Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Years Special Feature: Get In The Arena

Photo Credit Steampunk'D

Here We Go!

A new year. The champagne's been drunk, the mess has (hopefully?) been cleaned up, and the page has been turned.

Now, what are we webcomickers going to draw on it? And more importantly, how are we going to keep drawing?

More Than A Resolution. Resolve.

If you're like me as a creator, your secret, unspoken resolution is 'make something amazing'. But even the resolutions you wrote down revolved around your creative practices.  Get better at faces drawn at different angles, build a buffer, get something on paper....sound familiar?
If they are, I imagine the anxiety, disinclination and frustration that follows a bout of enthusiasm are probably old 'friends' as well. 'I'm not good enough', 'I'll never be as good as that guy',  'why do I even do this' 'I suck' and thoughts of that kind can feel like demons whispering on your shoulders, waves battering at your foundations. So how do we keep drawing?

Get In The Arena.

Ask Yourself: Why Are You Stepping Into The Ring?

Photo Credit Katrina Parker Williams
For this first week of a new year, I'm going to ask you to do something difficult: sit down and ask yourself why you do this. Why do you like webcomics? Why do you work on them?
I'm asking you because you need to know that you have a reason. At three in the morning, you need to be able to ask yourself 'why do I do this?!' and have an answer. Before we go anywhere in a passion, there must be purpose.

In his seminal piece 'The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance', K. Anders Ericsson wrote

'Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.'
Comic artist Krish Raghav hard at work

Angela Lee Duckworth expanded on this topic by focusing on what makes someone practice a skill for a lifetime. In her book 'Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance', Duckworth points out many important aspects of grit, which she defines as the core of achievement. In her words,
“… achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions towards a long-term goal.”
 But perhaps her most important point is summarized in an interview she gave on the Freakonomics podcast:

"One thing that I found about paragons of grit is that they have extremely well-developed interests. They cultivate something which grabs their attention initially, but that they become familiar with enough, knowledgeable enough that they wake up the next day and the next day and the next year, and they’re still interested in this thing. And I think that is something that we can actually intentionally decide: “I want to be the kind of person who stays interested in something.” And so that passion really does have to come first."

    Think about it in terms of our Golden Age heroes. Peter Parker didn't do a whole lot with those cool new powers...until his uncle's death gave him a reason.
The Marvel Classic, Spider 
And the best artist/writer in the world won't do much with their talent if they don't use it.

10,000 Hours

Now that you're nicely inspired, let's get to work. A LOT of work. In his article 'How to Become Great at Just About Anything', Stephen J. Dubner writes " Improvement comes only with practice — lots and lots and lots of practice. You may have heard of the “10,000-hour rule”? The idea that you need to practice for 10,000 hours to become great at something? That idea originates from the research of Anders Ericsson and his colleagues. They were studying the most accomplished young musicians at a German academy. Turns out the baseline time commitment required to become a contender, even if predisposed with seemingly prodigious talent, is at least 20 hours a week over 10 years."

That's a LOT of work. Sounds intimidating, doesn't it? Sounds near impossible.
But this is the key: it isn't about what you do in ten years. It's about what you do every single day. The best creatives reach those lofty 10,000 hours by setting themselves a very simple goal: practice every day. And practice well.

Get To Business

So what makes good practice?


Take a page out of Matt Murdock's book and practice like a boxer. Boxers who step into the ring with the wrong mindset get their lights knocked out. First off, know what you're fighting for.

Don't be like Foggy!
You're not practicing to be perfect. Perfection is an illusion, and it's one too many people hide behind to avoid hard work. 'Oh, I'm not that good' means you'll never GET good.  And all the excuses in the world won't make you any better.
According to Duckworth, 'In general, gritty people don’t seek perfection, but instead strive for excellence.' In her Forbes article '5 Characteristics Of Grit', Margaret M. Perlis writes 
Photo Credit Irish Daily Craic
'Anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse, and clinical depression are only a few of the conditions ascribed to “perfectionism.” To be clear, those are ominous barriers to success.' 

Instead, get focused on excelling in your skill set. Improve on what YOU are doing. Focus on excelling YOURSELF. What the other guy is doing isn't important to you while you're practicing. The guy who gets distracted in the ring gets knocked out.


 Every study on improving skills states, in some way, that focus is key. Again, we can look to Matt Murdock for advice: set aside an hour of your day to work on your skills. I don't care when, but do it. No more excuses about not having the time. If yo care, you find time. Period. During comic time, you don't check Facebook, you don't zone out, and if you do, yo pull yourself back and work. Perelis said it best:
'it is important to commit rather than just show up for practice.  Or, to put it less delicately, it’s better to be a racehorse than an ass.'


To get the most out of practice, set yourself specific, quantifiable goals. Goals serve two important functions: they help foster a sense of achievement, and break the work of improvement down into manageable tasks.  When setting your goals, keep these points in mind:

  1. Define Your Skillset.
    Make a list of areas where you excel, areas where you need to do more work and areas you want to improve. If you have the means, ask another artist to help you with this. Seeing your work through new eyes can be a lot of help. Now you know where to focus.

  2. Well Defined Goals Get Results. 
    Say you want to improve on drawing hands. Drawing a page full of a hundred hands isn't actually going to help you improve; you're only repeatedly doing what you know how to do. Instead, get an anatomy book and set the goal of reading their chapter on hands and doing drawings based on one page a day. Or go to Drawing Lessons For The Young Artist and set the goal of working through one of their work sheets a week; every day, read the tutorial and draw its steps again. You'll be learning and you'll feel accomplished.
  3. Ditch Guilt. Roll With The Punches
    Above all, keep this in mind: bad work isn't failure. It's learning. Our culture loves the concept of the 'natural talent' and the savant, but those concepts are deeply flawed. It's not 'talent' that makes a skill. It's work. Constant, quiet, hard work. It's getting knocked down and getting back up. You lose a fight? You figure out why. You miss a punch, miss a deadline or an update? Try again. You get a rejection letter, a bad comment, a down vote?
    If anyone knows who did this great piece please let me know
    so I can credit them!
    Take every suggestion for improvement and work with it. I see too many people trap themselves in guilt. They start feeling so ashamed and frustrated by their project that they give up on it all together and go looking for something shiny, new and unencumbered by baggage. Don't. Do. That. And ditch shame. This is about your work, not about you. You are not a bad person because you are still learning. You need to accept that you will make mistakes, and you will grow better for them. That's how we learn.
  4. Substitute Nuance For Novelty
    If you're feeling bored with your project, it's your responsibility to change it up, take it in a new direction, rather than giving up. Dubner put it like this:So rather than constantly moving on to a new thrill, you try to find another level, another dimension, of the thing you’re already doing, to make it more thrilling. Whether it’s a research project or an arpeggio, a breaststroke or a soufflĂ© — wherever your interests lie.'
    In the analogy of hands, don't give up on practicing hands, just find a novel tutorial.

  5. This is a Marathon. Not a Sprint
    Practice takes time, but daily work really is the only way to get to the level you want to be. THIS IS NORMAL. In fact, Ira Glass pointed it out beautifully:

It's Up To You. Roll Up Your Sleeves.

To begin the year, I'll leave you with these words by the  great Teddy Roosevelt.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve Triple Feature: Blankets, Thistil Mistil Kistil, A Christmas Carol

Happy Holidays!

Art By Grant Morrison, Russ Manning, Dan Mora

Bright Solstice, 

                         Happy Hanukkah, 

Merry Christmas, 


                                                                                           Kwanzaa blessings,            



the Booze?!

In honor of the season, The Strip Show comes back in style with a Christmas Eve Triple Feature.

For your entertainment, we present


Thistil Mistil Kistil


A Christmas Carol

Blessings Of The Season!

Maudlin Christmas Note From The MC

I just wanted to say a special thank you to everyone who wrote privately or commented publicly with their encouragement during this blog's hiatus. In this digital age it's so easy to feel isolated and assume your work is without value. Feeling the support of a digital community as I dealt with my family's problems and worked to return to the projects I love has meant so much. Without your words I would have given this project up as pointless.
Thank you all for reminding me that what I do has value to others.
Blessings of the season to you all

The MC

Christmas Eve Triple Feature: Blankets

Baby, It's Cold Outside....

Wrap Up Tight With

Brrrrrrr! A cold home life and a cold Midwestern Winter set the stage for this deep and introspective tale of religion, redemption, acceptance, and finding a place in the world.
The comic has become a classic, and I highly recommend getting a copy for your bookshelf. It can be bought at this link but until your holiday money arrives it can be read free at Read Graphic Novels Online. I'll quote those good folks in synopsizing the story:
In this autobiographical work, Thompson recalls his childhood, his coming-of-age stage, and his first love. In this book, Thompson also focuses on his spiritual journey, how growing up in an Evangelical Christian family has profoundly affected his life.

In this marvelous illustrated memoir, Thompson takes readers into his rather rough childhood: he always became the target of the bullies at school, his inconsiderate teachers, his relationship with his little brother Phil, and how he found their passion in drawings and art. In the later stage of his teenage years, Thompson met a girl who brightened up his seemingly gloomy life. It was his first love, Raina. Also around that period, Thompson faced an inner battle as he sometimes felt his passion in making illustrations somehow contradicted the Christian values he got from his devoted Christian parents."

The Rating

Off. The. Charts.

The Raves

This. Comic. Is. Gorgeous.
I could look at this thing all day. Really, I could.
But after the visual treat, you begin to see the beauty of the psychological forces involved in the storytelling. This is a story of loneliness and acceptance. Setting most of it in the bleak midwinter of the American Midwest only intensifies the theme. The difference between being outcast and finding those you belong with is as stark as stepping inside out of the bitter chill. And learning who you truly are is as subtle and as freeing as the melting of the ice in Spring. Anyone from the Midwest (and, originally, I am) will understand. For those of you who are not, I'll sum up: the cold of the winter will kill. So will the cold of rejection and dismissal. Warmth and acceptance will save your life.
This story explores both the pleasure and the pain of the cold, both the joy and the agony of coming of age and becoming who we need to be.

This story  is complicated all the more by a rigid and brittle type of christianity that demands conformity from its followers. Being alive is practically impossible, and the unhealthy nature of a belief that cannot bend is explored with compassion and with clarity in this work. In equal parts deeply moving, oddly funny and affirming, 'Blankets' will warm your heart and remind you that the place where you belong is out there, but it's up to you to decide you need to look. This is a story that does the most difficult thing in the world: it takes innocuous experiences of a pedestrian upbringing and shows the depths of pain and the heights of ecstasy to which they can deliver us. The cruel word of a teacher can crush us. The smile of a friend can send us soaring. And that is what it means to be truly and fully human.
If you've ever been lonely, if you've ever been an outcast, this is a story for you. There is understanding in these pages. There is redemption. More importantly, there is perspective. And we all come out the better for reading it.

The Revue

Light the fire. Wrap a quilt around you. Cuddle up against the cold and read. Let the pages sing to you.

Christmas Eve Triple Feature: A Christmas Carol

For many years, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been considered not only one of the classic Christmas books but also one of the seminal books in literature. This classic work had been adapted into every media imaginable. 

Now one of the biggest Comic book publishing companies in Britain, Markosia, published a graphic adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Dickens’s story was rewritten by Stephen L. Stern (known for his Beowulf Graphic Novel) and illustrated by artist Douglas A. Sirois. The collaboration between Stern and Sirois is fairly successful in bringing the classic to life. 

The Rating

A pleasant little Holiday ditty.

 The Raves

The tale, of course, is classic, and it isn't done any harm in this faithful adaptation. (Well, maybe a little harm. Maybe my brain kept inserting the music and voice overs from The Muppet Christmas Carol...)
 The capturing of the 1860s is well done, fashions nicely displayed. 

And the textures and brushes used in this work are really gorgeous. The whole thing is pulled together with a sooty, sepia-toned color scheme that fits the material rather well.

The Razzes

So...this story is done with some form of 3d character manipulation program and the output is then put through a number of filters and worked over. It's not a bad artistic method, in fact some great work has been turned out in just this way, like Romantically Apocalyptic and Supergirl.
But here's the thing: when you do it, pay. Attention. To. The. Details.
Don't leave figures looking stiff.
Don't leave characters in akward and physically difficult poses. 

Don't ignore the borders around your characters and leave them look like badly pasted cardboard cutouts in the scene. 

Watch your expressions and, if the 3d render doesn't do a very good job, fix it by hand. Otherwise you end up with a Ghost of Christmas Present with an expression that intimates the fact that he'd rather like to return to his pre-christian Nordic roots and wind Scrooge's entrails around a sacred tree...

And for the love of all gods bright and dark, if you're looking to massage 3d rendered image and make them look like paintings, actually massage the things. Don't just run them through the render engines. You need to change the shading and lighting by hand, remove the overly strong highlights that 3d rendering tends to create and in general spruce things up.

Forget these important details and you end up with awkward scenes as below, which look like a set of shop-window mannequins aping their betters and failing at it. 
And I just wrote 'aping their betters'. Oh dear. No more Dickens for me! 

The Revue

A nice little treat for the holidays. 

Christmas Eve Triple Feature:Thistil Mistil Kistil

From The Frozen North
Comes A Tale...

Be warned. The gods live. And they scheme. Beware of snaring yourself in their designs.
Here's a tale of one boy who did. It is the tale of

In the Far North, they tell tales of warrior gods and warrior men. And nobody tells them better than Sarah Schanze in Thistil Mistil Kistl, the tale of an accidental quest, a hero searching for the gift and a trickster's wily ways. Come and hear the tale of the North.

 The Rating

An adventure without end.

The Raves

To begin with, I'll tell you how good this is: I sat still enough for long enough that I got an ache all the way up my spine.
That takes some serious sitting.
But this page should sum up the reasons well.

This story gorgeously balances stylization and craftsmanship in its art, giving the reader the feel of reading runes without sacrificing anatomy or giving any sense of artistic difficulty. The entire world is rendered with skill and wit as our young hero attempts to serve his gods and earn his place in the paradise of Valhalla, helped(?) by the Sly One, Loki. The texturing in these pages lends these pages a rich tangibility, while the color scheme reminiscent of Cartoon Saloon work (creators of the movies Song Of The Sea and Secret Of Kells) bring this ancient world to vibrant and bustling life. And at all times there is a faint hint of runes and patterns just out of sight, hinting at the otherworld a breath from ours.

The story matches the art exactly. While it is intimately tied up in the mythos of Scandanavia, this is no dusty tome. Our young hero Coal is a well rounded character, as is each of his companions. But Sarah outdoes herself in the personality she lends the old gods. She brings each of them sharply and brightly alive, lending them wonderfully dynamic personalities without once losing sight of their original natures in the Eddas. For instance, Loki is cocksure, playful, tricksome and juuuuust a bit of a showoff....juuuust a bit....

 but he's also a dynamic character with a deep love of family and a complex thought process going on behind his smile in this tale. He's allowed to have moods, ideas, and feelings that make him into a person as well as a god.

The story shows the same tact in exploring the interaction between cultures as the Old Religion meets Christianity and Moors meet Danes. It all works in this story because each character is truly a person in their own right, all worked together with impeccably brisk plotting, a compassionate wit, and a nice thread of humor.
And again, the art's stunning. This piece is worthy of animation!

 The Revue

A must read. Curl up with it when the snow falls.