Saturday, February 24, 2018

Backstage Pass February: Jordan Kotzebue

Hurry Hurry Hurry! Slip Backstage and Meet The One And Only Jordan Kotzebue!

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So Jordan, tell us about yourself?

I've been a professional artist/animator for the past fourteen years. I am currently working with PopCap Games as an art director on the critically acclaimed “Plants vs Zombies Heroes”. In addition to the day job, I've also done freelance. Most notably, work for DC Comics and Aspen Comics, doing pencils on the hit TV series “Heroes” online comic book. I started Hominids about six years ago when I realized how much I needed to make a comic that was all my own and wasn't beholden to someone else.

Main Projects


Other Hobbies, Guilty Pleasures and Obsessions

I love doing things outside whenever I can. It's especially important being from the northwest to take advantage of nice weather. I really love hiking, camping, trail running, and if I can find a nice watering hole, I'll even do some cliff diving. I also like to juggle, rock climb and do parkour. Admittedly, I don't get to do those last 3 as often as I'd like.

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

My older brother, Travis and I would draw all the time. I remember distinctly as a kid, a really cool drawing of Colossus that he did. We were X-Men fans ever since. So I learned the power of storytelling in comics pretty early on. Then when the Batman: Animated Series debuted, I realized a good story could come from anywhere, even a Saturday morning cartoon. It was a snowball effect from there.

What media and programs do you work in to produce your project?

For comics, I like to pencil and ink traditionally. Any excuse to get away from the computer for a while. Then I pretty much stick with Photoshop from there.
Can you tell me about your typical day or strip-creation session? How does your work process flow from idea to finished page?
With a full-time job, I give myself a full week to do a page. I usually have the current issue all thumbnailed. Then I'll do the layout in Photoshop before printing it in blue line. I then have the freedom to pencil it wherever I like. Sometimes I'll sit in front of the television or go to a coffeeshop and noodle away at it. It sort of depends on the week. The largest chunk is done on the weekends. I like to have my page finished by Sunday night so I can post it early to my patrons at Patreon. Then my regular updates are on Tuesday.

What’s the most difficult part of your work?

Marketing and self promotion! Those do not come naturally to me.
There is an amazing amount of biological, ethnographic and anthropological research in your comic.

Can you tell us about your research process and your resources?

When the idea to do this comic first popped in my head, I was listening to a science podcast about Neanderthals. They talked about how Neanderthals had brains slightly larger than our own. This didn't mean they were smart necessarily but it did mean they were not the big, dumb cavemen that we often think of. I thought it would be so cool to tell a story centered around them. So I read everything I could about them and any other hominid species I could. I get notifications on all the latest research and if I can, I'll try and fit it into the story. Neanderthals had red hair. Cool, I'll put that in the book. Humans have Neanderthal DNA in them which means they mated. Great! There's some clever ways to put some romance in the book. I don't really have any single source. In my email I just set up notifications for whenever certain keywords are mentioned on the internet. This helps keep me current with any prehistoric science.

What cultures inspired the races in your work?

I didn't want any one culture to inspire my characters. Partly because I'm dealing with other species, so I didn't want to be insensitive to anyone. Instead I pulled different things from different places where it might feel appropriate to jungle living. The Mosuo people of Southwest practice spend their lives with many lovers and the women in particular hold the majority of the power. This felt like the exact opposite of our culture that I thought it would be really interesting to explore that aspect of tribal life.

What inspired you about the historical groups you drew inspiration from?

Surviving and thriving in a world that wants to kill you at every turn. I love the fact that there was a time and a place on our planet where there were multiple advanced people fighting for the top of the food chain. It's like Lord of the Rings, but without the magic. And they really existed!
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?
There's a bit of both. I have the story outlined and I know the flow all the way to the ending. I only write final scripts an issue ahead though. I don't like having everything finalized years in advance because I never know if a minor change will uproot the story. I want to learn from my characters as I write and draw them. Sometimes I'll draw an expression that I wasn't expecting but that I like much more and I'll go with it. That can means the characters is reacting differently for the entire scene! By the time I'm ready to write the next issue, I've learned some things and I come at it with a fresh perspective.

How much of a buffer do you like to keep?

I try my best for about 10 pages but that buffer usually whittles down pretty quick and I lose my buffer altogether. So I do some late nights to get my new page out on time.
If you could send a note back to yourself when you began working on your skillset, what would you say?
Don't be afraid to edit. Cut the stuff out you don't need. Think about your theme all the time.
Stick to doing new and exciting things with the things you are good at. The things you need to learn from scratch, like building a website and marketing yourself, stick to the basics. It's all new to you anyways.

What message do you hope readers take away from your work?

Culture is learned behavior. We can always change ourselves to make us better without disrespecting that culture.

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

The ending. Gotta tell that ending. Otherwise, I'll never get it out of my head.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Revue February 18: Spidersilk

Draw Your Sword And Jump In With


In this story, when they say 'thicker than thieves', they mean it. The motley crew of thieves who call themselves the Orbweavers spin their warp strings of adventure and intrigue across a weft of camaraderie and deep mutual respect. Oh, and a little romance goes into the decorative stitching too.
The creation of Alakotila, Spidersilk can be found at this link.

The Rating

A lovely little ramble through historic by-ways and crimes! 

The Raves

I'll give this comic two of my highest compliments: I had to force myself to stop reading in order to write the review, and I added this one to my personal reading list. Be aware, I do that rarely.
The story revolves around Prentice, a syphon (read blood mage) who builds his new life among a tribe of rascals and scallywags.

The story is delightful: by turns laugh-out-loud funny, tender and topped up with action, it's a rollicking ride. The romantic subplots are well and amusingly done, balancing tenderness with humor in a way that gives each relationship its own authenticity. 
The art style is a nice balance of skill and practicality: chapter pages and first pages are in well-done color, leaving the rest of the issue in sepia tone. I applaud the creator for striking a good balance between craft and speed: by doing work in this way they get to have their cake and eat it too. Oh, and speaking of cake, new thieves go through a training exercise of stealing cake from other thieves. The hilarity that ensues from that is enough reason to read. 
The creator is pulling on sword and sorcery fairly heavily for the world building basics, but they do so well enough that you question your own definitions of what each trope means as the characters do. Racial bias and the overcoming of it is one of the mainstays of the story, and it's well integrated, becoming neither a soapbox nor a narrative bludgeon but simply a nasty fact of our character's lives. And when there is action, it's both well planned and well drawn, both the amusing and the bloody bits.
All in all, I was quite a happy reader.

The Razzes

My biggest stumbling block to being a reader was the dialogue layout and general lettering. I can hear you wince from here, gentle readers. Yes, lettering, the bane of all comic creation.
But in the case of Spidersilk, there is hope for some fairly easy fixes!
Firstly, a little layout tweaking. Throughout the story, there are many pages where two small panels are offset by a larger vertical panel. 
This is fine, but if it's to be done, it must be done in a way that makes the eye flow easily. If the speech bubble on the right-hand panel bottom were the only one in that panel, this example would be perfect. But as the eye must return to the top, confusion ensues. Western minds are trained to read left-right, top-bottom. Change that and watch your readers wince. 

Working on the speech bubbles would also be a help. Many of them are a touch shaky and oddly formed, giving the reader a 'cramped' reading experience. I had this issue a great deal as a new artist myself.
But there is a fix for this!
I use GIMP as my main program, so I'll display it through that, but every art program I've heard of has a version of this process. 
First, create a transparent layer between the art and the type. For the purposes of this example and my laziness, I won't be re-typing the text to show. (by the way many apologies to the creator, I mixed up who's speaking in this panel and due to said laziness decided to leave my mistake in  rather than re-make the example. My sloth, my shame).
Using a very large setting on a white, round brush, create circles/ellipses around each text block.
By the way, try as much as possible to create complete circles. Speech bubbles that are cut off here and there harm the aesthetic of the page. A bubble that butts into the edge of the panel should be continued into the gutter. Make the gutter larger if need be, it's worth it.
Add your bubble tails with a smaller setting on the white brush. Then select your Wand tool. 

Select the entire transparent layer by clicking it with the wand tool. This will outline your bubbles in a dashed line.
Now, stroke the selection. (particularly approps for this story heh heh ;) )

Always stroke with the paintbrush or pencil tool set to the line thickness you want. This outlines all your bubbles in a nice black line. 

If you forget to use the paintbrush or pencil and simply stroke with the automated line size, the lines will be pixilated, as below.
If you did that by accident, never fear. Just hit 'blur', then 'cartoon' or 'photocopy', which will smooth out the lines.
And there you have it:quick, good looking bubbles! 

The Revue

A lovely wander through a well built world, with a few laughs along the way.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Technique Tuesday: Varied Skintones

Working on getting varied skin tones right? Mary Winkler can help!

Re-blogged from

Here's a quick theory lesson on choosing skin tones, shadows, blush colors, and adding to warm or cool palettes. A great jumping board for figurative pieces and creating your own skin palettes. Skin tones are often a challenge for some, but with a little insight into a variety of palettes, you'll find it a lot easier than you think.

Let's start with a fresh face. I chose some features that are a bit ambiguous in terms of ethnicity. For a real piece, more than just skin tone. would be changed from person to person.
Starting with light/Caucasian skin, I've chosen a peach color with a yellow-orange undertone. It's light, but not really pink.
The shadows for this tone are darker with a more orange tint.
For blush tones, I went for an orange/pink. Think of sunsets and watermelon in terms of this hue.
An optional step is to make the top lip a pink or red tone instead of the shadow tone.
The bottom lip was set as a light pink instead of the main skin color.
All of the tones in this set are orange based. For highlights check out this light orange-pink hue.
I've set it as a gradient going from the highlight color at 100% to the same color at 0% Opacity.
Moving on to a darker skin tone. This one is a bit more olive. It's a cooler tone.
I play with two different shadow colors for this tone. One is cooler than the other. You can mix a cool undertone with a warm shadow tone to make your person a bit more real. The shadow tones may also depend on your overall color scheme. The pink used for the blush is more of an orange-mauve.
The tone I chose for highlights on this olive-toned skin is a light tan. To subdue it, I've applied it as a gradient going from the highlight to the base skin color.
Here's the warmer shadow color I mentioned. It's like a pink-tan. The color on the lower lip is just a lighter version of it.
Next up is a peach skin tone. Unlike the other light skin color, this one stresses pink more than orange. The HEX number for this color is #F2B9A5.
The shadow for this one keeps true to the pink-red tone of the base color. It's a very warm tone. Changing it to something cooler alters the entire look of the skin color. The HEX number is #DC7F6E.
For the highlights, try a light, creamy version of the base peach.
The blush tone is very, very pink in comparison to the ones used before.
Let's warm things up with a light cocoa color. There's a lot of shades similar to this tone, so feel free to explore.
The shadow color is a neutral tone. You can make the choice to warm it up by pulling the green arrow to the left (if you want is darker) or the red arrow to the right (if you want it lighter). To cool it down, pull the blue arrow to the right and adjust. Too much blue will make the shadows look unnatural or like something blue is reflecting on your figure.
The highlight color is a creamy, peachy tan. Something whiter or more yellow would throw off the warmth of the skin tone.
The blush tone is a very dark rose.
The last skin tone. I'm covering this time is a variation on a very dark brown. I'm skewing this to a cool palette so it goes along with the dark purple I chose for the line work.
The shadow color is a bit cooler than the base tone. It's got a very blue undertone to it. You can choose something more red, brown, or purple, but it would alter the entire palette.
The highlight color is a warm, buttery beige. It will be subdued in the same manner the other highlights were (by applying a gradient to the shape and altering the opacity).
Some notes on how changing tones can alter the appearance of the colors around it. The blush tone shown here is cool. It comes off as a purple against the chosen skin tone.
The blush color chosen here is much, much warmer. It glows against the skin color. Notice how this blush color compliments the highlights better than the purple blush above.
The breakdown of skin tones above are just a starting point for creating realistic portraits and figurative pieces. Trying out different ethnicities in your portrait work will help you learn further variations and give you more insight into the contrasts of the skin. Until next time, happy creating!