Sketching Comics – My lessons

Currently, more things are happening at a faster pace than I can document them.

I’m in the second week of working on chapter 3 of my Street Prey (SPREY) comic – so how did it go?

I am grateful every moment that it worked. It is as if I never had left, my brain and body have accepted the daily comic panel back without much resistance. Some of the pages do put a good fight up, but I have worked my way through all of them so far, no matter what storytelling or art problems to solve they have thrown at me. A lot of woes I had in the previous chapter did not cross over to this one. I know at least a bit what I’m doing when it comes to backgrounds and environments now, a multi panel layout doesn’t overwhelm me anymore and my linework is worlds better (but still there’s room upwards).

The retro frame was a victim of circumstances. It had to go to make experimenting with several panels on a daily square possible. Also, to Styx from now the frames around the panels might have been a bit garish and distracting from the comic itself. JUST A BIT. But I’m sure the wildness isn’t gone, it’s now in the story itself and will resurface in time.

And now for the main lessons of the chapter so far.

My work on a page starts with loose sketches.

  1. I do not have to invent pages from nothing. My story dictates what must happen next.
  2. A great question to determine whether a panel is any good: Does it advance the story? If not, does it at least tell me something about the characters or their relationship? When in doubt, go for the thing that drives the story forward.

    And specific questions for my way of doing things with a daily deadline: Have I given my reader something worth coming back for today? A new development, an interesting detail, a sort of mini cliffhanger where it is uncertain what direction the situation will take from here, and I’m not done exploring all possibilities yet.
  3. Feeling confident when making page layouts comes from practical experience, it builds by sketching and drawing pages. Learn making comics by making comics.
  4. Always sketch and write your ideas down, don’t just think them.
  • Reason 1: Otherwise you will not know whether the idea actually holds up. Sometimes a page layout that looked brilliant in my head just doesn’t look any good on my actual canvas. Sometimes things just do not translate well out of your head. You either let go or find ways to adapt the idea and make it work.
  • Reason 2: Fail and succeed faster. If it doesn’t hold up as a sketch already, guess what, putting hours in to render it out will not make it better. So solve the biggest problems a panel, piece of artwork or anything you can pack into thumbnail has in small, simple and easy to iterate on sketch drawings. Go through everything that doesn’t work and you’re arriving at something that does work faster.
  • Reason 3: Helps you to actually create. Now hear me out. In our head things often appear flawless, beautiful, unachievable, but oftentimes quite vague at the same time.

    Think of one of the great ideas for an art piece that has been haunting you for a while and still rests in your head. Would you know what you want to draw in every detail, how it should look and feel like and how to draw it from start to finish? And if so, why haven’t you drawn it yet? Usually, you will not have all the answers already when you sit down to work on a piece.

It is okay when you cannot envision something 100% before you draw or write or say it.

You do not have to. Most often getting active and at least thumbnailing will help you understand more about what an idea you have and how it looks in detail. And what doesn’t work about it and what to change. Creating an art piece IS figuring it out. You are luring a nebulous vision out of your head and making it concrete. Remember my “perfect” page layout that I can only test if I actually sketch it down and see how it would look in reality. Drawing it, giving it a form, will entail loss, as when you draw something a certain way, you decide against many other options you would have had of drawing it. But what is your idea worth when it lingers in your head as that great, flawless something that is awesome to dream about, all it’s potential untouched and available… but it has no visible form at all that you could enjoy yourself or show anybody? How do you know it’s good when it isn’t there and you never actually made it?

So: make your sketches.

I hope this helps!
See you next blog entry!

Starting a new arc

The timeline in very short: after finishing chapter two of my webcomic I decided to take a week off – and then never came back, ended up doing an online design course to fill the most glaring holes in my drawing skills. That succeeded. I learned a lot of things, improved my design and perspective drawing game as well as how to harness the power of 3D, research, and learn my drawing programs faster in the future to use their juiciest features. The price was that I completely lost sight of my comic. It is not as if the wish to continue it wouldn’t have been there. I just couldn’t. I was so strained, stressed out, probably anything could have made me tear apart. That happened in the end, and after some confusion and recovery time, and also listening to the life and business advice of many voices on Youtube and in books, I yesterday returned to drawing SPREY. Chapter 2A is now chapter 3 and has a cover. It is not as if I didn’t do anything about it ever in the meantime, I have some notes and storyboards as well as partly reorganized folders with references. Also the comic haunted me in my dreams. We’re good. I am continuing in the system that worked, at least one panel a day, square format, updating it on my site, on the discords, and eventually on Instagram again, too. I just want to work consistently for a couple of days before I make big announcements, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke and I’m still super dead.

I guess the past months were a good lesson in failing and why you would prefer a sharp cut end to something over slowly dragging along and bleeding out any time. I didn’t bleed out on my comic though, I snapped back in the end. My vast insecurities got the better of me and led me astray. I hope I am not taking all of them back as were into SPREY Chapter 3.

I have humble goals. I really want to make this comic and finish it. I owe it to the readers and to the comic, and to myself. I am standing a 100% behind Street Prey and will do my best. A chapter takes me around 3 months so far and I suppose we will at least have 12 of them (but the number is everything but exact), so that’s some time working on it ahead. I do think that I will become faster as time passes and with more work I have done. My planning skills might become better, too, but only with the experience of hindsight on having substantial amounts of work done already, so everything I make in the future after it profits from SPREY.

I am also eyeing at a day job in concept art or videogame making in general. I have fun designing or just creating games in general. But it takes time to cross over. I am also not a big fan of crunch culture. During the design course I have found out that I can crunch if needed, but that it is not a sustainable way of working, at least not for prolonged periods of time. What do you do with your fast big gains if you lie exhausted on the wayside after the rush? But I will not allow anything to get into the way of me making SPREY. It is too important.

Please call me out if I slip again.

It might happen that I miss a day from time to time when things get very rough or rougher than now, but I don’t want to. I never want to. It is a panel a day or not being me. And why would I not want to be myself? In that sense, see you after the next work session on SPREY later today. A blog can’t be a distraction when it documents action, not dreams about things that never become action.

Annotations to the cover (hey, you should have something exclusive if you read my blog):

If you know the backstory laid out in this blogpost, you can see how the chapter cover is less of a literal depiction of a sad Rich, but the manifestation of the devastating shame and guilt of being a failed creative, a failed creator. I have failed in creating. I have failed everyone, I have fallen. I have a hole of three months in my comic work. And yet here I am, I’m back. SPREY is back. Just taking action again and continue sounds like an easy thing to do from the outside, but do you know about the abyss of strong emotion on the inside? If we didn’t have that, everyone would just do what they knew was right and they should do. Anxiety is a big one here and it will never go away. But apparently you can learn to live with it and not get lured into comfortable inaction that makes you feel even worse afterwards.

100 Days of SPREY – 62

Time is just pouring through my hands like sand or water, but there is no reason to feel bad about it anymore. I have accepted that this is how things go. They call that transience, the experience of time fleeting and all things changing around you. I felt like I was a stagnating solid block in the middle of that many times, I could not take part, but this is not true. If really everything is passing and changing, so are you.

I have been changing a lot lately. Enough that even I noticed it. Last week I learned the basics of UI design. This does not make me an UI expert, but increasing the knowledge from zero to making a sheet of box designs the client likes and approves of is a huge step. And what I learned about learning was even better and bigger. I want to share with you!

Do you have something that you would kind of need in your skillset, but it’s boring to learn, all the explanations are difficult to understand or hopelessly convoluted or you just don’t get a grip on ressources about it or the time or energy to study them at all?

What makes you think you are best served with huge chunks of your time put into these things? Could you be thinking you want to bridge the gap of being bad at something fast? It is pain, agony, to imagine you are really bad at something and despite best efforts will be bad at it for years. Yeah. But if you build the bridge too fast and not stable enough it will collapse again and you will have hurt yourself, too. All the sacrifices you made to rush it did not bring you the desired results and you have still spent the ressources. So I sat down, I had to learn UI design and deliver a first basic sheet within a week, and the first two days nothing gave. I insisted to learn at a speed at which I could observe myself so I clearly could see what the problem was. Anyone can watch tutorials on UI for an hour. But do you know more about how to tackle the concrete UI tasks you have to solve afterwards? Do you know what to do at all? How to translate it into your own work? Day two I still learned more about what UI is but the fog was strong and heavy as before in my head. In my impatient head this should have been a catastrophy. Two solid days of spending tedious time on something without a result. Outrageous. Indeed, one hour of researching UI made me tired like having spent three hours or so on it. I learned that time spent on activities is not equal. Activities are not consuming energy equally. I accepted that and told myself, fine, then I will have to spend more days where I “just” learn a bit UI and do not expect to rush to design it when the head stays empty. But on the third day my brain gave in and I designed what I was told to design without a problem. I could have terribly fought with myself Monday and Tuesday, spent a lot of energy on being angry with myself or my learning speed. I could have tried to force myself to be more productive without knowing what I was actually doing. Instead for once I just accepted what I found to be and happen in reality and worked with that. No expectations. How could I expect a certain rate of progress from myself in a field I did not even know what to expect and how fast? Think about it, if you are new at something…how do you know you are too slow? You have no experience to back up how fast or slow things should be. That comes with time when you have finished the task several times and have developed a routine with it. Also you are not that other person that did it in half or double your time.

So Monday and Tuesday I did what I could, spend the time on UI my brain would give, then spent the other time and focus on tasks that cost me less and got those done, too. Wednesday it clicked for UI and I was able to do the design task in actually an average time for my design and drawing sessions. It had clicked. My brain had needed time to establish all the connections. I also had to rethink what UI is for me and how I place and value it in the process of videogame creation. Turns out UI is actually more important than the actual game art. What do I mean? The user interface the player sees and interacts with shapes the gaming experience. You have no experience without the user interface, even if it is a minimal one! How do you even start the game? Game art of course is important, too, but art itself is not interactive if you think about it. You could also be watching a movie if it was not for menus, choices, health bars and visible consequences of actions in the world. And from there, from this Wednesday, learning more UI was easier. I had completed the task once so every sheet that follows, every research that follows for a different subtask or design element is easier or faster or both.

And I’m sure this works for other fields, too! I am learning about business in little daily steps. And the upcoming weeks in particular I might invest some time into chipping away at perspective. I don’t accept not being able to use this art fundamental at it’s full force. I want to be at least so okay at it that I do not fail at problem solving. Perspective is important for viewing things, you know. My camera angles and such. And this is where we come back to Street Prey (SPREY).

Everything I’m doing, the whole design course, the contract job that has nothing to do with it but pays and opens possibilities for more paid work in the future …everything is for SPREY and my personal work in general. The better I get, the better I can express myself and deliver best quality to my audience. Apparently you do not always work in straight lines towards that. I’m on a neighboring slope or so right now looking over. One day things will go together. SPREY will either finance itself or I will have enough paid work to finance the time spent on it. I am working hard and doing my best every day. New is that I also accept days that just are not my best. I do not ever regret times I spend relaxing. Having a balance between that and work makes me happier and more productive than trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

I am longing for SPREY though, terribly. The daily draw and upload scheme is unfortunately not possible for me right now, but I will spend this week collecting things and try out the upload it all on Sunday scheme. I will not yet scream it from the rooftops and advertise it everywhere on my social media because this is untested. What if I can’t make it work and have to cease and look for a different approach within 1-2 weeks? It would disappoint readers again if they learn about a weekly scheme and then it doesn’t happen. So let’s test first. This is the privilege of the beginner. Test as much as you want. You have nothing to lose.

See you next blog entry!

100 Days of SPREY – 61

There must be a reason why I’m uploading a winter holiday piece in February. I better have a pretty good reason!

I started this piece in December. It looked like this and then I didn’t touch it again:

I was in severe creative crisis mode. I hated everything I did, I was very insecure, especially about how I drew my characters, I hated my inability to create any sensible environment, yet I somehow pushed through the rest of this stretch of chapter 2 of the comic in January and then just collapsed. Not literally, but in my head a door closed, daily comic work was suddenly out of the question. Maybe a reaction like not putting weight on an injured leg.

My will to brush it off and continue was there, a nagging voice in the back of my head to not risk any hiatus, but everything else just intuitively went out into the world to see and try new things and let the overstrained comic muscles heal. Time heals that. And now the period of healing is coming to an end as I finally could finish the christmas piece today in one go. It did not hurt. The enthusiasm for SPREY was back and then some.

In hindsight and only in hindsight this break was the absolute right call. I experienced and learned so so much. I just wish it was somehow less chaotic and didn’t let the readers hang in the air. But I must have been in such a bad shape in January that I wasn’t really capable of doing anything elegant about that. I want to go back into SPREY and finish it with passion. The smallest scope is big enough if burning love can flow into it!

But of course, I can’t have that without obstacles. The decisions of old me led to a situation where I have to finish other tasks first before I can jump back into SPREY with full force. This doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything, it is just an interesting dance to get anything meaningful done. I would love to say I can allocate a reliable time and workload to SPREY within two weeks. I don’t want to go back to the daily upload schedule. Not because I can’t pull it off, but because I think I will not deliver my best work this way. The daily upload scheme leaves little room for editing. My friend Shellpresto (I’m so grateful, thank you so much!) suggested a weekly upload of about 7 panels and I’m starting to like the idea. A lot. Maybe it’s even time to go for comic…pages as I know a lot more about layout and design than even a couple of weeks ago now. Just an idea.

I’ll start by reviewing the new script tomorrow. I feel like my first draft will break under the first stress test like a dry tree twig. The true massacre will not happen in the comic itself but when I try to cut the script down. I tend to want too much, more than the essence of the story would require.

See you next blogpost!

100 Days of SPREY – 60

The struggle continues!

I have this theory that no long term project actually wants to get made. Otherwise most dreams wouldn’t just stay dreams and we would swim in awesome creations! Your long term project will throw any problem, challenge and distraction it can at you to keep you from finishing it, but at some point it will give up resistance.

I have good news today about the future of Street Prey(SPREY). I found a surprising solution for it that honestly sounds like I could have known earlier…but I couldn’t. I needed to fall off a cliff, go on a new path pushing my design skills and draw and 3D model many pages of unrelated concept art to realize something. And I hope sharing this serves as a shortcut for you so that you don’t have to go through that, too.

Like all of my stories so far, SPREY has been conceived in a vacuum. A version of Styxcolor was at work that had no understanding of how expensive time is and that designing a world properly costs a lot of this as does a huge and cool ensemble of characters. You will never catch me saying a single creator cannot do a thing. But some projects would require you to sacrifice your life to one of them alone and work on nothing else ever. This seems to be an unreasonable project scope to me. I found out, what hinders me from just continuing to make SPREY like before is this: I cannot afford to create a comic of SPREY’s original scope by working hours and pay I don’t get for it and also release it for free, at least not right now. People will understand. Concept art pays. But I don’t have to let you hanging. I am downscaling SPREY. I will try to tell the essence of it, close all arcs I opened and deliver a satisfying ending building on what I already established. And I will ideally do so within the next six months. That is my self declared goal.

I started off today already by writing a skeleton script. It’s pretty exciting as most things fell into place without much resistance. I am still a bit critical about the scope. That might still be a bit too many scenes and places to design. You will probably not see much movement with the characters on the other hand. So tomorrow I’ll trim fat or if I’m still clueless I’ll start to thumbnailing around. Maye that will influence and correct a moments or two as well. But hey, at least the script will most likely not get bigger than it is now!

And no, I feel no pain about SPREY. I’m surprised myself. Instead, I feel enthusiasm. As if that thing can overpower me, now that I found a way to break it down into something present me can do. I’m not sorry for everything we will not see in this run of SPREY. It was formless potential so far, so nothing is really lost if it does not come through. It never “existed” in the first place. Who knows what the future will bring. I have learned yet another valuable lesson from SPREY. And after all, it’s not about me. I’m worried about my readers first and foremost and that they have a satisfying finished comic that was worth their time in the end. I might have been so inexperienced that I didn’t even know how to start small and how to operate small. My new definition of that is: If I’m capable of pulling it off with my current skills and ressources (including time). And how do I know what I can do? The script will tell me. The design sheets will tell me. If I literally can’t do it, can’t write down a coherent version of the script, can’t draw the scene, vehicle or environment for the love of everything, it is too big right now.

And this leads me to the spectacular conclusion of this blog entry. Today I realized that a good chunk of my problems came from inexperience, from the faint hope I would pick up all the skills necessary on the road to become someone who can actually pull off what I imagined SPREY should be. I was dealing in I should bes and I should dos. When the truth was before my nose all the time. If I could pull off the script that classic SPREY would need…I would have done it! It is okay! So I didn’t fall out of the sky as a master. I have a much better grip on what current Styxcolor can actually do and move within a week of unrelated fulltime work. And I can and must go from that. I cannot base my works on someone I am not (yet), on skillsets I do not (yet) have. Imagine trying to buy something with money you will maybe make in the future (outside of the stockmarket). I must stay with what I have right now. Just wildly imagining an epic story without any constraints is easy I would say. It is much harder to bring it into a form that you or you and a team can actually make come true. Keep it real. Less is more. Start small. Your personal “small” might grow over time.

I hope the readers of SPREY do not have to wait for too long anymore. I will still do my best not to rush anymore ever and take the time it needs. See you next blog entry!