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!

100 Days of SPREY – 55, 56

Today I want to tell you a creepy story. Let‘s call it the dangers of creativity, but with a wink.

On Monday, the 25th of January, I wrote the revised script for the next chapter of my webcomic „Street Prey“(SPREY). Only after two or three days of misery did I realize I was battling to cope with emotions bigger than me. My own script that is not the best comic script ever written moved me so much that I changed. Usually it‘s the other way around, the comic changes when I learn something new about making art or storytelling. But I guess it is a giving and taking here. By the end of the week even I realized I could not just go back to making the comic like before without at least changing some things up for the future. In the meantime I spent a ridiculous amount of time on gamedev, concept art and learning. And this time something clicked and the quality of my work went up instantly, across the board. My own theory is that I did not make sudden new art gains but rather found ways to put what I already knew in theory down on canvas now.

My perception of life changed, and then my perception of my art and art in general followed, unlocking more that I could observe and do.

You surely know phrases like „Make art for yourself“ or „Live at your own pace“. Both of these are equally scary if you sincerely attempt to live them. I will admit I only very recently could give them a personal meaning for myself.

Making art for myself means making art you wish someone would make for you and others to enjoy and that doesn‘t exist yet in the exact form you want to have it. But then, when you think it through, you run into a huge problem. You have to accept a lot of hard truths. Think about it. If you weren‘t you, would you read your own comic? Would you follow the artist doing your art your way on social media? If you hadn‘t created it yourself, would you like it?

I wouldn‘t follow myself and I wouldn‘t read SPREY. I would hate it to wait for a panel day to day. If it‘s a cinematic experience, why don‘t you give me the whole scene immediately as comic or animatic. And if you need it interactive, give me the branches and have it all drawn out or shut up. That hurts, is incredibly amusing at the same time (you would think you as an adult would have figured something that simple out earlier!), and still hurts a lot, but guess what, artists are problem solvers so it‘s my task to find ways to make that work better. I am cringeing sincerely while writing, but I am also laughing. And the following myself problem is also easy to solve actually. My social media feed would just have to contain what I am attracted to as a viewer myself. Sounds obvious but isn‘t if you have or had a hard time loving or even just accepting yourself.

Now to living at your own pace. I had no idea what my own pace was and I‘m still not entirely sure I have a full grip on it, but it‘s better than before. I‘m under the impression I was constantly driven by fears and unreasonable expectations in the past. When I stopped caring whether I‘m fast or productive enough or whether I‘ll have something to show on social media at the end of the day, I could let my mind go and focus better. And ironically, letting go might help actually getting more things done. Social media…I am ignoring them mostly for now. That is not ideal but contributed to the environment that made me rapidly improve recently. That really makes you think. Also social media is not the devil. Nobody says you have to bend backwards for any attention you can get. I can only just be at so and so many places per day with my mind and focus.

Oh my… what now? I need more time to think about SPREY‘s future while making more prep work for chapter 2A. What a coincidence.

See you next blog entry!

Above: Rich and Willard translated into the new style. It worked surprisingly well, yet the question is, is it sustainable?

What’s on the other side?

100 Days of making SPREY – 50

Today I want to share a lesson with you that I just learned. It is very special and it is okay if you don’t find meaning in it today.

At least in some creators, there is something like two souls, two hearts fighting each other, and it can be a source of great confusion. There is one that is sensible and wants to fit the mold society set as normal, such as having a stable job and would settle for just enough to get by on good, honest, and societal recognized work. Then there is the outrageous one that howls in disappointment and despair when you do the sensible thing, one that hates you when you comply, one that wants to go explore the void without a map and without a safeguard to ever get somewhere. Both hearts have their place and your life will most likely be a balancing act between both. But what if your wild heart eats you up for shunning it entirely while the docile heart eats you up for real or perceived irresponsible behavior such as following an artistic passion without compromise?

In a very simplified way, the human brain is a simulation machine. And when we cannot predict what the outcome of a decision we make is, we do not like that. Going off into the void is vague already as a statement. What is this void that artists talk about? Where is it? What will I find there? Will I find anything there that is valuable enough to make a living when brought back to other people? If I am not successful, can I go back in time to still become something socially acceptable? Can I still make something out of my life?

We hate that. But our wild heart still wants us to go there and to explore.

Then I found an answer I did not expect in places I did not expect. My good friend game developer Martin Chow introduced me to the works of Japanese game developer Kenji Eno. This man was so far ahead of his time, it is incredible. So far ahead many of his contemporaries did not understand him – and now, as the biggest irony of all, some of his works look dated to a viewer like me from my time, but then I realize they look dated because he was one of the first. Others became famous with more refined products in the same vein later. I would call Eno a champion of the void, of „the other side“. That is when people cross their personal void and come out on the other side with something. He did not buckle down under social pressure or the pressure to succeed in the games industry and still kept to his original, authentic creative vision. Apparently the pain to comply and bring sacrifices to fit in better was bigger than the pain of not knowing if he would find any success society understands as success ever. But the journey was not a bright-eyed wonderland, it cannot have been. The pressure of society and the piercing stings of doubts and fears never leave us creatives alone. My heart breaks every time when I think about disappointing my parents by not becoming something. If I am to believe the Kenji Eno documentary I will link down below, he went through the same thing. „Oh, he was once a good boy. A gifted child. But look at him now.“

But then, what was waiting on the other side for Eno, through the void?

When I first looked into a walkthrough of Eno‘s game D2, I found myself captivated. I did not like everything I was presented, but I knew I was witnessing a piece of art. And even now I feel like experiencing D2 felt like reading a heavy novel and left the same sort of deep impact that still echoes on. You do not have to like D2, it is flawed, but you have to acknowledge that it is art and cannot help but respect the artistic expression.

But will you personally find something that is like this and has this impact? You cannot know. Even if you tried to emulate Eno entirely, you might end up with something else. And in the worst case, indeed, you could spend your lifetime in the void, where everything is scary and insecure, and return empty-handed except for the experience of having lived that life and having created. From my own limited experience I can tell you that creations change you when you push through with them and finish your creations. But what about material success, your docile heart might ask now. We have been talking about artistic things until now.

Let‘s look at Mr. Eno‘s case. He is clearly underappreciated for what he did and has probably never made insane amounts of money. His lifestyle was not glamorous, in fact, he was a workaholic until the very end. But Eno‘s successes were big enough that he could sustain a family. And he got to live out his authentic artistic visions and moved a lot of people. And overall, he did what he want. This seems like a pretty good outcome.

Does this relax your docile heart a bit? There is so much ground between smashing success and absolute defeat. You might come out somewhere in the middle and it might seem and feel weird, when you can‘t even tell whether you are on the success or failure side, but it is not as scary as imagining the outcome as one extreme or the other and nothing in between.

Kenji Eno is a champion who went all the way into the void and returned. He brought something back that moved and inspired many other people in turn and has inspired this blog entry to help other creatives, too. So Eno‘s story might be some food for the simulation machine that is your brain, if you are struggling with doubt and confusion about your wild heart. This is where it is pointing you towards. This is what could be.

Sources:

Kenji Eno documentary:
https://youtu.be/dLLQm9GjN3c

Gamasutra obituary:

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/188282/Kenji_Eno_A_voice_of_dissent_a_champion_for_creative_integrity.php

100 Days of SPREY – 23

I‘m back and I hope you all had a good start into the year. There is a certain risk involved if you make breaks…what if you don‘t come back? Resistance to go back to hard work or shame about the flaws of my past and present work didn‘t get me this time. I released a new panel of Street Prey(SPREY) and it‘s alright.

Above: bonus drawing of Rich, exploring the urban decaying environment the people of his part of the city have to live in

I did some extra writing behind the scenes today, too. So I present to you a model I came up with, a fun picture to explain where I‘m at with my artist‘s journey and what I‘m about to do.

Imagine you were in a desolate and dark place. It is cold and ruggy, rainy and windy and nobody has a business to be here. I am lucky. Despite very bad sight I found a mountain that I want and need to climb, because something up there is calling me in my heart. Having something to strive for is great, even if it seems unattainable at first like a really unfriendly big rock.

I realized I need a light if I want to continue. I need something to assess whether I‘m actually moving towards my goal or not. Otherwise I could be stumbling around in a circle without winning much. I probably have done so in the past my fair share. I thought to myself I treat the idea of finishing it as a ball of light and put it in my lantern to guide me. Now everything I see is tinted in SPREY and I can better see what specifically helps me to get to finish SPREY. I sacrificed the potential of many other things that were inviting, too, but I just can‘t follow everything at once.

My first stop following the lantern is a forgotten garage. This is very fitting for SPREY and a hilarious start for this part of the journey. Who said that I have to WALK all the way on my feet? Here I can build a metaphorical motorcycle, which again, is a great SPREY specific thing. I will sacrifice time and a lot of effort tinkering in this hall, but hopefully make that up really fast and some more when it‘s done and I‘m on the road, breezing through it. This metaphorical motorcycle dictates the future pace of the journey. I will be travelling from fuel station to fuel station. And I have to be brave and actually define and map out those fuel stations and take a good luck at my ressources and how I want to spend them. They are not endless. A fuel burning vehicle really represents that well. I tend to sometimes forget about myself and that I have to refuel, too, in a symbolic way. If I can‘t do it for myself, I must do it for the vehicle at least, which is a great safeguard.

And now, let‘s play some more. What is the fuel? That is a brilliant question! I cannot just have conceptual gasoline although the thought makes me laugh. You can run on so many things! Love, spite, ambition, deadlines, anything else you can imagine, you choose. I chose love because I believe all encompassing universal love is a ressource that you can generate yourself and use without a limit. Romantic love is a subset of it, too, but not everything. What is difficult is to use love effectively. Or is it? Let‘s find out! It will be very interesting to cultivate love on a philosophical level. Love cannot burn you out or can it?

So here‘s what we got: My motorcycle is my drawing process, my designs are my roadmaps, my tools and the mastery of them are my wheels, my knowledge is my motor, my goal is my light and my fuel is what keeps me going. I love SPREY. I love storytelling. I love what I‘m doing and I love what I‘m doing here in the blog, too. Love is a pretty big word if you mean that other, complicated love that is not the one from greeting cards. Otherwise I could eat a greeting card, bouquet of flowers and heart shaped sweets every day and declare my level of love just increased by that. It doesn‘t work this way. I‘m currently tinkering at my motorcycle to make it run better. I‘m sure it can run already, but I should not start until I finished the check-up and defined my next step, the very first fuel station I want to reach.

Let‘s find out more tomorrow.

100 Days of SPREY – 08, 09

Whops! My week was so demanding that I unfortunately couldn‘t keep up with the blog like I would have liked to. Most importantly: all the comic work got done, the rest of the time was eaten up by commissions, a lot of reading and learning and on Wednesday my very first appearance as a guest on an art podcast! It was the Turaco Art Cast with comic artists Frank Salazar and Anna Raub. That was a pretty exciting and unique experience!

Unfortunately I paid for all the important work that got done with being quite exhausted in the second half of the week.

It is indeed a fine line between „Don‘t destroy yourself with crunch“ and „You do not need to feel good and comfortable all the time, otherwise you will never tackle any challenge outside of your personal comfort zone“…which you happen to need for growth.

I read „A short history of myth“ by Karen Armstrong this week and after a long break continued reading Robert Henri‘s „The Art Spirit“. Especially the latter one baffles me. How could I have spent my whole life drawing while apparently not knowing anything about art? Henri is like the well-meaning experienced art grandpa mentor I never had. He puts the reader aside and tells them what it‘s really all about without preaching. If you are inclined to do so, check out his book for yourself! At least for me it helped me to enjoy art in itself, whether by me or others, more again.

The books also made me attempt an experimental mindset shift. The myth book was a refreshing breeze that showed me how differently other cultures interpret and depict the human condition and our basic and most important struggles. The unfair and struggling nature of life comes to mind and how to deal with death and mortality for example. And after that book made my brain softer and more open to new ways, there came The Art Spirit. We artists really are in a great and ungrateful position at the same time. We get to experience and play with human emotion all the time, stories, uncovering secrets in the human psyche and in one way or the other influencing the people around us and helping to solve problems in a creative way. While many instructors seem to agree that the best art, writing and any other creative endeavor is done best in a state of selflessness, the artist has no chance to get there without meticulously exploring themselves and their own life and tastes first. That almost seems like a contradiction. Won‘t looking at and into yourself all the time make you an egoist on the canvas? Wouldn‘t you be tempted to paint self-indulgent pieces nobody else would even attempt to connect to? I‘d argue knowing yourself very very well gives you the freedom to reach out in the first place and maybe even forget yourself for a moment. Meeting other people who disagree with you or do the very same thing you do, but better, or people who just don‘t care about your work at all, won‘t shatter you anymore. You will even be readier to accept that they have an inner life as vivid as yours and that your art does not have to be part of that if they just don‘t connect with it.

There is another exciting thing that I found in the book and need to tell you about immediately. Henri argues that it would be an ideal state for an artist, if they created what is genuine and authentic to themselves and what they are here to create all the time and without compromises. That would be their way to live their life to it‘s fullest. And playfully engaging with that creation every day would be the thing that creates any form of success as byproduct. So…the success is not the goal, it happens on the side. Bold thesis, don‘t you think? But it might as well happen that the success never happens or at least not in the lifetime of the artist. If that is so, how should you know whether you are doing it right or not? Apparently outside validation is unreliable to see whether something is good or not. Almost in all times people have rejected new things only to turn around and claim them as new proven standard later, how things should always have been. But then worrying about money is just a reality of life, worrying about being connected to people and not ostracized. I guess we artists should not ignore that, as that would be ignoring reality, but we must be ready to sacrifice our comfort or tendency to seek it in order to rise above.

See you in the next blog entry!