sequential daze

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Drawing cars... arrgh!

When I was attending school there were a number of students (all boys) who could do amazing drawings of cars, usually with no photo reference and often with a lot of detail (accurate or otherwise). This never impressed me much at the time mainly because I wasn't interested in cars and therefore not all that interested in drawing them either. These days, I'm still not interested in cars but I have a lot more respect for the skill of motor vehicle drawing.

At some point, several years ago, I made a conscious decision to get serious about drawing cars and other vehicles. It seems many of my comic stories involve conversations in cars as characters get from point A to point B and as a cartoonist I needed to know how to draw something half decent. The cars I used to draw were rather woeful... I'd post a scan of one I did in 1994 except... well, let's just say "woeful!" One thing I started to realise was that cars have a kind of anatomy - the front and rear wheels are almost always placed proportionately in the same place regardless of the length of the car. Since my drawing style is somewhat cartoony there is a lot I can fudge, but I still want to get the various aspects of "car-ness" at least looking right so that readers know they are looking at a sedan, or a van, or a wagon, or a ute, or a 4WD/SUV, etc. Years ago I owned a VW Beetle and feel obliged to include one in just about every comic I draw. Having something to draw from has been useful and to that end I went and bought a few realistic toy cars so that I could draw them from any angle.

Here are a couple of car drawings, both from another project. The first features (surprise surprise) a VW Beetle - I'm particularly happy with this one due to the angle of it... can't remember if I used a reference, possibly not as VWs seem to be stamped into my subconscious. The ute in the second came out rather well too (please note, right-hand drive - we drive on the left side of the road here in Oz!) - I know I didn't use a reference for that as I don't have a toy ute!

Maybe one day when I'm feeling brave I will post that drawing from 1994! As a footnote, I always thought Ross Carnsew of Streetwize Comics drew the coolest cartoony style cars. (*Shakes fist at Ross*)


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Getting the story out

Spent the weekend away from the computer and the drawing desk - and let me tell you, it was hard going too! My coping mechanism in such situations is to take a notepad (no, not a laptop or PDA) along with me and work on a story thread or two or three. That's what I did last weekend and it worked a treat!

Bad Karma is the current story/chapter being told in Magellan. Broadly speaking, I've known how the story plays out for well over a year now - there are copious scribbles and notes and ideas all over the place. Problem is, only the first 12 pages have been scripted and the rest of it is pretty much out in the ether. Over the last weekend though I was able to deal with that problem.

Firstly I gathered up all the various plot points that I wanted in the story and wrote them all down in one place - in fact, I did that several times until I had each scene represented by a single descriptive sentence and I had each scene in the right order. This allowed me to weed out any scenes that weren't going to move the story forward and to make sure there was a balance to character "screen time".

The next step was to pace each scene. My preference is to keep the scenes in Magellan fairly short and to the point - unless it's a climactic and/or kick arse action scene... those always tend to be a bit longer. Most scenes are around 4-5 pages give or take a page. Usually I start writing a scene with a theoretical max of 3 pages but if I feel I'm trying to get too much info across in that space I will either cut the info (or bump it to another part of the script) or add extra pages as needed. Conversely, if there's no way a scene will pad to three pages I'll only write it two pages long - there's nothing worse than a superfluous page in a webcomic.

Since Magellan is a serialised comic I find it's essential to ensure each page in a scene has its own logic - that is, a reader can work out what's meant to be happening without going back a page and without the first panel being a recap. Probably this reflects the way I read webcomics - I rarely hit the previous button in a story I've been following unless I'm totally confused (actually, that happens a fair bit with some webcomics... no names). Each page has to build the story (and, where applicable, character) and having a hook at the end of each page will hopefully keep the reader coming back for subsequent updates.

A technique I use for writing is to draw a series of small squares and sub-divide those into frames - then I write in dialogue or scribble in stick figures to work out the pacing for each page. It is especially useful as it will quickly reveal any aspect of the story that lacks progression or purpose. Also, it will highlight where too much is (or too little) is happening within the number of pages allocated for that scene. Rather than writing out "Page 1, Frame one, blah blah" I find this the most constructive way to write for myself. Even if I am writing for someone else I will use the scribble/write in squares method before then typing out "Page 1, Frame one, blah blah". When writing for myself I never work from a script - I suppose that is one of the benefits of being a writer/artist.

So anyway, as usual, I've blabbed on way more than I intended. The short version of the above is that I managed to not only sort out the entire storyline and the required scenes for Bad Karma but I have now written up to page 32. Getting away from the desk seems the best way for me to get the story out!


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Guess that's why they call it the World Wide Web...

It's a sad little fact that I am a stats whore - I really love knowing how many people are or (as is usually the case) aren't visiting my webcomics and reading them. To this end I use Extreme trackers on all my sites... technically it only measures hits to the main page, but I have my doubts. At any rate it gives me a ball park figure of traffic and soothes my need for stats.

Recently, Extreme started including little flags which, if you hover over them, give you the name of the country and location of the ISP. For some reason I find this wildly fascinating. The number of different countries I've seen listed has really boggled my brain - North, South and Central America, United Kingdom, Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and various Asian countries. Can't say I've noticed Russia which is a bit odd. China and other communist Asian countries aren't represented either, but that's no surprise.

The US accounts for the majority of visitors to all my various webcomics, which I suppose is to be expected - it seems my work is more widely read overseas than here in Australia. That was a point I tried to impress on the many Australian print based cartoonists at the Supernova Pop Culture Expo late last year. They weren't all that interested in getting their comics online even though they were amazed when I told them how broad my readership was, but that's another story.

What weirds me out though is when I notice a little Australian flag - especially when I hover over it and it reveals that someone in Sydney has checked out my work. Makes me wonder if I've ever been in the same space as that person - like on the same train, or on the same bus, or in the same movie theatre, etc. As you can tell, I seem to have a lot of time for weird thoughts (see the 'walking' entry below, this seems to be when my brain does a lot of rambling of its own!).

Maybe it's just me but I do find it an intriguing concept. Did they like it, did they hate it? If I was in the same room and they found out I was the guy who did such and such a comic would they let me know what they thought of it? Actually it has happened a couple of times over the last few years, fortunately in all instances it has been positive.

Anyway, please don't think I'm spying on you, dear reader. The stats thingy doesn't give me that much to go on anyway and, by and large, I'm really only interested in the number of people visiting my comics. If you do visit any or all of them - thanks!


Walking is good!

Cartooning is a pretty sedentary undertaking, I do a lot of sitting every day - sit, sit, sit - either in front of a drawing board or in front of the computer. Although I do yoga from time to time and play an occasional round of tennis (which is a blast) I find the exercise I love the most is going for a brisk walk. Since I live near a huge park I've got plenty of space to get out and about in. The park is like being in the country, lots of trees, fresh air and it even has a river running through the middle of it. Walking really gets my blood circulating, and stops me from turning into some kind of stooped-over decrepit cartoonist. Just thought I'd share!


Monday, February 06, 2006

Back in the land of the living...

Managed to get myself really sick last week - my health is usually pretty good and I don't get ill all that often, but when I do catch a bug it seems to strike with a vengeance! Whatever it was, it came bundled with a fairly fiery fever and it knocked the stuffing out of me. I knew I was really sick when I couldn't be bothered turning on the computer to check my email and... horrors!... I couldn't even sit at the drawing table. About all I was good for was lying in bed and sleeping or (with a marginal improvement in my condition) lying in front of the TV watching DVDs (Batman Begins, Spidermans 1 & 2 and the Fantastic Four - and, as an aside, I'm glad I gave the FF movie a second chance... I've decided it wasn't a dire as Catwoman, it could've been a lot better but at least they were pitching in the light direction - unlike Catwoman. Yes, I am a geek!)

So I'm actually on a planned break from work now - all of February. My intention all along was to get into some serious writing, drawing and sorting out of my cartooning business model. I will be taking some time to go away as well... I'm not a total workaholic!

To date I've managed to get quite a bit done already although, as usual, I've probably planned to do way too much as well.
My drawing skills and speed seem to have passed through a bit of a barrier since January - depending on the complexity of the art required I can draw and colour a whole page in a day - a few Sundays ago I actually managed two whole pages. That's rather wonderful and somewhat astounding, especially considering it used to take me several days to do a page about five years ago. Ten years ago I guess I'd be lucky to even finish a page, let alone a story. The discipline required by the self-imposed deadlines of (too many) webcomics has certainly been a good taskmaster!