The King of Formats II

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 have to care.

Captain’s Log 21.6 | 21.A: Concept Singularity 2

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.

For general blog readability, I’m tucking this beneath a fold, but the conclusion came to me the next day.

Continue reading “Captain’s Log 21.6 | 21.A: Concept Singularity 2”

Captain’s Log 0210514.053, the End of an Era

A lot of stuff has come together in the last few days.

  1. As of yesterday, KDP has approved me for a hardcover test. I’m currently uploading and tweaking files for Awesome Moments as a hardcover, which is my preferred format for that book. That is today’s “work”, though I may do other things in tinker mode.
  2. I’m almost done with the first draft of the 3rd Jump the Shark book.
  3. My research on ADHD for my kids’ sake has peaked, and I have become resolved to seek treatment because there are several sensible life paths I can take, where only my symptoms stop me. I am not certain, but I am leaning towards ramping up Indie games.. e.g. choosing a game I wish to make, making a fraction of it, selling that, then adding another fraction, and so on.
  4. The conditions that allowed me to avoid a day job, or other form of gainful employment, are suddenly reaching an end. I have been given basically a year off by a combination of priorities and indecision. But that year is drawing to a close regardless of what I do.

In good news, the concept art for the new Jump book is getting rapidly more iconic.

I am not yet the creator I wish to be, but I am observably improving.

Anyway, once I get the hardcover “working”, my plan is to

A) Try out Thomas Brush’s 2D game toolkit.

B) Sort out my next step.

Captain’s Log 0210510.123

I don’t know why I wander away from these simple formula children’s books. It’s hubris. Why do I think I’m better than this kind of work, especially given that every time I return to it, I up my game a serious amount?

Five or six more books of this sort, and I’ll actually be objectively good rather than just “Well, there is technically worse stuff available for sale at Walmart, and I did learn something, so I’m gonna call this a win.”

Captain’s Log 0210507.084

I’ve decided to storyboard a book in which Jump the Shark fights a giant robot on a volcano. Standard Kid’s Pulp formula faire, designed to be read to your kid in 7 minutes before bed, and yet be entertaining for all.

This is partly due to peer pressure…

Partly due to the fact that I’ve pursued my prototyping comic extensively for the last couple of weeks, and, stepping back, I’m not sure what I think of it. I think I’m investing too much effort for something I’m supposed to be able to take or leave on the cutting room floor, but not enough effort for something I’d like to sell.

For the last week or so, I’ve been assuming the comic is a resounding success that adequately pursues my goals while giving enough headway to my ADHD to avoid being confounded by it. But now I’m not sure. I want to trash or heavily revise two or three long-running storylines in the comic — and fair enough. It was designed so I could take it or leave it — but I’ve invested enough in the art that it’s a genuine emotional struggle.

Making a formula book is a good way to take a step back. It gives me the boost of adding another finished product to my lineup. It allows me to focus on all the lessons I’ve learned making books thus far, whereas more “serious” work, while incorporating those lessons, isn’t focused on them. It’s also a good dose of humility. I need to remind myself that my artistic pretensions are no substitute for skill, and what I want is not more important than what my audience wants.

And it’s an excuse to just have fun. The Jump the Shark books are me bullshitting for the sake of bullshitting for the entertainment of myself and my offspring. And, probably because they have that energy, people respond to them.

But frankly, there’s a part of me that thinks I should just make big ol’ children’s books. It’s the one win I ever get. I am inevitably drawn off that path, and yet whenever I step back on the path, things work out better. If I just stuck with it, I might see some proper success, too.

Anyway, I’m considering switching from a workflow of making these comics every day to a workflow of just building draft PDFs of children’s books. Maybe do a few pages of Jump the Shark, a few of Hat Trick, whatever strikes my fancy, all of them by the book and hewing to the formula (until such time as I have mastered the formula) and then produce whichever one is ready to go first.

In side news, I’ve been sculpting Crossover Arcade characters to fit in a toy voxel diorama world.

I really like this look. I want to use it for something some day. A book perhaps. But that’s… a lot more work between here and a finished product (although it will have the advantage that each finished book will make sequels exponentially easier due to asset reuse).

Bunny Trail

First order of business: got myself a name and a logo for my prototyping comic.

This is not the June 2021 cover. It’s a test. A mockup. Because the actual covers will feature this background, but with appropriate characters frolicking about. But this is a significant step toward that, AND it tells me what I need to know in my design process. And I think it’s nice to look at.

Captain’s Log 0210430.111

On the last day of April, we are at 45 comics. Enough to have a backlog of a month, right? Well, technically, yes. I’d like to go another month before I pull the trigger so I can be more selective, but I’m very pleased with how I’m going.

My comic template has lines pre-scribed so I can divide the panels in half if I want. I tested that for the first time today.

It works well enough. Ideally, we’d export with that center strip transparent instead of white, but we’ll let it be for now.

At the moment, I have a pattern of 1 comic on my days off, and 2-5 on my days on. So far, it has balanced out so that on my days on, I scan in 4 comics, so that’s nice. The plan is to keep production ramped up for a month, then produce a book, a website, the subscription, etcetera.

The ultimate plan is to always do at least one strip a day to keep my backlog, but to work full time on projects like Awesome Moments, Last Legend, or what have you in one-month blocks, then switch to a month of going all out on the comic to keep the backlog up. The comic will always be available free online, and as cheap paperbacks, but those who want can subscribe to fund my undertakings, and then individual, higher quality projects will be prototyped in the comic, crowdfunded, and produced.

RE: ADHD Unleashed…

I have a few thoughts there, but we’ll come back to that after we get some chores handled.

Captain’s log: 0210423.064: Mini Knights?

So, on a lark, I decided to try printing out templates to just draw twitter/KDP formatted comics on. And the idea, then, was I would just draw whatever I felt like. Hopefully, with the constraint that I am just scribbling ideas down, I can generate 2 or more per day, and after a month or two, show up with the best 30.

After my visit with my man, Greg, last weekend, I decided that trying to make things cheaply and quick needed to take a back seat to considering why a thing is awesome and looking for the awesomeness. My man, Greg, said, of spending more time and effort on a project, “is that effort worthwhile?”

While I mulled it over, I tinkered with making an HD hand drawn game.

After debating it for a while, I realized that hand drawing a black and white, three panel comic is not bad. I just need to be focusing on creating the best thing I can rather than being as efficient as I can. So I jumped back on the train of trying to crank out 2+ comics a day. And this time, I just jumped into trying to make Jump the Shark / Crossover Arcade.

The art is getting nicer and nicer. There are some really good moments. I’m starting to be actually proud of some of the stuff I’m cranking out.

But the thing is, I’m not just alpha-testing my kids’ books as a comic. I’m dumping anything I think of on the page. I’m using this format to exorcise my inventions. Then I can further develop any that I consider worthwhile. So, interspersed with me laying down the start of a Jump the Shark story, this happens:

Cute V-Knights Game Concept

It’s getting added to the list of projects.

So, for the next few weeks, my plan is to keep cranking out comics, keep praying and considering my next move. When I’m active on producing a project, such as when I do the Kickstarter for Awesome Moments, I will aim at a maintenance pace of one comic per day. Otherwise I’ll try to alternate months of building up backlog (2+ per day) and months of maintaining. But today, I may, may work on creating an animated mini knight sprite instead.

Because I can’t find my pens. Which is pretty serious. And will be the focus of an intense search once the house is roused, but I’ve gone as far as I can without rousing the house, and I need to tap my creative hours while I still got ’em.

Update:

So, the first step in building a part-swap based character is what I call the Solar Guard. The Solar Guard is low resolution, and has as many spikes sticking out as far as possible, so that future characters drawn over the top of the solar guard have plenty of room for crests, ornamentation, and the like. That’s this guy:

And the solar guard for my robots?

I figured a spear and a shield would be a good way to get maximum size and make sure enough space was reserved in the picture, and this certainly looks cool but… I’m rethinking that. I’m starting to think I want to approach the arms differently. Create something more universal and less dedicated for the base arm, and have shields, spears, etcetera, fold out when used.

Cache Miss? Crossover Arcade? Alpha Test?

To be honest, I’m thinking of naming the comic Brain Dump, or else, ADHD On Purpose. My one guiding principle is I have no guiding principles. If I have a thought and my pens, down goes a 3-panel comic. My hope is that if I produce fast enough and many enough, eventually I will be able to curate quality stories out of a mountain of mostly trash drawings.

Yet Another List of Projects

Yesterday, I went through my old attempts to build a 3D basis for book making and extracted a new proportion set:

Big feet, big hands, big heads gives a cartoon/toy feel. Sculpted forms plays into my prejudices also. I think it will do. I won’t know until I model a couple of characters, and ultimately make a book with them. But I have a good feeling about this set.

The single, most efficient way to test this idea of using lego people to make books is to design a book that only has one character. At most, two. Preferably a constant background. Preferably a blank background.

Basically, The Monster at the end of this Book.

Vintage Books for the Very Young: The Monster at the End ...

Although, come to think of it, making posters would be a good intermediate step. Just having finished, printable pictures would tell me a lot of what I need to go to keep, cancel, or modify the project. So, my prior contention that I should just use this as a way to do the Original Character challenge is probably the way to go. And that is probably what I’ll do.

But I started this blog post with the intention of listing as many potential projects as occur to me in the off chance that one of them will have an obvious “Monster at the End of this Book” story I can tell. And having that list will be useful. So I’m still going to make it. In alphabeticalish order.

Read on, reader!

Awesome Moments Models

Last time I spent any time on the Awesome Moments project, a few months ago, I came up with some drawings and a concept for proportions based on the drawings.

The idea is to make what I call “lego people”. Not that they have any physical resemblance to legos, but that I have hands and torsos and legs and heads and hairpieces that I can mix and match to create several different cartoony characters.

And the art style is an art style I can be happy with for most of my projects because, using them as a basis for paintings, I can produce higher quality books faster than if I were drawing them.

Mind you, I’m not 100% sure I don’t want to draw them yet. Only 90%. I’m sculpting and sketching away secure in the knowledge that I don’t need to make that decision until the book is ready to harvest from my deck box.

Thing is, this is not the first time I had the idea to do lego people for a project.

Continue reading “Awesome Moments Models”