I was assembling Bunny Trail Junction for August, and that necessitated making introductions to each of the lines of comics therein. Dronefu didn’t end up making the cut, but I didn’t know whether it would going in, so…
And indeed, platfomers have always been my interest. But, you know, metroidvanias in general and pixelart metroidvanias specifically are overdone.
Nobody’s done right by Megaman X yet, though.
I’m not switching projects. Or rather, I’m not reswitching projects. My commitment is to produce more than one Bunny Trail Junction comic per day, and one month’s worth each month. A video game has more interest for me — and more financial upside. But I’m not committing to anything bigger than the comic unless and until I’ve gotten my ADHD sorted out.
Or at least, that’s my decision for now.
That doesn’t stop me from toying with ideas. How could it? That’s literally my damage. So today, forced to call out by non-Covid-related covid symptoms, I tried tinkering with Dronefu a little. Ended up sculpting a character.
Dronefu is in a very real way a game that’s designed to be everything I could want in a game both to play and to make. But I can feel in my bones it’s not ready yet. Some element is missing that I haven’t found.
As for the comic, work proceeds apace. I need to draw five or six pictures to serve as endcaps, get far enough into the month to know what I’m doing for September, get a test print, and figure out the website. But I’ve got 3/4ths of the month left to do it in.
I think frankly, I’ve already bitten off a bit too much. But that just means I need to figure out where to streamline. I’ll take a look at it tonight.
There is a thing called comicsgate. I mention it with some trepidation.
When it became obvious that Marvel and DC were more committed to their observance of the Death Cult’s religious shibboleths than even to profit, several groups of people began simultaneously making their own comic books. Some, I consider friends and allies to this day. Some, I wish well, but I would rather ignore them and be ignored by them in turn. Together, this merry band was branded comicsgate.
And then it fractured into pieces as the groups attacked one another. I have my own theory as to who is at fault, but I’ll not share it here. Obviously, my guys were 100% innocent and the other guys were 100% guilty. But I am not in the thick of Comicsgate; I am outside it.
See, I’m not a comic book sort of a dude. I never got ahold of comic books as a kid. While Comicsgate is either reminiscing about the glory days when we didn’t know Wolverine’s true identity, or even delving back farther, to the days when Batman wasn’t afraid of guns, my exposure to the comic art form was 100% newspaper comics.
I knew superhero comics were a thing. My mother loved the Chris Reeves superman movie. I spent hours pouring over a book about Spider man from the local library. I had caught bits of the Adam West TV series. But I don’t have nostalgia for the good old days when comic books were good because the only comic books I had access to where collections of BC, Peanuts, Wizard of Id, Garfield, and Calvin & Hobbes.
And, as I’ve related before, I also had access to books on how to make these newspaper funnies, and articles interviewing Jim Davis, Charles Schulz, Johnny Hart, and eventually, Bill Watterson.
All because five-year-old me miscommunicated and said I wanted to be a cartoonist rather than an animator.
And you know what? I want to be a cartoonist rather than an animator. I love the art of the newspaper comic strip. I think Scott Adams’ formula of 6-dimensional humor is a fantastic innovation in the understanding of the format.
Even though, you know… I’m not making much use of it.
Yep. I’m taking the lessons I’ve learned from the study of newspaper comic strips and applying them to story telling rather than joke telling. And that’s just how I intend to do things.
This is fine. There have always been newspaper comic strips that worked this way. Either mixed humor and storytelling, or else abandoned humor altogether and focused entirely on storytelling.
The newspapers are dying. The Newspaper comic strip is dying. The webcomic is its heir. But the webcomic changes some things.
Newspaper comics were filtered by syndicates and newspapers. Webcomics are unfiltered. The filtering process weeds out visionaries and prophets who defy convention and social norms, but it also weeds out dreck. So now, comics can exist that are better than what the papers would allow … but a lot of other comics exist that previously were denied existence because they were legitimately crap.
Webcomics can have color every day, not just Sundays! And yet I’m ignoring this and working purely in black and white ink. I’ve considered trying to come up with a setup where I use grayscale paper and black and white ink to create a tri-tone comic, or simply adding in a gray after I scan, but I’ve discarded these ideas.
Webcomics can have animation. Again, I’m ignoring this. I’m just making paper comics, but keeping the web in mind.
And that’s the aspect ratio for you. 16×9 doesn’t show up in a lot of newspapers. But it works nicely on Twitter, and if I stack the panels vertically, you can read it on your phone.
This kind of vertical formatting is the innovation of Webtoonz, and now Arktoons as well. Webcomics for a new era. Huzzah. I approve. Especially since, IMO, they will fit nicely in a pocket book printed by KDP.
I think the Newspaper format comic deserves to live. I think I’m going to take it under my wing and continue to produce things in this fashion. I think my 3x16x9 styling will neatly combine the needs of screens and books. But it has other advantages that recommend it to me.
The Format of ADHD
I can spend several months making an illustrated book. I’ve proven it several times over. And I’m definitely going to drag Awesome Moments across the finish line. I don’t know when, but it’s good for my kid to have.
But long projects are hard. If what I am told about ADHD is true, I don’t struggle with controlling my focus; rather, I literally cannot control my focus.
When I try to simplify comic making down enough to make it a rapid prototype, which was the original purpose of this strip, I lose interest. It’s too easy. When I try to do multiple drafts to maximize final quality, as is really ideal for the kids’ books, I lose interest. It’s too long.
If I have an excess of focus, enough to make a proper comic book or (alas) a children’s book, I can make my RPG engine, and that will be better both for me financially, for the culture at large, and of course, for great justice.
But I need enough of a challenge to care. It is not enough to make beans. There has to be craftsmanship.
I’ve begun producing Hat Trick 1 as Bunny Trail Junction episodes.
And I’m about 70% decided that I should just produce Bunny Trail Junction proper, including all the random comics I’ve made already (more than a months worth) most of which I’m ditching as a false start, and start pimping my Subscribestar. I want to produce a title card for Hat Trick. But there you go.
One of the fascinating side-effects is that I patterned the Hat Trick sequel on a 2×3 grid, and Bunny Trail Junction is patterned on a 1×3 grid that becomes a 2×2 grid on Twitter with a title card. The upshot is, the first few pages have translated directly. Here’s the test 2-page spread that I finished last year, followed by the Bunny Trail Junction version:
Yesterday in a big mess of brainstorming I circled around the idea of making a prototype comic. Again. You know, the same prototype comic I made back in April. But for real this time, you guys.
Last night, before work, I did concept drawings for the characters. It happened that I had a printout of my pixel art mockup for my Wren game in my clipboard
And so I tried to match styles. Which, in turn, the pixel art is an attempt to match styles with the hand drawn art I’ve been doing, so…
I was very pleased with the result, and so I carried my brainstorm across in my 16x9x3 format:
I think that this comic format and my tendency towards cartooning are so suited one to the other that that’s basically what I should do. Just go back to making comic strips of anything I feel like, and hoping that I can eventually harvest fully grown stories off the comic vine.
The art style works best, I think, if the characters are a little more lean and lanky than the pixel art equivalent, but I think drawing to pixel to drawing design pipelines are worth considering.
But here’s another thing. I can produce 2+ strips a day in this format, even when I’m not making Beans. Meanwhile, the average update schedule at, say, Arktoons is once a week.
So why not be random splody and make comics of everything? When I have enough Hat Trick, I’ll ask Arktoons if they want it, and easily keep up a once-per-week upload schedule. When I have enough Jump the Shark, I’ll ask Arktoons… etc, etc, etc.
And maybe Arktoons will turn me down. But I think this is the way forward. I think it always was, even though most of the comics I produced in April and May were false starts. The nice thing about false starts is I can make ’em, then turn around and make the proper starts. It’s all good.
Bunny Trail Junction AKA Magic Beenz is back on the menu. But I think not beenz. The beenz were an experiment, and the result was “It’s aesthetic, but not what I’m going for.”
I’ve got a bunch of ideas whirling about right now. They’re not organized, and I’m blogging them because it’s better to have them out than in. This is going to take into account many of my recent adventures.
I’ve started doing a book about my ADHD. I dunno. Maybe it’ll be useful some day. I’m working in my Zoom & Enhance workflow.
Tonight, for grins and giggles, I did the page of me overlooking Anvor.
I have started working on the book because my mind is stuck on a continuous loop of how crap it is that I do not choose what to focus on or focus well enough to do anything. I am enjoying my new day job as much as one can. It’s a great fit. But I dislike having a day job. I have a list of almost 30 projects, and 5 or 6 of them would be guaranteed hits if I followed through on them.
I’m getting that frustration of wheel spinning again.
The ADHD book shouts out the big list of projects. After all, 90% of my problem is a million great ideas and zero follow through. And because of that, I keep getting reminded that more than one of them is financially quite viable. Aside from Anvor being… okay. Fine I guess. I would enjoy it… 8 Lives Left would kill, and so would Re-Tail.
The problem with being inspired to consider my problems is I get to wallow in my archetypical despair.
But perhaps now that I have an idea what I’m aiming at, I can get that fixed. Yech.
Who can deliver me from this body of death? Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Anyway, tonight’s process has got me thinking about the painting I’ve been going on about for the last three posts. I was unsatisfied with how the cartoon painting of Anvor came out. It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s not great.
I think this experiment is failing. Well. I think this experiment is succeeding, in that any experiment which teaches you something is a success, and this one is teaching me that I don’t like the results of my digital painting.
After being intensely dissatisfied with the painting of Anvor, I decided to do a quick, small, study, where I dug up a photo from the internet and painted my own version, using the sloppy zoom & enhance methodology. Only I convert it to Wren. I decided to go full thirst mode on this, because the point was I wasn’t having fun or enjoying the outcome and so let’s paint something I will find pleasant to look at. Behold, study in blue and orange:
Thanks, but I hate it.
I think it’s a decent enough picture for a quick, impressionistic study made solely 100% for fun. I will probably include it henceforth whenever I make a great gallery of Wren. But I think that impressionistic brush paintings are not going to be it for me, and this picture was the straw that killed it.
Well, these pictures:
I just like these pictures so much more:
At the end of the day, I am still a cartoonist, and content so to be.
Woke up this day to people bashing Shel Silverstein in a blog I follow. I endorse bashing Shel Silverstein. It is abundantly clear to me from his work that he hated little kids, and given that I, who enjoy writing for children, have to have a day job, it irritates me that a man who hated it made a career of it.
You know, making kids books is a good enough calling. It’s a freaking fantastic calling. It’s just about the best calling there could be. And yet, my mind is always on churn, looking for other things to do, or ways to complicate it, even though I make kids’ books just fine.
I dunno what’s next. Focus on getting the ADHD sorted. Maybe try to find a short path to feeding my family as I get there.
Awesome Moments awaits.
Despite the extensive 3D work I’ve put into it, I think I want to ditch using 3D rotoscopes for consistency because they stiffen my drawings in the same way painting does. I dunno. I suppose still using them as reference, but not for tracing might work out allright.
More studies, more practice, more refinement are in order. But less of A, and more of B:
And I need rest and spiritual counsel and prayer.
I feel like we took a detour that was needed to be sure of the road.
Then I decided to further test the process. See if I can make a book this way by storyboarding it with a rough drawing, but then progressively refining it into final art.
So I started small with a template designed to give me a 16×9 image and then show me where the pages will be in the final document. I drew a couple title pages for a therian bestiary.
This was very roughly done because while I have a little Wacom tablet I can use in my day job’s break room, Krita doesn’t like to acknowledge different pen pressures from it.
Perhaps I will get that sorted tonight.
Anyways, I got home and used my big, fancy tablet to refine it…
When painting, I like to start low resolution, something where my PC isn’t going to think five minutes before rendering a brush stroke. Here, I can abuse the power of computer graphics to its fullest. Guy’s nose is too big? Shrink it down. Hand is too far to once side? Grab a smear brush and push it over. Normally, I do this for sketches, then print them out and ink them, then scan them back in and color them. But in this particular process, I’m doing the whole picture this way.
When I’ve pushed the picture as far as it will go, I just double the dots per inch and go in and tweak it even more. So, the size in pixels quadruples, but the size in inches stays the same.
This is far as the process goes tonight. I have to go to work, which means I will not have access to the fancy tablet, only the one with no pressure sensitivity. But now you see why I call the process “Zoom and enhance.”
As you can see, large chunks of the painting get cut off in the book itself. But that’s fine. I’ve made sure the elements I want to be seen in the book are within the pages. I want there to be a 16×9 slice of every painting for me to throw on Twitter or wherever, or use as desktop wallpapers, and while it would work fine to take a slice out of the middle of the images, and have the excess in the book, it felt more right to work in 16×9 at the start and be conscious of where the page borders are within that.
The rough idea is: storyboard an entire book in the fashion of the first image. If I like the book, run a crowdfund, if the crowdfund funds, zoom and enhance until we’re at least 300 DPI on each image to create the final book.
I want (at the moment) to use this process on Awesome Moments book 1. Minus the crowdfund portion because, as much as I want the money, I don’t want the pressure to try and avoid offending my fellow believers in wildly different traditions than mine. Much as I like my Papist and Baptist friends, if I make a book that’s inoffensive both to Papists and Baptists, I will have failed to pass my faith on to my kid.
But I don’t care about peer pressure on any of my own stories. If Bob Snob thinks page 32 of Hat Trick can use more fireballs, I’ll consider his input and maybe even take it if it’s good. There’s no moral hazard really, there.
The thing that’s holding me back from diving in and finishing Awesome Moments in this fashion is I’ve done one and a half pictures with this quasi-impressionistic loose-brush Zoom and Enhance paint cartooning:
I need a larger sample of the style before I decide if it’s the right one for Awesome Moments. So, unless I get another idea, I’m putting that book on hiatus until I complete another (hopefully short) book in the new style.
The only think that my mind wants to move forward on right now, sadly, is the Therian bestiary, which is not short. But in the absence of inspiration to work on, say, Jump the Shark or Hat Trick, it’ll do. The point is to get the test done.
I was under the weather this weekend, and it had been forever since I made any progress on any of my projects. So I painted.
Painting strengthens my artistic skills by forcing me to exercise observation and translation of form and light in ways that my normal, casual, caricature does not. I prefer cartooning to painting. I am more pleased in general with my results when cartooning than when painting. But painting makes me a better cartoonist. And besides: despite my lack of satisfaction with the results, I get absorbed into the process.
And when I have a big project, and progress is slow, it helps to stop and do a picture that takes all day, so you have a finished picture you can point to and say, “hah! I was on this day productive!”
First I did this one:
Interestingly to me, this more realistic version of Wren grows less and less disappointing every time I look at it. The first instant I declared it finished, I hated it. But now, I kinda sorta think it’s okay.
It’s a little stiff. A little plastic. But not terrible for all that. Anyway, whenever I try one of these paintings, I proceed from an energetic, lively, cartoony sketch to a kind of plastic, stiff final painting. Observe:
The picture got more detailed. The picture got more polished. But it also lost something of the personality. By finishing it, I killed it. And not in a good way.
This is not a problem outside my painting These pictures are finished, but retain all the life I poured into the sketches:
So, in a fit of dissatisfaction with my study in yellow and orange, I thought I’d try an experiment on Sunday. Instead of trying to create a fully polished painting, I’d try to paint a cartoon. I’d use a rough brush, and force myself to keep things loose, and abandon the project the moment I had successfully expressed whatever it was I was going for.
This picture runs into the constant problem of Wren’s cartoon proportions looking too young/old. I tell myself that it’s a function of the style I’m trying to build/imitate..
But I know it can be done. Betty Boop has a bigger head than cartoon Wren, and yet nobody thinks she’s supposed to be six.
But other than the problems I willingly gave myself by creating a female half-goblin lead, I really like the style of working from vague to precise, keeping it loose and scratchy all the while. Wren’s face is clear, her hands and feet are almost gestures rather than paintings. The monster in the cave look comes across clearly, but I only put half a day’s work into the painting. It has the life and an energy that the study in yellow lacks.
This semi-impressionistic work is a matter where I have mixed feelings. I like impressionism. I like attempts to go in art where the camera cannot go. As I’ve said before, I like caricature and pixel art. On the other hand, I have a well-honed distaste for abstract for the sake of abstract, for deconstructive or worse, masturbatory art that has typified the notion of art in the West my entire life.
But one of the things I like about text rather than art is that the audience participates in building the world. You write, “short ginger,” but each audience member fills in the details of the picture himself. And making the art messier, more suggestive, more abstract, pulls some of this superpower of writing into artwork.
I think I’ve concluded I want to do at least one book like this. But I need to do more paintings like this to try and explore this visual space and decide what I like or dislike about it. I’ve discovered not a solution to my problems, but a passage that may lead to a cave filled with gold, but may lead to a dead end.
At the very least, this form of picture generation is honest. I’m not trying to hide what parts of the painting I cared about and which I didn’t. It’s right there in front of you.
But I can’t explore today. I’m sorry, Mario, but our drawing tablet is in another office.
The game world is in pixel art, the interface is in HD. I have decided this is acceptable.
However, my action system needs revamping from the ground up. In this particular gif, you can see it almost functioning properly, but it has two huge bugs. One is that the mouse doesn’t work on the radial menu once the choice menu is coded. Second is that the mouse doesn’t work properly on the choice menu either. I don’t remember either of these bugs plaguing the project I stole the code from, but I could be mistaken.
Another issue with my action system is that actions can call each other and overlap in messy ways. When you select something from the radial menu or the choice menu, the menu should go away, then the selected action should take place. But this doesn’t happen.
What I’m going to do is rewrite the whole thing so it operates cleanly. It’ll probably take me all week, but it’ll be worth it in sparing myself future pain.
In preparation for this, and because Unity 2020 still rubs me wrong, I tried downgrading my project back to Unity 2019. It did not go well. As expected, the project broke, but when I tried to use git to roll back to a working version of the project, it didn’t unbreak. I’m an artsy type. I’m probably using git wrong. But, eh. I’ve decided to start a new Unity Project in 2019, skip the fancy 2D lights for now (not essential to the game), and proceed from there.
Normally, I would find wheel spinning like this demoralizing, but for some reason I don’t this time. I feel like I’m doing what I should.