselves in the reader's minds as PEOPLE rather than SUPER CHARACTERS, except for an attempt at a bit of romance that feels a little crowbar-ed in. This could be fixed by either focusing on introspection a bit more or focusing completely on the characters' super lives, but I've never liked it when stories stay in the wishy-washy place in between and idly add a little romance or emotion; it comes off as an afterthought.

The Revue

Get your Cocoa Puffs and stay in your pj's while you give this fun little story a read.

Monthly Matinee Blog April: The Art Of Screwing Up

Roll up, Roll Up Boys And Girls! Come See the Matinee!

This Month: The Miraculous Art of Screwing Up!

     I’ll make a confession; as a hobby artist, I’ve spent most of my time screwing up. I’ve redrawn my main project at least four times, and various side projects exist in a constant state of recreation as new ideas are brought in or something doesn’t work. Sometimes I ball the whole thing up and toss it; three months or three years later, there I am trying it again. I have more pots on the back burner than Wolfgang Puck. Every one of them has been screwed up at least once.
           And you know what? That’s good.

The Strip Questionable Content
when it first began
This is a subject I've been wanting to raise, because anyone who's interested in the indie comic world has seen at least one aspiring creator having an existential quality crisis: I'm just not that good. I'll never be as good as my idol. My stuff looks like crap, maybe I should quit?
It makes me want to shake them. And then it makes me want to grab the culture that taught them to think this way and shake it, too.
Learning is a process that depends on experience. Will Rogers probably put it best: “Good judgement comes from experience. And a lot of that comes from bad judgement.’
In more exalted terms, it’s called operant conditioning; the process of learning new skills and associations through trial and error. All of us learn by operant conditioning, both good and bad.
The problem comes in when we begin to be trained by the society around us, because, at times, society isn’t very smart. What society NEEDS is people who will work to become as skilled as humanly possible in one or perhaps many areas. But what it ASKS FOR is people who are ‘innately gifted’ and get things right the first time by some magic, starting as early as preschool.
Carol Dweck writes that “Society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are ‘naturals’ with innate ability.” and that we start pressing this bias very early in life, in the school room.

 ‘If you went to school,’ writes Dr. Tellman Knudson, ‘then you have almost certainly been trained to
Questionable Content today
fear failure from an early age. Here’s why: Getting the “right” answer the first time is the only thing that is rewarded in most schools. Getting the wrong answer is punished in a variety of ways: low grades, scolding and contempt from teachers and peers.” Knudson goes on to point out how foolish this learned attitude is.
‘ the fastest way to succeed is to jump in, make things happen, and be OK with failing repeatedly. ‘Fail fast and fail often” is a saying you’ve probably heard in entrepreneurial circles.
However, in school, were you taught to jump in and make things happen, even if that means you didn't get it right the first time? Were you rewarded for not being afraid to fail? Probably not (unless you were extremely lucky). Most schoolchildren learn early that if they fail, they get a big, red F on their paper — and all the unpleasantness that goes along with that.’

But what we learned in school is, frankly, back asswards. You don’t learn to get good by being great the first time, and you don’t learn by giving up. You learn by trying a thousand times and finding little innovations. You learn by doing.  And if you don’t do, you don’t learn.
A lot of potential in the world is lost because of our attitudes towards learning and talent. Generally, there’s a continuum of views with two poles: the ‘fixed mindset’ and the ‘growth mindset’, according to Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  Heidi Grant Halvorson puts it more accessibly as the ‘be good’ mindset and the ‘get better’ mindset.
At the ‘Be Good’ extreme, we find the belief that each person has their ‘god given abilities’, innate and unchanging. This one was real popular in the mid 17th to the mid 19th century, but it’s persisted in classrooms around the world. It’s the mindset that a kid expresses when they say ‘I’m no good at this anyway, it’s stupid.”or ‘I’m no good at school’ or, worst of all, “I’m not smart/fast/good at that/ ect.” We see it when we watch people nervously avoid trying tasks that look intimidating or hear people say ‘I’m not much of a (fill in the blank).” The core of this belief is that we have to be good within the first few tries, or stop doing something. ‘The problem with the Be-Good mindset,’ Halvorson writes,  ‘is that it tends to cause problems when we are faced with something unfamiliar or difficult.  We start worrying about making mistakes, because mistakes mean that we lack ability, and this creates a lot of anxiety and frustration.
Stephen Leotti's work today, via the
strip 'Stardust The Cat'
Anxiety and frustration, in turn, undermine performance by compromising our working memory, disrupting the many cognitive processes we rely on for creative and analytical thinking.
Also, when we focus too much on doing things perfectly (i.e., being good), we don’t engage in the kind of exploratory thinking and behavior that creates new knowledge and innovation.’

I’m assuredly guilty of this. I was given a violin and lessons as a young girl, and hated the awful sound that came out of my violin instead of the fiddle music I loved so much. I stopped in three weeks. As an adult, I regret that. If I’d stuck with it as a kid, I’d be a fiddler today instead of tentatively trying to play ‘Good King Wenceslas’ all over again while the cat hides under the bed. The ‘Be Good’ mindset is like a nice warm cottage. It’s cozy, inside it you don’t fear anything. But if you never open that cottage and go outside, you sure aren't going to learn much.

On the other end of the spectrum is the ‘Get Better’ attitude.When we think in a ‘get better’ way, we don’t fear failure, because we don’t see it as a judgement on ourselves, our character and our worth as a human being. We see it as a lesson. ‘The Get-Better mindset,’ Halvorson continues, ‘is practically bullet-proof.  When we think about what we are doing in terms of learning and mastering, accepting that we may make some mistakes along the way, we stay motivated despite the setbacks that might occur.’
And we actually,surprisingly enough, make fewer mistakes. The mistakes we do make serve us.
Want some proof? There's plenty, both anecdotal and scientific.

Anecdotally, let's turn to somebody all us comics folks know:
Jack Kirby.
You could call him the Father of American Comics. To plenty of people, he's a god. But he had some major screw ups along the way.
In their article on Jack Kirby's life, JVJ Publishing Illustrators
Kirby's work circa 1944. See what I mean?
writes 'In 1954, as the rest of the industry was retrenching due to the public furor over comics and juvenile delinquency, Simon and Kirby launched Mainline Comics, to minimal fanfare and mediocre sales. With titles like In Love, Foxhole, Police Trap and Bulls-Eye, they had all the popular genres covered. They were the most successful and well-known creators in comics history. And they failed miserably. Most titles lasted only four issues.'

Jack Kirby failed. And then, he went on. And that's how he succeeded.

An early page of the strip 'the Devon Legacy'
You can prove this in a laboratory too. In several studies on both humans and animals, innovation and success was much more common when it was rewarded rather than when failure was punished. Halvorson conducted an experiment wherin volunteers were broken into two teams by personality, one on either extreme. She then gave them some puzzles to solve, promising a grade at the end. Then she started cheating. She interrupted, changed the puzzles mid tests, threw in a few unsolvable problems.
The Be Good folks got frustrated. They got angry. They got anxious. And they screwed up. But the interesting thing is that the Get Better group was barely bothered. Why? Because they weren't judging themselves, telling themselves ‘you’re not doing good enough.’ They were actually focused on the project, rather than what the project said about their intelligence and how other people would see them based on it. And that’s the key.
The latest work on The Devon Legacy. Now THAT is IMPROVEMENT!
 When we can stop seeing every ‘failure’ as a sign that we’re not worthy, a lot of things change. We stop defending ourselves over every little detail. We stop giving excuses. We stop needing to hide our work in progress, say that we’re not that good before someone else does, or get emotional over criticism. Why? Because a criticism no longer attacks who we are. It’s a lesson, not a threat. And that’s when we start learning, every day, with every experiment, with every trial and every error.

Doctor Knudson says it best.
‘Like everyone else on the planet, I bet you were once one-and-a-half years old. Correct? And at that age, you had absolutely no fear of failure. I can say that with confidence because if you were afraid to fail, you’d never have learned to walk!
Somewhere inside there’s a “you” that has absolutely zero fear of failure and wants to try to do everything. Access that brave little person once again, and you can achieve anything.’

The first page of  the strip Elsewhere, 25 years ago
'Elsewhere' today

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Revue April 11: LeyLines

Been Getting In Trouble Lately, Boys And Girls?

If You Want Real Trouble, Come Take A Look At Leylines!

You make your choices. You take your chances. And the gods watch. Every once in a while, they even get involved...and when they do, you may lose more than you ever thought you could bear. Such is the fate of some in The Leylines
This lush and intricate tale is the creation of Robin Childs, and can be found here .

Whoever said labyrinthine plot and tense, emotionally complex tale spinning can't happen in a comic hasn't read Leylines. This is a world of individuals, and within every individual a world of struggle.
The tale revolves around three siblings from an emotionally fraught royal household, each coping in their own way with the pressures imposed upon them; Mizha Va Naza hides tries to bear up as the good daughter and consoles herself with fantasies, but her walls of dream are beginning to crack.

Tama Va Naza is the heir apparent rebelling from the pressure to become a leader by retreating behind a mask of immaturity and clownishness. Pranks are his forte, but he's more than he least he would be if he could get room to breathe.

And then there's their adopted little brother. The quintessential runt of the litter,a child of a lesser race, he's constantly faced with the fact that he does not truly belong, that what he wants will never be allowed to him. He takes it all with a smile....on the surface.

And that's only their internal issues; all around them, political intrigue and strife is springing up like noxious weeds. Conspiracy has already cost the life of their mother, and soon these siblings may be engulfed....if they don't find a way to fight the enemies inside AND out.

The Rating

For beautifully intricate storytelling, gorgeous art and a world I feel I could step into, Leylines deserves a round of applause.

The Raves

First and foremost the reader, like the lover, falls in love with their eyes. And there's a lot to love in Leylines. For a creator who says they don't like drawing backgrounds, Childs is astonishingly good at it. 

This kind of  scene- based world creation does more than thirty pages of exposition and world building could ever do to create a sense of place in the reader's mind, allowing us to walk into their story. I often feel as if Childs' pages could be 
walked inside of if only I had the will. These two paintings illustrate the point; you can almost hear the train in the former and smell the hot sand in the latter.

But Childs is no slouch in
the other areas of world creation and characterization either. Next, you fall in love with your mind.
The world building in Leylines is subtle and tastefully done, always drawing you a little deeper but never drowning you in an overload of details and information you don't have context for. It's always in the details; the description of a perfume, the cut of the clothes, the discussion of a holiday, forming a world effortlessly around you. There's definitely some cultural research going on here, and you can spot some inspiration from Feudal Asia, but Leylines beautifully avoids becoming just another Japan-knockoff; the world is very definitively its own place, with its own culture and history. (though admittedly, it's fun to try to spot the influences. Oooh, is that a hint of Aztec? A touch of India?) In fact, Leylines is so much its own that the characters are truly inhuman for once. I have to compliment the creator for the bravery to base a story around truly non-human characters, a fairly rare occurrence; so often non-humans are simply side characters designed to look interesting. It takes real bravery to completely deviate from the norm and tell a story  in a truly new world with a new kind of people, running the risk of alienating readers with features that are harder to relate to. (and yes, the blank blue eyes of some of the main characters will throw you off the first time you look at them, have no doubt. The sheer oddity sends a delicious thrill down the spine. You are seriously not in Kansas anymore when you look at those eyes.)
But some things are universal, and one of them is plotting. I've rarely seen political intrigue written as interestingly as it is in Leylines, blending the best qualities of a whodunit, a political history discussion and an episode of Game Of Thrones (ahem, without the bullshit and big dicks of many varieties). The plotting is quite involved and could lose a reader if it weren't displayed as well as it is, with well chosen and executed scene direction and scene changes orchestrated to keep us as readers intrigued without making us feel puzzled.
Laid over all like a cloak of silk is the rich mythology and religion Childs has created, redolent of gods  and spirits who have a liking for meddling in the affairs of the living. The spiritual aspect weaves through and sneaks into all other elements, subtle at times, creating shocking and disturbing dream sequences and ethical questions at others. Again, an element that could be horribly confusing is made into the strange logic of dreams by great scene choice, page layout and pacing.

Oh, if I haven't said great page layout enough.....just take a look at this page.
Enough said.

But before I more on to the razzes, I'd like to complement one more great trait: the creator's
bravery and drive to improve. Open and in fact eager for ideas to help them improve their craft,  they began to offer the readers a chance to offer feedback and suggestions for improvement at the end of every chapter beginning at chapter 5. There they discuss ideas and areas that need work openly and constructively with their peers and readers. I was floored by the honest, intelligent sensibility of a creator who not only ASKS for feedback, but actually WANTS it and uses it in demonstrable ways in the following chapters to improve their craft. That's serious craftsmanship, and serious dedication.

The Razzes

Aside from a gentle warning that sometimes a plot can get a little too intricate and it's something to keep an eye on, I have only one other suggestion and it's a little awkward. So I'll start with the story. As a complete tale (which I binge-read a little obsessively till I ran out of comic...snicker) Leylines reads as byzantine, well done and well plotted. But I could see it becoming difficult for the readers to keep it straight on a three-times-a-week update schedule and getting frustrated. Judging by the comments I read it hasn't happened, and the creator's got it well in hand through use of author's notes keeping their readers on top of things, but it's something to keep a close eye on.

My one other comment is one that I'm not sure how to put exactly, but at times the heavy line art and the figure drawing gives an impression that the characters are posed mannequins or well done statue carvings rather than breathing people. It's not in any way technically BAD, in terms of technique and anatomy the characters are nicely proportioned and really well drawn. But I'd like to see a little more fluidity and less stiffness in the stance and posing of characters.

The Revue

The kind of tale you can't stop reading. I know I couldn't!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Saturday Review: The Ruby Nation

Aaaand Today, We Preeeeesent

The Ruby Nation

Some stories are so strong that they barely need artwork. Ruby Nation falls into this category. An in depth and emotionally moving dystopian story exploring what it is to be human is told by Neil Kapit, and can be found here.

The Rating

So, for this comic I'd like to do something rather different; the story and the art on this comic seem so separate that I'd like to rate them as such, with an overall rating.

The Story

Powerful, moving and well paced, the story of Ruby Nation is one I'd REALLY like to read.

The Artwork

Unfortunately, you have to get past the art to get to the story....and that's a bit of an issue.

The Overall 

The Raves

In terms of web savvy, the creator of The Ruby Nation has it down. Social media, check. Site design, check. Networking, check. They're also a powerful storyteller, with relatable dramas and real suffering set in a dystopian atmosphere. If it had been a novel, I would have loved reading The Ruby Nation.

The Razzes

I'll be honest, the art. The art is rather like a bowling ball dropped on that lovely story souffle. If I were the creator, I'd put Ruby Nation together as a script and go looking for an artist who can do this wonderful story justice. But if they're set on becoming an artist and they've got the drive to improve, here are my thoughts, condensed into a series of lessons.

The Ringmaster's Lessons: An Improvement Course For The Comic Artist

Month One

  • Read at least 3 comic strips a day; I recommend 5. Find comics you love and study their style. Absorb the art. This will train your eye and your instinct for art.
  • Read the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. The lessons in this book are golden, and even ideas that seem simple and boring at first will improve your sense of comic craft. You'll fall in love with the facial muscle and expression chapter
  • Start back at basics. Every day, spend half an hour sketching basic stuff; a chair, a shoe, a plant, ect. Once a week when you have time, line up things of these four categories: smooth, spiky, furry, tufted. I recommend an egg, a plant with lots of leaves, a scrubbing brush/tooth brush and a hair brush. Do studies of each object, then of all four together. Change the lighting on them if you can to keep things interesting
  • Go to the park or somewhere busy at least once a week and sketch. Everything. Anything. People, plants, squirrels, benches, LIFE. This helps to train your eye and your hand. Don't worry about finishing the sketches, just SKETCH.

Month Two

  • Get a copy of a really good anatomy book. I recommend either Joseph Sheppard's 'Anatomy: A Complete Guide For Artists' or Bridgman's 'Complete Guide To Drawing From Life'. Go through one chapter each week, and sketch that part of the body all week until you can do it in your sleep.
  • Every day, go to and do a few of  their 30 Second Sketches
  • Don't stop going to the park and sketching life. This isn't about making finished art, it's about teaching your eye and hand what the world REALLY looks like.
  • Read Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics to gain a deeper understanding of your artform
  • Read The Bean's great article on What Makes A Webcomic Work; click here

Month Three

  • Begin learning to use reference photos. Google something in the Images search, like 'throwing baseball' and search through the images till you spot something that really POPS, that draws your eyes. Save that image, and do a sketch based on it. Start with simple stuff in the first week; picking a flower, lifting a box, ect. Then work up to whole human and animal bodies in week two. In week three, do architecture; a house, a bridge, the Eiffel Tower. In week 4, do street scenes and city scenes. REPEAT.
  • Read Get Rid of On The Nose Dialogue; click here.
  • Don't stop using the exercises from Month One and Two

Month Four

  • Begin using reference photos as aids to lay out your panels. Use them to choose where to put speech bubbles. It's okay for now if this seems like a crutch; the purpose of a crutch is to help you until you can walk on your own.
  • Start taking some of your sketches and turning them into finished works. Experiment with lines and shade
  • Take the page from Scott McCloud's 'Making Comics' on facial expressions and draw your main comic characters showing each of these expressions. Do it again and again till you're happy with it.
  • Get several different kinds of clothes hung on hangers, and draw the textures of the cloth. Focus on drawing the folds. Here's a great cheat sheet to get you started.
  • Go through some of these great tutorials I've got in a google doc to continue improving your drawing style

Months Five And Six And Beyond


Friday, April 3, 2015

April Backstage Pass: The Creators Of Kamikaze

We Present To You, Your Backstage Pass!

Ladies and gentlemen, from now on it will be my pleasure to bring you a monthly Backstage Pass feature, wherein I discuss the craft and creative struggle of the comic art with creators. You're invited backstage to find out what it's really like in the life of a creative artist!

This Month

Carrie Tupper, Alan Tupper and Havana Nguyen, Creators Of 


Alan Tupper - Co-Creator, Layout, Pencil and Background Artist                   Twitter@ThatTupperKid
Carrie Tupper - Co-Creator, Writer, Ink and Paint Artist                              
 Twitter @mermaidshells
Havana Nguyen - Character and Graphic Designer, Media Relations          
 Twitter @havanatweets



Kamikaze is a dustbowl cyberpunk scifi story that has a richly developed world, but a very intimate dramatic heart. The story follows a young courier who's unwittingly thrown into a life or death game of espionage and sabotage from which she might never escape.

So, tell me a little about yourselves!

Alan - I'm a freelance artist with a focus on animated and interactive media.  I've worked on projects for PBS, Cartoon Network, IFC, Hulu, and a bunch of other smaller indie ventures.  Originally I got into the animation and comics arena by way of game production, but I've developed a real love for the mediums due to their storytelling potential.

Carrie - I'm a jill-of-all trades, even in art, so there's not many places I really 'fit in'.
I started out loving animation from a really early age. Gargoyles, Batman, and especially Disney films were all my jam. I went to college to study animation, where I met Alan. I got to work on some cool projects, mostly for Nickelodeon and some small indie stuff too. Alan and I got married and instead of making kids, we made Kamikaze.

Havana -  While I have a normal day job, I've always been an artist, so it might not be surprising that I was a freelance artist for a while. Graphic design is what I really love though. I started with Kamikaze when my fiance asked me "If you could do anything tomorrow for a career what would it be?" and I said that I wanted to work in animation drawing characters! A mutual friend of ours found out and introduced me to Alan and Carrie. I really loved their idea, and especially the world they built. So, I just went for it!

Other Hobbies and Obsessions

Carrie - My hobbies sorta ping-pong all over the place. History is one of my favorite things, though next to my other history-loving friends I'm woefully uneducated by comparison. I've never stopped watching animated films or TV shows, and I have an unhealthy obsession with mermaids.

Alan - I'm a big fan of open virtual worlds.  When I'm not working on Kamikaze, I'm generally in-world building something, trying out new and crazy ways to make really engaging virtual experiences.

Havana - Animation, graphic design, and I'm really into Brazillan Ju Jitsu (I've got a tournament soon that I'm really excited about). I love to read, right now I'm reading a book called The Favored Daughter by Fawzia Koofi and A Fighter's Heart.

So, tell me about your early experience. How did you fall in love with telling stories in pictures?

Havana - The first stories I ever consumed were animated, and that was the first time I was made to feel certain powerful emotions through any medium. Growing up as an artist, art's always been the easiest way to execute stories in my head. Comics came in when I got into anime, which lead me to manga, and then into comics. I feel like there's a difference between watching a movie and reading the book it's based on, and I felt the same sort of intimacy when I read comics or manga and then watched films or shows they were based on.

Alan - Growing up, I was surrounded by art. My mom is a fantastic pointalist painter, and an avid fan of classic comics like Tintin and Asterix. She passed that enthusiasm onto me, and both my parents kept encouraging it as I explored it.  Animation was really compelling to me as a kid as well.  I once told my grandmother that I wanted to go into movie-making when I grew up so I could remake Bambi without the forest fire scene (It really freaked me out when I was little).

Carrie -  For the longest time comics equated to the Sunday Paper cartoons. I grew up with a very religious household and anytime I picked up a proper comic book, it was immediately and literally prayed away. I'll never forget the time my grandmother took me to the library, I found a comic book, and she prayed to Jesus to ask if I could read it. The answer was, "no," of course. So, I really only started learning about comics through manga my friends had, or I had to buy for myself in high school. I kinda fell off that wagon in college. As an artist, western comics intrigued me, but I just hadn't found the right one to hook me. Enter Hellboy, and then it was just over. When we started working on Kamikaze from a comic angle, I knew I had to brush up on comics as a whole. Everything our team knows has been self taught, and we're still learning everyday. I think that's one of the things that keeps us going, the thrill of discovering something new and putting it to use.


How long have you been working on comics?

Alan - Just a bit over a year.  I played around with the medium a bit during and after college, but I never got more than a page or two in before I realized I had no clue what to do next.  It wasn't until we decided to take Kamikaze into the medium that I really got serious about learning the nuts and bolts of comic-craft.
Carrie - Outside of some silly things I drew for friends in highschool/college, I've only been in this about a year and a half. It sounds so stupid when I put it that way, but it's the truth. I'm a totally newbie.
Havana - Like Carrie and Alan, I drew some in highschool, but had no clue what I was doing. It was just for fun then. Kamikaze is the first comic I've ever made.

WOW! It's AMAZING to see such fine work coming out of a debut team! So what was the genesis of the project idea? How did you get together the creative team for Kamikaze? 

Alan - Carrie and I have been together since the first week or so of college, and Kamikaze was something that we started to formulate around that time. Originally it was just this funny little superhero story that mimicked both of our feelings of being these newly minted "adults" living in a big crazy city. Over time, we realized that while we loved the main cast, the story that was actually compelling to us was a lot more grim. Maybe it was us absorbing some of the times and surroundings, I'm not entirely sure. After passing it back and forth as a sort of hypothetical story baseball for a few years, we met a filmmaker friend who encouraged us to get serious about turning it into a full series pitch.  During that process, he introduced us to Havana, who initially came into to bring some graphic design order to all the conceptual chaos we had flying around. She's stuck with us since and has helped us out in so many ways she's practically the third creator by this point!
Carrie - Yeah, Havana's basically the awesomest.
Havana - They're right, I am awesome. Haha!

Can you tell me about your typical day or working session?

Carrie -  A typical day for Alan and I begins with turning on our computers. I tend to do a lot of the correspondence, so answering or writing emails is the first thing I do. Then I load up a podcast, netflix or music and just get going on the ink and paint work. When Havana comes over, I make sure everyone's fed and knows their assignments. Then it's back to work, usually with me keeping Havana company as her workspace is in a different room because our office is so tiny.

Alan - Ever since the comic launched, it's been pretty much a setup where I'm doing at least a few hours if not a full day of work on Kamikaze every day of the week.  Depending on the day, that could mean thumb-nailing, roughing and layout, scanning and revisions, background buildout and coloring, compositing, or website/social media work.  It certainly keeps me busy!

Havana - I get the roughs, sit down at an animation light box and basically get to work. I check over the script to make sure I have the right attitudes in mind, and start drawing. I have all of the character key art around me on the walls, so I can reference them when I need to make sure everything's on model. I do rough drawings first, and go to Alan and Carrie looking for any revisions. Usually it's small stuff like I missed one of Markesha's hair bands, or a hand, but sometimes we have to make drastic changes to suit the style or if we find something doesn't work.

How does your working process flow?

Havana - Trying to make a lot of the lines as clean as possible, so there's no ambiguity. The characters have to have a true expression and I really want them to carry the emotion and tone of the page. I try my best to stay clear of tangents and stuff like that, but keeping characters on model is a big challenge too. Mostly I just play out the scene in my head as though is was animated, and do my best to put that on paper.

Carrie - I spend most of my days just working on the ink and paint, while juggling writing, social media outreach and marketing. Ink and paint is pretty straight forward. With our style, we wanted to stay as true as possible to the idea of an 'animated' look, so that means clean, single weight line art and cell-shaded style. It kind of kills me that I can't do more with the inking, because inking 'pretty' is so much fun, but it does take a lot longer. From the inks, I do fills based on color-comps I've created. These color comps have to be done for every character that shows up, and different shades are included for different lighting scenarios. I take into account a lot of the lighting and background when it comes to shading the artwork as well. If highlights are needed I add them in. It's a fairly straight forward and easy process with our cell-shaded work, but it does take a while to do.

Alan - While it varies a bit, we have a pretty solid process set up. Working off of the script we've written (we write full episode scripts beforehand), I thumbnail and layout a rough of the page. Havana then cleans that up so that it's not a wild blizzard of lines, and it gets scanned. From there Carrie and I work in parallel, she does the inkwork and colors for the characters, I build and color the backgrounds. Once that's done, Havana does the lettering and I composite it all down into a final polished image. A lot of our process mimics the animation production pipeline, which is a conscious choice on our part. Part of our reason for producing the comic is to showcase how it would work as an animated series. Keeping the process as close to the animation pipeline keeps us honest about what's possible and feasible.

What media do you work in to produce Kamikaze?

Alan - Every page starts off on comic board and pencil (we're Canson snobs here).  From there it's scanned and the rest of the process is digital.  Our primary tools are Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketchup.

Can you tell me about your storytelling process? Do you prefer to script your stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between?

Alan - Because we're coming from an animated series angle, we think on the scale of episodes and seasons.  We write out full episode scripts as if they're going to be serious scripts for animation production.  From there, we break down the script into pages and figure out our page-to-page pacing.  In addition to being the process we're most comfortable with, it's great for being able to see ahead and know what you need to foreshadow or set up visually.  We do deviate a bit from the scripts, often to add in more dialog we wouldn't be able to in animation.
Carrie - Adding to what Alan said, our process follows very closely to traditional screen writing. We're planners, so outlines are our friends. The story has a set ending and since we know where we're going it's a lot easier to stay focused. If it doesn't serve the greater story (no matter how cool it may be) it gets cut. This really helps us keep the pacing well timed, and the story tightly focused.

How long have you been working on the plot of Kamikaze?

Alan - Roughly speaking, since about 2006.  It had a really long incubation period before we really put the rubber to the road.

Has anyone told you that you'll never be a successful artist and you'd be better off studying a real field and/or getting a real job? How do you respond to criticism like that?

Havana - That's a hard one. I feel like people are always going to have opinions about what you should and should not do. The whole starving artist is a common one. There's a lot of people who don't make it, but I think it creates a very negative stereotype of pursuing art as a career. There's a need for art everywhere, design, movies, illustration or animation or comics - there's so much out there that depends on visuals, but I think that people focus on that negative stereotype and let's it stop them. With enough perseverance and adaptability you can totally make it. Even if you do make it, people are going to have opinions positive or negative. I mean, just look at celebrities!
Carrie - Oh yeah, I got that negative stuff a lot, even in school. It sucks when you get that, but it's something that you just have to live with. You can learn a lot from it though, especially if you ask why someone thinks they way they do. In screen writing, I've learned that people in real life rarely tell anyone what they're actually feeling, even when they're angry. So I've learned to sort of look deeper into people who nay-say what I do. Usually you'll find there's a source of unease about them. Some people liken it to, "Oh they're just jealous!" but in every case I've experienced it's not that. Instead, they see me as competition. You're a threat to whatever they're doing, and negging on that threat makes the victim seem like less of a contender.
Alan - Fortunately for my part, I've never really had anyone tell me that.  My parents were both very supportive of me, as long as I could always take a step back to look critically at how I was going to use my art skills professionally.  That being said, it's a nagging internal doubt which I deal with nearly constantly, partly because I know it's something so many other aspiring artists get pressured with.

What keeps you devoted to telling the story you’re telling?

Havana - I think that growing up I've always had little stories going on in my head. I'm the type to over think things so, I could look at something as simple as a guy walking by himself in a grocery store and suddenly a whole story pops up about that guy in my head. I think drawings always been a way to give those stories in my head life, an outlet. With Kamikaze, you know, sometimes it's fun to put myself in the shoes of one of our characters and imagine that I was living this this world we created. I think I'm adventurous by nature, and being allowed to explore the world of Kamikaze though the characters is what what keeps me sticking with it!
Carrie - For me personally, it's that I kind of feel like I can't do anything else. Not to say I wouldn't like doing other things, I'm sure I would, but eventually I'd just go crazy. I think it's the same way for a lot of artists. It's the way you think and the way you express yourself that just doesn't jive with a lot of other jobs, so you never really fit in and you never feel confident in what you're doing. Alan and Havana have been a god-send for me. For a long time I had absolutely no confidence in any of my skills, and it showed. But with them at my side, and the passion we all share for bringing these characters to life I've been able to rebuild my confidence. While the characters and the world do keep me interested and invested, Alan and Havana are the ones that keep me inspired and excited to see Kamikaze succeed.
Alan - A very big part of it is passion. I love mentally exploring the characters, the world it's set in, and I'm genuinely excited to get a chance to share the things I've discovered with others. Another part that I can't deny is a bit less idealistic: I'm surrounded by other people who are passionate about telling it, and that's a rare thing. Being a part of this team and helping Kamikaze succeed is a way for me to accomplish more than if I was wandering around working on a personal project by myself. Together, we multiply each others strengths and reinforce each others weaknesses.

Thanks for your time, Carrie and Co. I know I'll be reading every Wednesday. Rock on!