Friday, June 5, 2015

June Backstage Pass: Andy Purviance

Hey, C'mon Backstage! I Got Us A Pass!

This Month,

Meet Andy Purviance!

Let's Hear About Your Work, Andy!

I-Mummy-Vol2-Cover-front-websized.jpgMy main work is I, Mummy, the tale of an impulsive teenager turned mummy investigates her murder with the assistance of a cantankerous ghost. Links to the comic are:

Other Hobbies and Obsessions

Here’s a sampling of some recent distractions. I’m easily bored and constantly dabbling in new areas to pick up new tricks.

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

I’m a lifelong comic reader, particularly of unusual graphic novels. The first long-form comic I can recall was “Barefoot Gen” by Keiji Nakazawa. A horrific semi-autobiographical account of a kid who survived Hiroshima and an interesting peek into war time Japanese culture. I read that when I was ten. It probably scarred me for life.  

I spent a lot of my teen years in Nashville, TN and when I could make the trip to The Great Escape (the good comic shop) I’d spend hours digging through the old boxes and peeking behind the popular graphic novels on display looking for hidden treasure; those weird stories full of heart, not published by DC or Marvel. Like the old “Love & Rockets” series by brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, and Hunt Emerson’s version of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

I didn’t discover the love of crafting longer stories until just recently, when I started “I, Mummy”.

How long have you been drawing comics?

In the traditional sense, of pictures with words, about three years. I’ve always loved drawing, but hadn’t kept up with practicing for about a decade.
I realized my drawing skills had atrophied, as you can see in some of the earlier work. Jumping into the deep end end of the pool by starting a comic was my genius plan to fix that.

Can you tell me about your typical day or drawing session? How does your working process flow?

Since I have a 9-5 office job, the comic gets done on weekends and over a few evenings. All the supplies I need fit in a bag, including the most important tool: an iPod shuffle and headphones to block out the world.

imagineCoffee2.jpgMy favorite place to work is a local coffee shop. The owners have created a wonderful artist and writer friendly atmosphere, and buying a mocha is my motivation and self-reward to get ‘er done. I’m far less productive at home.

Does your production process for a finished piece follow specific steps?

You bet, I realized early on I’d need to streamline how pages are made. I didn’t want to burn out. Being a video game industry veteran really helped here. The script for the current story is already finished, so each new comic page starts out as a printed page of text. I’ll divide up the dialog into panels, make edits and block out the page as thumbnails in the margins.

script page 64.jpg

After thumbnails I’ll start a new comic file in Photoshop using a previous page as a template. All I do on the computer at this point is set up the panel boxes and put in the text. This really helps me visualize how much space will be left for illustrations. I had trouble estimating this at the beginning because leaving large blank areas felt unnatural.

The outlines are sketched in blue pencil on marker paper then inked with sharpie and a brush pen. I like marker paper because when I can’t get a figure to look right I can always trace a reference. Oooh, yeah evil tracing is evil! I subscribe to the Wally Wood philosophy of, “Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up.” I admire artists who can spend weeks on a single page, but that ain’t me.

The scanned line art is integrated into the digital page using some very VERY handy Photoshop batch actions constructed specifically for the comic. Again, it’s all about cutting down how long a page takes and these cut out most of the non-creative repetitive tasks, like turning the lineart into a smart objects, resizing and masking them with the panel layer.

The colors are pretty flat and boring, just like grandpa used to make. The dot screen texture and old comic paper effects are all done in Photoshop. As a final step I’ll also export both the full comic page for the main site and each panel individually for mobile readers on Tapastic.

What media do you work in to produce 'I, Mummy'?

I’ve fought the urge to go all digital.
Doing pen and ink on paper gives a line quality that can’t yet be simulated, but I really wish it had an undo. So, there are a lot of “off-model” faces and other oddities. On the other hand, doing it this way really helps you improve faster. The final product is all digital.

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?

When I first started “I, Mummy” I thought everything would be fine if I just made it up as I went along. That was a disaster and luckily only took three pages to sink in. So, I researched the heck out of how to write a story that didn’t suck, wrote out the whole plot. Then revised it over and over until it didn’t suck as much. In hindsight I probably should have made short story comics for a few years, but it’s too late now.

I’ve never authored a longform story before, so this has been a real eye opener. Getting (and following) advice from experienced authors, both locally and online, has been a lifesaver. Getting (letting) people to read and give feedback on the script has been harder. Luckily, my wife is also an artist and gives good constructive criticism.

Compared to the working process of the few prose writers I know, doing a weekly online comic is a fantastic “trial by fire”.  
I get immediate feedback on what’s confusing, what people like, and how much foreshadowing to include. My small band of fans keep second-guessing what’s coming up, so I have to stay one step ahead with twists and surprises. And resist giving away spoilers.

How long have you been working on the plot of 'I, Mummy'?

This story, now in its second volume, has been ongoing for just over one and a half years. It started back in October of 2013 with this proof of concept image. That robo-barber will finally appear an upcoming page.


For 'I, Mummy' you use a LOT of Victoriana. What draws you to that particular period?

Honestly, I’m a bit of an Anglophile. I do enjoy the BBC, especially the comedy quiz show QI, various crime dramas, and police procedural series. Even though the comic has a very British sensibility, it actually takes place in the Pacific Northwest of America. In a fictional city built around Crater Lake, Oregon, the remains of an ancient volcano called Mount Mazama.

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m not a big fan of the steampunk genre in general. The comic is a snarky reaction to it’s more superficial trappings, particularly the “gears on anything” trope. For me, there’s real beauty in the physicality of well crafted mechanical devices. Jane’s world is driven more by electricity than steam power anyway, so I guess it’s technically “galvanic-punk”.

How much research goes into your comic? What are some of your favorite resources and research methods?

I have binders full of women. Also, men. And vehicles. And architecture. Any images of interesting period fashions or machines that catch my eye I’ll save to a folder for possible reference. Here’s a long list of my go-to resources:

Victorian Stuff:

Writing Resources:
  • Character Arcs - I really applied this to Volume 2, and it’s made for a much stronger story. The basic premise is, “What’s the lie your protagonist won’t admit while dealing with the symptoms?”
  • Frankenstein - When I need to remind myself of the semantic density of popular Victorian fiction. Modern audiences won’t go for this.
  • Pixar’s 22 Tips for Storytelling - #4 is missing the last step. It should end with “Ever sense then ___.” And #5 is SO TRUE. If a scene isn’t working cut out stuff until it does.
  • Have someone read your script OUT LOUD to you, or run it through a text-to-speech tool. MS Word has TTS but you have to turn it on.

Comics & Drawing:

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?

Not in any serious way that affected me, but I know how damaging that can be. My wife is an art teacher so I’ve seen how people can get the idea in their head that they can’t draw and never put in the time to learn the skills. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t believe in “talent”, just practice. Talented people seem to be obsessive life-long learners.

Now, making a living at art depends on what field you’re in. Unfortunately, the real money is always in management. I’ve been both an art director and project manager on a lot of bargain bin video games. In my experience you can either get hired to create other people’s ideas, or you get to tell artists what to do but not create anything yourself.

The best advice I can give is that a “professional artist” is one with a good reputation. I don’t mean “can draw well”, that’s a basic requirement. I mean people who make life easier for the rest of the team. Get things done on time or sooner, are excited about the project (even if you have to fake it), and fail fast. Fail fast means making mistakes early, when they can still be fixed without causing problems for other people. Project managers HATE surprises.

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

I don’t want to leave the few readers I have with an unfinished story. I’m sure you’ve seen webcomics that started strong but were left unfinished. I don’t want to be that guy. And, each page teaches me something, so I get a little better at making comics every day. It’s hard work and also a lot of fun.

I tweaked the current story in a way that will now require a third and final volume to wrap things up. The next volume will probably jump ahead 10 years.

What message do you hope your readers will come away with?

Monarchies are great and good, democracies and grave robbing are bad.

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