Captain’s Log L9·A1: The Dismal Science

Yesterday, after doing my Inktober stuff, I put together an interface mockup and (therefore) the interface graphics for the game I’m making over the next couple of months. I’m pretty proud of this, though it doesn’t run in-engine yet:

Couple of worldbuilding notes: I’ve decided in my game engine/game world that magic/stamina/special attacks use Star Points and life uses Heart Points (nothing too extreme here). Heart Points can be split into quarters and Star Points into 5ths for finer-grained HP/SP applications while keeping the interface readable at a glance.

Money is measured in chips. Which, in universe, each contain one dram aether, with a direct conversion of 12 chips/gil if I want to measure things in a game via gil. It’s a nice way to unify my various fantasy settings. A chip is just a 1 dram coin in the game world.

There are some pleasing coincidences. In my comic, I’ve been bopping back and forth between 320×180 and 160×90 for screen resolutions. The first is the obvious 16×9 retro resolution, the second I did half-size (and with the initial Rainboy palette) and called it the handheld version because I felt production was taking too long.

Anyways, I felt 320p was too big and 160p was too small, so I threw a dart at a resolution splitting the difference. I was aiming for 240p, but I hit 256p by accident.

You’ll notice in this gallery (at least on desktop) that the middle picture is shorter than the other two. That’s because the mockups were done in my tile editor, and assuming 16×16 tiles (which is most convenient for this style), 320×180 and 160×90 are vertically 11.25 and 5.625 tiles respectively.

But 256×144 is 16×9 tiles. Nice. In fact, I’m kicking myself for never thinking, “I wonder what would happen if I multiplied my tile size by the aspect ratio” before today.

Another nice coincidence is I made the interface panel the size that “felt right”. I was originally aiming to make the playable area a square, but that meant the interface would take up almost half the screen, and that was unacceptable.

I landed on doing 4 tiles wide of interface, which reduced the play field to 12×9.

12×9 is one off in each direction from 11×8, which are Fibonacci numbers. Which means the playing field vaguely in the ballpark of a golden rectangle.

Okay, to be honest, I’d want 14×9 to get as close to a golden rectangle as possible. But you know what? I like this rectangle. I find it aesthetically pleasing. I’m going to pretend that’s because it’s in a golden rectangle ballpark.

So here’s some sword animations before I get to the economic bit for which this post is named:

Continue reading “Captain’s Log L9·A1: The Dismal Science”

Captain’s Log L8·U1: Some things I aim to do

Right now I’m pushing ahead on getting Inktober drawings done. I’ve got 7 of the 31. I hope to finish the day at 8 or 9, and get 2 or 3 done tomorrow as well, then average 2 a day through September. To pull it off, though, I may need to scale them back. Do smaller pictures.

My other option is to do one or two a day, and do a comic a day in addition to that, to build up my backlog even further. And while Hat Trick and John Michael Jones are both calling out for work, I have another option as well. After all, I’ve been talking lately of which game I should make, if I were to try and make a go of making a business of making games…

Considered using one of my Unity builds..

And now I’m planning to switch to Godot. I want to reduce my reliance on Unity, and I want to reduce my reliance on Windows. I don’t trust either of those companies, least of all Microsoft.

And I’m thinking, let’s do it. Let’s build games that bring us inchwise closer and closer to Breath of the Gameboy.

So I’ve mocked up some Gameboy style graphics,

and I’m thinking make a short game where Arthur fights goblins in a graveyard over September and October, and then release it in November, just as Arthur starts fighting goblins in a graveyard on Bunny Trail Junction.

Then, next year, I can build up to and crowdfund 8 Lives Left.

Of course, my need is to make a living, and I still haven’t worked out a short term connection between my working on this and my paying my bills. I have a long term connection. January I’m planning to ring in the new year by going on a publicity blitz for Bunny Trail Junction. At that point I’ll have five months of comics, two to five months of backlog and, assuming I follow this plan, a video game. When I reach out to the internet at this point, I’ll have a lot of stuff to point them to, and a reason for them to tune in every day. Then if in, say, February or March, I run a crowdfund for 8 Lives Left, I’ll be able to build on that foundation.

I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, a seven comic arc going over the Hat Trick → 8 Lives Left → Breath of the Gameboy pipeline could ring in November, followed by the Hat Trick arc as it now sits, followed by some bestiary entries or something would make a decent November.

A Different Piece of Paper

Yesterday’s drawing and today’s drawing:

Part of this challenge is to master the brush. So, I’m not using my Tombows at all, just a #2 Round Princeton Mini Detailer. In both of these pictures. I’m not even using the Pentel pocket brush.

I expected my art to start out like that first picture and gradually move towards that second. Not to jump in a single day. Did I change anything?

Yes, actually. For my first two pictures I used Strathmore 100 lb Bristol Board. Since it’s too thick to feed through my printer, I’ve been doing my underdrawings on the computer, and using a light table to ink. But for the third picture, today’s picture, on a whim I decided to try my “printer Bristol Board”. It’s 67 lb, and not as smooth, but it comes in 11×17, so I can work much larger.

Now, working larger does make a piece look better because errors, smudges, and quivering hands are smoothed out by the greater distance. But! On an inch-for-inch basis, the second drawing is still better than the first. The lines have just as much energy, but are much better controlled.

The other change is I haven’t had caffeine today. For some reason, my craving for soda has been matched with an aversion for soda in the last two days, and the nice thing about having two warring impulses is it takes very little willpower to pick the one I’d like to win. May God let this continue.

The last observation is that I’ve been able to produce about one drawing a day since I got the prompts. But I need to do more than that if I’m going to have them ready in time. Moreover, I have reason to believe I’ll be sharply curtailed this weekend, maybe not able to draw a single picture.

I don’t know how to address that yet. I also don’t know how I’m going to store my finished pieces. I’ve been chucking my comics in dated envelopes, but 11×17 isn’t going to fit. Well, time to chew on those problems.

Dueling Spirits

The prompt list for Inktober 2021 dropped yesterday. The email says “don’t tell anyone ’til September 1st what’s on it,” but I am confident that my first essay doesn’t spoil anything. This picture is based on the first prompt, but it’s non-obvious.

But something else in the email caught my attention:

Please don’t share until September 1.


Now that you’ve got the list, use the month of September to sketch out and explore ideas!

The email assumes you will be drawing the Inktober prompts… in October!

With Bunny Trail Junction, I am (with the exception of Inktober) two months ahead, and my goal is to be six months ahead. You see, the spirit of Bunny Trail Junction is freedom. The freedom to jump around, work on whatever I feel like, confident that I can discard it or rearrange it before it comes out. The purpose of Bunny Trail Junction is to get all of my stories into the world without putting sufficient pressure on my flaws to make it fail.

The Spirit of Bunny Trail Junction is freedom, and this spirit is served by having a backlog.

The Spirit of Inktober is to encourage artists to produce a finished piece every day. The Spirit of Inktober is served by making setting aside specific days to produce and display finished pieces. The early release of the prompts is not so you can draw them in advance, it’s so you have time to think them over, do any research sketches you want.

These two spirits are intrinsically opposed. You don’t make a Bunny Trail Junction on the day it releases, you make it at least two months before that. You don’t make an Inktober drawing in advance, you make it on the day it is released.

There are four methods I can think of off the top of my head to resolve this conflict:

  1. The Worst of Both Worlds: Get the prompts ASAP (A week before September) and crank out 2+ pictures a day so you can have the monthly assembled by the ides. Does severe violence to the spirits both of Bunny Trail Junction and Inktober.
  2. Offset By A Year: Do Inktober properly. Publish it on Bunny Trail Junction a year later.
  3. Christmas Vacation: Publish normal comics in October, but do the Inktober challenge as well. Use the Inktober drawings to fill the December Monthly.
  4. Prompt in a Different Way: Similar to Offset By a Year, but instead of using the Inktober prompt list, I come up with my own prompt list to disguise the fact that I’m not doing the art at the same time as everyone else. This fits with coming up with my own branding for Inktober, and further, would allow me to pick a different 31 day month to execute in if I wish.

I am already committed to the Worst of Both Worlds solution for October 2021. However, I am considering the other solutions for 2022 and beyond.

Explorations in Ink

I’m going to post three panels from Bunny Trail Junction, but they are ripped from three different episodes:

Except they’re not just three different episodes. They’re three different workflows.

In Panel 1, I printed out two comic templates on a sheet of 8.5×11 paper. Since BTJ monthlies are printed 5×8, and this is scaled to use almost all of the page up, whereas the monthlies have generous margins, this means the artwork is, say, 20% bigger than its final form.

I letter in the text with a Pigma Micron 05, except for bold text which gets my Tombow しっかりbrush pen. (And know, I don’t know what the heck “shikkari” means, I just know enough Japanese to sound it out and produce the correct letters with my keyboard). Large pools of black are filled in with the Pentel Pocket Brush. Hatching is done with a Pigma Micron 01, and corrections/stars/white outlines on black are done with white Sakura Gelly Roll 10.

This is how the hand-drawn episodes have largely been done.

However this month, I decided to try something new.

For Panel 2, I printed my template so that one template fills an entire 8.5×11 sheet. This means I’m working at well over twice the final size, as the Good Lord intended. The lettering was done with the Tombow しっかりbrush pen, with bold provided by the Tombow な(?)やか brush pen. In this case, I’m not actually sure I read the kana right. It’s something-ya-ka anyway. Maybe that first symbol is a kanji I have yet to learn (that would be most of them). The scene is then drawn with a blue pencil (like the first), but inked with the pentel pocket brush. I have a lot less control over the pocket brush than I do over the Tombows, so the result is less consistent, but it has a certain life to it that the Tombow art lacks. Again, I use my Gelly Roller for white bits and my Pigma Micron 01 for hatching. Which looks about the same, despite the fact that it should look noticeably thinner.

Panel 3 was a process I “Prototyped” yesterday. I noticed that some of my art looked from ink leeching into the paper around my brushstrokes and decided to try drawing the comic on Bristol Board, as if I were some sort of professional.

Other than that, the process is identical to 2. Well, not exactly. Since I can’t print my template onto the bristol board, I have to use a light table to project the template through. And if I’m going to project the template through, I can “pencil” on my computer and print the pencils out, which allows me to use all sorts of hacks like selecting, rotating, scaling, and smudging to more quickly assemble my scene.

The lines are, indeed, crisper on bristol board. There’s a reason it’s the industry standard. However, I still don’t have good control over the pocket brush. Moreover, because the ink doesn’t leech into the surrounding paper particles as much, it also dries much slower, and it is easy for someone sloppy — someone like me — to smear it with his hand.

At this moment, I have half a mind to go back to the Tombows for illustrating. Maybe use the bold/mystery meat tombow for outlining at this double scale, see how well it handles on Bristol Board. But I really want to keep that life that the pocket brush is giving me.

Here’s a test panel of John Michael Jones, illustrated in like manner to the above, but then colored with the Rainboy palette:

My plan, at this moment, is to take it up a level. Use an actual paintbrush and actual ink for Inktober. Then back off and try a few comics with the Tombows after I’ve finished that gauntlet.

Prompts drop tomorrow. Here’s hoping I hit the ground running.

Sticker Stars

So here’s basically all the characters I had as tests of the new pixel art style, plus Octoboy and Piranha. I decided to meet in the middle on the linework: Jump and me have thinner lines than our previous outing. Octoboy and Piranha haven’t been updated to have thicker lines yet, but I’ll let it be for now. It stands out like a sore thumb to me, but it’s decent art for all that, and you wouldn’t notice it didn’t match without me telling you.

I’m utterly uninspired to work on any game at the moment, and have just been fine-tuning the process of producing stickers, which is what I’m calling the HD sprites. I do intend to start jamming on a game, though at this point I think I might start on the dot in September instead of starting now. That rules out Halloween, which averts certain temptations for me.

Well, some elements of Bunny Trail Junction have not functioned gracefully. So I’m off to go fix those bits. I’ll probably use my stickers to make some basic merch as well.

Bunny Trail Junction is a Machine

Today, I got the finishing touches on the September Monthly done and sent away to Amazon. Because part of it was trying to make a preview image for the Inktober Monthly, I ended up “finishing” the cover for October as well.

I’m not content with it. Piranha, in the foreground, has a funny looking head, and not funny looking in a way that I prefer. Perhaps I will do a new version tomorrow, and fix or replace the cover. Nevertheless, it is work well done for all its faults, and I may just move on with my life. For such is the mantra of Bunny Trail Junction.

Made this bit of art for the interior, though, of which I feel justly proud:

I’d like to take a moment to go on about how much of a machine Bunny Trail Junction is.

Every weekend, I upload a week or two of comics to the site. August is set. September is halfway done. It’ll be completely done tomorrow or Monday.

The September monthly is done. I’m just waiting for KDP to decide if they want to pick nits. There is already merchandise available on Teespring based on the September art.

October is going to be Inktober, which means I’m going to be busting my butt trying to get it ready in time when the Inktober prompt list drops. But I have enough strips already to run November.

I don’t want to run November based on just the strips I have. I want to have a wider selection, so it can be higher quality. But if I had to, I could. And by the time September is done, I should be good for November and December, which means I should be good to create the first Annual.

I have created a monster. It’s amazing.

I mean, yeah, it doesn’t make money. Not yet, maybe not ever. And it is not for me to say my work will stand the test of time.

But in 12 months, I will have 12 monthlies. My stories can blossom and grow on this comic, some into good fruit, some into bad.

I do need to figure out how to make a living.

I’m not worrying about it too hard right now. I’ve worried about it hard for darn near 20 years, and that hasn’t solved it for me.

I’ll feed this machine I’ve created until next month, when I see a doctor about my chronic underachievement, and depending on how that goes, I guess we’ll see.

But you know, there is something about this machine.

It’s a machine that should work despite my flaws. And it’s bigger and better than I thought my flaws could ever allow. And that’s why I’m so self-impressed.

Pride goeth before the fall. So ask again in a year, I suppose.

Thanks, I hate it.

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.

Aaannd..

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.

But!

I feel like we took a detour that was needed to be sure of the road.

Captain’s Log 21.6|16.A: Zoom and Enhance

Yesterday I told a tale of two paintings.

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.

A tale of two paintings

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.