In January I finished up storyboards on a television show that I was working on for the past year, and I decided it was due time to take a month off from animation work and concentrate full time on drawing comics (more specifically, drawing The Possum!). Well, my month of being a full time comic artist has come and gone and I can tell you, it was the best month I’ve ever had! What a treat it was to be able to get up every morning and work on my own work. When all was said and done, I managed to finish an 8 page Possum story for Indie Comics Magazine #2, a 4 page, full colour Possum story for The Feathertale Review #7, and 2 pages shy of inking the remaining 16 or so pages of Possum #5! I was hoping to get issue #5 finished in it’s entirety, but with the short Possum stories that I did, it just wasn’t possible, but I’m really happy with the way the shorts turned out.
I’ve been really inspired by the likes of Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon), Dave Sim (Cerebus) and Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo) for the sheer volume of work and dedication that has gone into reaching 100+ issues of their own comic book. My goal as I was completing the first issue of The Possum was to make it to issue #10, but as I’m nearing completion of issue #5 I’m seeing so many possibilities with where I’d like to take these characters and so many story arcs that I’d like to get to one day, that I’m thinking that I have to start thinking bigger. Why not dream big, eh? Issue #10 is still a goal of mine, but what I’d really like to be doing is making these comics when I’m 80 years old. Judging by my last month, working full time on my own comics, I’d be a happy man if I could wake up every morning, have a coffee, and draw The Possum until my wife calls me up from my studio and tells me it’s time for bed. (of course, visits from my kids will have to be in there too). Here’s hoping for issue #100 and more!
A few months ago, I ordered myself a Pelikan fountain pen. I had been wanting one for a while now, but couldn’t bring myself to spend the $100+ it would cost, but in one of those moments of thinking “my artwork stinks, and the tools that I am using MUST be the problem”, I broke down and ordered one. It took me a while to find an ink that was black, yet wouldn’t clog the pen, until I settled with the rapidograph black ink. With my other pens, I would dip them in Speedball Super Black ink, which I find a decent, black ink, but it’s just too thick for fountain pens. (It worked for a while, but started to clog, and before using the pen I’d have to empty it out and refill it everytime, which stopped me from being productive at those times when I don’t have time to sit down and draw properly, but I happen to be passing by and see my unfinished comic page and decide to ink for 5 minutes just to get a few lines drawn, or get a small panel inked, which really ads up in the long run). I know that Sergio Aragones uses Badger brand non-acrylic black ink for his Pelikan Pen, but I couldn’t even find that ink on the internet, or anywhere for that matter…….. does it still exist?
I must say, I’m really happy that I picked up one of these pens, as the nib is more flexible than the Rotring art pens that I’ve been using, so you get a bit more of a thick and thin line out of it (and that’s something that I feel I need to work on a bit more with my artwork). The fact that it’s (for the most part) maintenance free helps because I very rarely have a full day to sit down and draw comics, so it’s quick and easy to just pick it up and start inking (now that I’ve found a decent ink).
I’m still experimenting and looking for a good mix of weapons for my comic making adventures, and trying to figure out what tool works best for what part of the drawing. I’ve experimented a bit with brush and ink (see the missile smoke/fire on the previous photo above) and I really like the possibilities with that, but I’m nowhere near confident enough with a brush to try inking characters and such, but it is something that I’m going to work on. (man, there’s a lot to learn still…..) What tools do you guys use? What kind of paper/illustration board? What’s your favorite ink, and why? For myself, I’m still experimenting, but maybe that’s a career long task.
A recent trip to the comic shop got me thinking…. It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed going to the comic shop and picking up new comics. For some reason, the excitement isn’t what it used to be and there aren’t really any titles that I collect anymore. Part of the reason I don’t buy as many comics as I used to is that it’s just too hard to jump in on a comic series if you don’t have access to all of the back issues, as most comics nowadays are long stories that require previous issues to understand what is going on in the story. The other reason is that it’s just too darn expensive to buy those back issues, even if the comic shop has them all in stock. Don’t get me wrong, I like the collector mentality, where you have to hunt down missing issues and fill in gaps of the story, but missing issues shouldn’t stall your enjoyment of the issues that you have.
Like all of my comic thoughts, I turn them back to my own comic, The Possum. I’m currently working on issue #5, and I have certainly learned a lot as I’ve made mistakes on the previous issues. As I look over the last 5 issues of The Possum, and as I get set to plot out the next couple, I realize that I need to make each issue stand alone better as it’s own story. Issue #1 works, but it’s 72 pages. Issues #2,3 and 4 work together, but on their own they fall into the aforementioned category. Moving on, it’s a goal of mine to condense the stories more and try to make each issue work on it’s own. Sure there will be story arcs that weave their way through all the issues, as Stan Lee used to do so well, but each issue on it’s own HAS to make sense.
As I write this, I’m currently working on an 8 page Possum story, and a separate 4 page Possum story, for two different publications. In total, I will have completed 5 short stories over the last few years, and I find these really good exercises to condense my writing and try to get more happening on each page.
As I look forward to 2011, I’m really pumped to make comics and try to implement some of these observations into my own work. I’m going to start the year by taking a month or so off from my day job to focus on comics, with the goal of finishing these two short stories I’m working on, completing issue #5, and if all works out as planned, getting a good start on issue #6. I’ve never taken more than a week off to work on comics before, so I’m really looking forward to trying to make the most of my time off. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I thought I’d take a stab at this, seeing as everyone else was doing it.
1. Empire Strikes back – There’s so many images from this movie that are forever burned into my brain, such as the AT-AT Walkers on Hoth, The carbonite chamber on Cloud City, Darth Vader inviting Han solo to dinner, and this one of Luke Skywalker with his sunken X Wing….. For some reason, that orange flight suit has always caught my attention.
2. Cerebus (Dave Sim)– 300 issues, self published. How can you not be influenced by that when you’re self publishing your own comic?
3. Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson) – As a kid, I couldn’t get enough Calvin and Hobbes. As an adult, I still can’t.
4. Sergios Aragones’ Mad Marginals – I never had a lot of MAD comics as a kid, but the ones I had, I read them a lot!
5. Looney Tunes (Chuck Jones) – The other directors were great (which is an understatement), but for some reason I’ve always been drawn to the Chuck Jones ones.
6. Ronald Searle – I was introduced to Ronald Searle’s work by Chuck Gammage, while I was in college for animation.
7. Tex Avery – Funny, funny, funny.
8. Amazing Spider-Man – Looking at them now, I really, really admire Ditko’s work on Spider-Man (he did create him and all the cool villains after all), but as a kid I grew up in John Romita Jr’s era, which had a huge influence on me. His father drew a good looking Spider-Man too.
9. Groo the Wanderer (Sergio Aragones) – Again, Sergio Aragones had a huge impact on me as a kid, and Groo the Wanderer was one of the series that I had every issue of.
10. Neal Adams’ Batman – This issue was in a box of comics my uncle left at our cottage for us to read (or maybe we hijacked the box at some point, unbeknownst to him), and a few drawings from it scared the heck out of me, but I loved it. (Batman with lipstick and no shirt, ready to kick the crap out of Ra’s Al Guhl inparticularly).
11. Don Martin – His drawings were just plain funny
12. Archie – I never realized until just recently, how much the Archie comics I had as a kid influenced me. It’s too bad that Archie comics suck nowadays.
13. Robin Hood (Milt Kahl) – How can you be an animator and not drool over Milt Kahl drawings?
14. Peanuts (Charles Schulz) – I like the early stuff the best.
15. Tekkon Kinkreet – The movie blew me away when I saw it the first time.
16. Maxfield Parrish (Mary Mary Quite Contrary) – I’ve just always loved this picture. I’m still trying to find a print of it….. (I passed up on an opportunity to buy one once for a really good deal, and I’m still kicking myself for it, but at the time I was poor……. much like now).
You can download the template from ‘fox-orion’ over at Deviantart and make your own influence map. (and post it in the comment section here too!)
Check out Mike’s over at his Ultraist Studios Blog Journal too.
Ever since I returned home from the San Diego Comicon, my mind has been thinking non stop. Mix that with the fact that Dave Sim’s new edition of ‘Cerebus’ Guide to Self Publishing’ has just been released, (and I’ve been reading it non stop) it’s amazing that I can still sleep at night with all that is bouncing around in my head.
The highlight of San Diego was talking with all of the like minded creators and artists that Mike and I met (some very successful, and some who are just plugging away at what they love to do). I loved discussing and hearing about what strategies or opinions everyone had about publishing and making comic books. We talked a lot about the merits of finding a publisher such as IDW or Archaia and what those publishers had to offer. Like all things, there’s some definite ups and some definite downs to going with a publisher as opposed to self publishing. A big upside is the fact that people tend to take you more seriously. A downside would be that I’ve talked to very few creators that have actually seen any money from the books that have been sold (only because the publisher has to pay for their printing costs first, and only after that is paid for does the artist/creator get a percentage). I figure if I’m not going to be getting paid, I might as well have complete control over my books, but there’s something to be said about working with a publisher to establish a fan base and then keeping the option of self publishing future books open. (It’s not something I want to do personally, though).
The other great thing about getting together with like minded people is seeing how much passion and how much energy everyone is putting into their work. That energy is transferable, and I definitely feel inspired to work on my own comics now, more than ever. I often wonder why there are so few successful self published titles (and by successful, I mean financially successful in the fact that self publishing pays the bills and you can do it as full-time work rather than doing it part-time, while your ‘day job’ pays for your self publishing, like most). Are most self publishers not successful because they quit, or do they quit because they can’t be successful? Dave Sim talks a lot about the need to have your comic come out on a regular schedule and not make people wait too long between issues. This is such a hard thing to crack with print comics, because of the cost of printing and the need to pay for it. It’s a huge accomplishment for most people to find the time to draw the comics between their ‘day job’, but it’s another thing to squeeze in extra ‘day job’ freelance work to pay for the printing of the comic work. If you want to avoid going into debt, until your comics start making some money you really have to hold down three jobs (your regular job to pay the bills and feed the family, drawing your self published comic, and freelance work to pay for the printing bills, etc.) Is it wise to dive headfirst into this business and take a year off, go $80,000 in debt and put out 12 comics in 12 months and hope to eventually start making money off each comic (treating it as getting a business loan), or is it better to plug away at a webcomic, where the costs to publish are much less, but there’s no physical comic right away? Can you do both at the same time?
One thing for sure is it takes discipline, hard work, and commitment. There’s so much to think about, but thinking will only get you so far. I’m going to put a big sign up over my drawing desk that says “Draw comics every day!!!” and I’m going to do what the sign says.