I didn’t mean to let so much time go past without another update. It puts the wrong idea in people’s heads. I’ve had good days and bad days, most of the bad being due to other things than the chemo and disease. A missed med, a bad acupuncture session, etc.
I’m into my second round of chemo now. I know there is sometihng at war in my guts because I can feel things burbling and moving –not like gas, smart-alecks–and I am taking it as a sign that chemo is kicking some cancer butt.
Lovecraft kept an actual journal of his dying days, even through all the tremendous pain. An odd one to the end, he. Me, I first of all don’t plan on getting to that point, but if I do, I will be too tanked on morphine to do any writing.
I’m still moving forward slowly. I can get about a panel a day done when I’m feeling good. And I’m writing script pages for the new guy, and trying to work out all the wagging tails that must be settled in the final book. And there are a few pages I may just have to draw myself no matter what.
My own personal Cthulhu got his first taste of chemotherapy yesterday. It’s three drugs, but a 46 hour infusion, so I’m wearing a pump around till tomorrow. No side effects to speak of except, weirdly, an aversion to extreme cold, like the Old Gentleman himself. Only this is weirder. Cold tapwater feels like my fingers are being cut with tiny razors. Ice causes my throat to feel like it is constricting. I hate to think what touching my tongue to a cold flagpole in winter would be like. But these are all just sensations, not physical. Aside from the discomfort I could soak in an ice bath and drink iced tea to my heart’s content. It only lasts a day or two, so I’m good with it.
First couple of days here were hectic but we are settled in now. I’m getting a few hours in on LIM each day. I hope to finalize a deal with another artist when I get back home to finish out issue 5, which will be another 30 pages or so. I have seven completed without color now, and want to finish drawing this sequence before I go back and start color. We might even be up and running by the end of the month and make it through the end of the year without another disruption in service.
I’m writing out detailed notes for the climactic issue, so no matter what happens, the story will be wrapped up. Could be just notes, might be a mix of prose and pictures, might even make it into full comic pages.
Thanks to each and everyone of you for your good wishes, prayers and support. I appreciate it more you know,
Ok, we’re in the home stretch. No sense having done all this work and not getting your comic out there for people to see.. There are two basic options: publish it yourself, or go with one of the umbrella groups that publish multiple titles.
I took this route, not because of any particular merits of the method but because I didn’t know any better. However, it has worked out fine for me, and I’m not competing with other strips on the same site.
I use WordPress, with the Comic Press plug-in. Both are available for free download, but you have to have your own hosting site. (There are actually two WordPress optioons. The one linked above is WordPress.org, which is free; WordPress.com will host your site, but charges a fee and is less flexible than WordPress.org,
I have to say WordPress is not anywhere near as easy to install and manage as their promotoion would lead you to believe. WordPress is an open source program, so there’s no one funnel for information. I suppose if you’ve already mastered PHP and CSS you’ll do ok; otherwise, be prepared to spend a lot of hours searching for answers to what seem like basic questions. The forums are largely worthless.
Comic Press is fairly straightforward, and it makes loading the comic pages a snap. The forums are a little more organized, but I find that you still have to know CSS and PHP and general geek speak to be able to unbderstand a lot of the answers, or even to ask the questions.
Some people call these networks, others call them collective; I’m just feeling a little mavericky today. The idea is that one hosting service features multiple strips. Some are devoted to a single genre, like fantasy, while others are very diverse. Some only feature a handful of strips, others have dozens.
Here’s a list of links to the ones I know of, in no particular order:
Webcomics Nation -wide variety
Palace in the Sky – fantasy/anime/manga
DrunkDuck – wide variety
Koala Wallop - eclectic
+x comics – eclectic
Webcomics Inc -variety
There are a lot more, but these wil get you started.
Now here’s where the rubber hits the road. There are so many webcomics out there that you are sure to get lost in the shuffle if you don’t promote the site. If you have any visions of selling t-shirts and other merchandise, you’re going to have to get into paid advertising.
Your first step is going to have to be getting your SEO terms right. SEO stand for Search Engine Optimization, and the basic idea is that you have to choose keywords that not only fairly describe your content, but that are also used in your content in such a way that the search engine spiders can find and index the page. If i could explain it better than that I would, but frankly, I’m kind of on the dense side when it comes to stuff like this. I read dozens of online articles and checked out two books from the library and I still don’t know if I’m doing it right. I do the best I can, and my comic shows up on the first page of search results for various permutations of ‘Lovecraft’. That’s the goal: to appear as high in the search pages as possible. I’ve been told if you’re not in the top ten searches on something like Google, it’s unlikely anyone will ever navigate to page 1,006 to see your listing.
Next, you want to take advantage of the sites out there that offer free promotional opportunities. There are a number of webcomic indexes/lists that you can post to, Top Web Comics having by far the highest visibility.
Then there are comic message boards and review sites, both written and podcast. You can submit your comic, or post notes on a forum. I have no favorites in the written sites, and there are a million of them. I tend toward the horror related sites, obviously, but you should search for those sites that relate to your particular comic. Of the podcasts, I stick to Digital Strips, both for listening pleasure and trying to get the word out.
Advertising is a big step up, though it doesn’t have to be expensive. Most sites offer ad space, and the rates can vary widely depending on the popularity of the strip. The easiest way to get started with ads is Project Wonderful, which allows you to bid on ads on sites you select, and you are only charged for the time you’re ad is up. For instance, if you bid 50¢ a day on an ad, but only make it active for 12 hours, you would only pay 25$ if it was up all that period. If someone else bids 60¢ for 4 hours, your ad won’t be up, but you won’t be charged either. As soon as that other ad expires, your ad returns to the slot.
There are different size ads and thousands of sites available, though not all webcomics. You can even bid $0.00 and get some exposure on sites, though most bids are a few cents or more. The really popular strips, like Something Positive, get as much as $60.00 a day for their ad slots.
(And don’t forget, you can set up PW ad sites on your own strip and though you won’t get rich, the money that comes in can help pay for your own advertising.)
Finally, there are conventions. I haven’t explored this area too much, as there are few local cons, but this year and next I plan to travel to a few gatherings outside of Oklahoma.
One last piece of information: the Web Marketing Checklist. Not all of it is relevant to webcomcis, but it might give you a few ideas.
So get thee to it. Get your comic out there, promote the heck out of it, and enjoy the ride. There might even be a payoff at the end, but don’t get your hopes up. It will be so much sweeter if the payoff is icing rather than the cake.
I wish you all the best of luck.
Be here next Wednesday when the the blog returns with a new Occult Detective review
and, need I add, next Friday for the debut of Lovecraft is Missing Book 4: The Truth or Falsity of Our Beliefs.
Have a good weekend.
(I give up. I’ve spent all day trying to get the pictures to line up with the text, but no matter how I’ve redone it, they go where they want to go. They’re all in the vicinity of the relevant text, but excuse the crazy, sloppy layout. I’ll try to get it fixed over the next week…and I’ll have more to say about this in next week’s concluding post on Publishing.)
I’ve had a color theory class, read some books about it over the years; it’s a fascinating and complex subject, way beyond the scope of this post. And when all is said and done, it still comes down to taste. Educated taste, yes, but there are lots of folks out there with an intuitive sense of what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re not one of them, I can only recommend some books I’ve found helpful: Interaction of Color by Josef Albers, The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten, Color in Contemporary Painting by Charles LeClair and for more formulaic approaches, the Color Harmony series. If you’re self-motivated, just read lots of comics and analyze them. And remember, you often learn more studying the things you don’t like than studying your favorites. Just a thought.
I use Photoshop CS almost exclusively, though I am starting to experiment with doing some basic coloring in Flash CS4. For our purposes here, I’ll just talk Photoshop. If you don’t know how to use the software, there are plenty of classes at community colleges and lots of tutorials online. Like color, you’re on your own as far as learning the basics.
Also, there is one useful plugin for certain types of coloring that I find handy. Multifill, and it’s free from its maker, BPelt. It’s simple to use and for simpler coloring and selection it is ideal. The website explains how to use it.
I like to experiment, so I tend not to do things the same way every time. The examples I am going to give below are just some of the things I do, but they illustrate the power of using blending modes and give you an idea how I think. Both examples deal with light, but the treatments are pretty different.
After I’ve inked and lettered the page, I put all the dialogue and balloons layers into a folder (marked “dial”) and turn it off. This keeps the art work clear. I move my final art layer just beneath the dial folder, set the Blending Mode dropdown to Multiply, then lock the layer. Multiply makes the whites invisible, so I will be able to see the ink line, but the colored layers underneath will show through. You can also put the art on the bottom, leave the Blending Mode set on Normal, then set your colored layers to Multiply (or other options) but the effects I like have to be achieved through different means. It’s just what works for you.)
Light, and the lack of it, plays an important part in Lovecraft is Missing, but just for variety’s sake, there are some locations that are flat, ordinary daylight. Here’s where I find the Multifill filter handy. By following the directions, you can almost instantly get all your
panels filled with flat color. It won’t be the color you want, but it makes selection a snap.
In the example panel, with the art layer over the top of the Multifill, the sailor suit is easily selected; if the suit appears in multiple panels, you can Shift-Select all of them at once, use the Fill command and you’ve just colored all the sailor suits with one keystroke AND by-passed the anti-aliasing issues you get if you select the areas of the original art.
For a cartoony strip, or even a simpler adventure strip, this is a huge time-saver.
Blending Modes are a powerful tool in Photoshop and can be applied to brush strokes as well as to layers. I stick pretty much to layers out of habit, but even then I am always experimenting. Some modes give similar effects, others are radical depending on the colors involved. And by using multiple layers, the possibilities increase exponentially. A Hard Mix layer on top of a Multiply layer on top of a Difference layer will give you a completely different effect than those same three layers would if the order were reversed.
A solid but simple explanation of the Blending Modes can be found at Northlite Designs.
I usually start with a base color for an entire sequence or page. There’s no rhyme or reason for this, I just like to establish a mood in my head. But also, by working out of a base color, my panels already have a bit of color unity built in.
I don’t want to get into color theory, but to simply explain this notion, a color scheme is more unified or harmonious if all the colors contain a little touch of a base color. Pure colors tend to look very childlike. Next time you see a print ad that is largely blue, with, say, a yellow campfire in the distance, take a closer look. You’ll find that the yellow is actually a bit on the green side. The dominant blue sucks the blue out of the green and lets your eye read it as yellow, but a pure yellow would be garish.
Ok, moving on. In this example, I selected the areas of the panel and used the Hue/Saturation control to get the colors I wanted for the base. Then I clean up the anti-alias issues, and adjust the colors a bit more. You’ll notice, I’m sure, that what I ended up with doesn’t look anything like the base color.
Next come the shadows on the characters. On a new layer above the base color layer, I will paint in the shadow areas, usually with a medium purple color. This stems from my days in animation, where purple was used for double-exposure shadows. Black tends to deaden the shadows; other colors will work depending on your color scheme.
When done, I set the layer to Multiply, which darkens the purple, and I adjust the transparency to the level that works for my eye.
I want to stress that for every panel in a sequence, the trans setting may vary. And I don’t necessarily use the exact same shade of purple, either. For me this is a subtle way to ad visual variety, and it keeps me out of the formula trap.
I paint in shadows on other objects in the same scene, often on a separate layer.Some are painted on the objects, but I also use soft-edged vignettes to focus the scene
Then I set another new layer above what I’ve been working on and paint in the character highlights. Here I go with a color related to the source light. I will often leave the layer at Normal, but I also like to cycle through the Blending Modes to look for odd effects. (You can cycle through by selecting the layer, holding Shift and hitting + or -.)
My next steps are in no particular order. I just continue to adjust as I go. Here I’ve added a source light, which consists of three separate layers. I set the Freehand Select lasso to a 20 pixel feather, then select the area I want for my light. I use Fill to fill it with my chosen color, then set the Blending Mode to Lighten. Using slightly different, progressively smaller shapes, I will repeat this step, adjusting the transparency to get the effect I want. often, I will set the middle of these layers to Screen, for a slightly different effect.
Like I said, it’s all about taste.
This last step is something I do on occasion when I feel I’ve strayed a little too far from my original idea. I add another new layer on top, fill it with that original base color, which covers all the work I’ve done/
Then I will determine a Blending Mode/ transparency setting that takes the panel back to what I originally envisioned.
Although this the way I choose to work, you can actually use this step to unify any color scheme.
For the more dramatic lighting effects, I use a lot of mattes. These effects are among those that I mentioned earlier, the ones you can’t get (at least, not in the same way) if you put your art on the bottom layer instead of the top.
So, I pick my base color, as always, and leave the layer on Normal. I pull out the colors just as I did in the previous example
On a layer beneath that, I put the color of my light source. I’m not confined to just one patch of color on this layer, as the colors are only going to show through in the places where I remove the matte (a step we haven’t gotten to yet.) In other words, you can have a yellow patch for a warm light source on the left and a blue patch for a cool on the right, both on the same layer, in the same panel. But in the example, I’m only using the one color.
Returning to the base layer, select it and down at the bottom of the Layers palette, click the rectangle with a circle. On your base layer, you will now see and additional icon just to the right of your main icon. This is your matte.
Within the layer, if you click on the image icon, you can paint or draw on your image; if you click on the matte icon, you can only paint on the matte and you are limited to either black or white. These really aren’t colors, they represent the matte density.
If you set the brush tool to 100% with black chose, you will erase the matte with each stroke. The color on the layer underneath will show through the hole created. If you want to cover the hole up, paint over it with ‘white’ and it will cover the hole.
To achieve the lighting effect in the accompanying panel, I used a custom bristle brush shape, set to 10% black, and continuously stroked over the areas where I wanted the highlight color to show through. The color comes through most where I stroked the most, and least where I barely touched the matte. By keeping the brush strength low –ok, sometimes I’ll use 20% or 30% if there’s a lot of ground to cover– I can get a nice soft edge to the lights.
Shadows here are handled in the same way as previously demonstrated, but you can use this technique for soft shadows as well.
Finally, if an area needs texturing, I will select it, pick a texture from my file or make a new one, and paste it into the base layer. The matte will appear as a layer above the base layer, and is subject to all the same manipulation of Blending Modes and transparency as any other layer.
And as a final touch, I may apply adjustment layers, either to individual panels or the entire page, to even up contrast or desaturate the color…whatever I think makes it better.
And then….I go on to the next page.
One last thing: keep your master file in layers; you never know when you’ll want to go back and change something, or even see how you accomplished a certain effect. Do a Save as, THEN flatten your image. I work at 11×17, 300 dpi, but for the web I reduce it to 800 pixels wide, 72 dpi. More than once I’ve had to go back and change a misspelled word or tweak a color. With the master file, I can make the change and resave, and thereby not lose any quality on the posted page.
Well, I’m still feeling pretty good, appetitie good. I’ve made alot of progress on the LIM story and have been in discussions with a terrific artist, Ellis Goodson, to possibly pick up the art chores, at least through the end of issue 5 (the current one.) We are looking at some innovative ways to do the climactic book so as to keep from just running an outline version of the story but without having to draw every page. Some kind of hybrid is looking good, but we are still knocking ideas around.
I’ve also finished up several articles for Ed Hulse over at Blood ‘n’ Thunder magazine, knocked about 2,000 words of a new Carnacki short story, and added to my world bibliography on an obscure but popular European fictional detective, Nat Pinkerton. No moss growing on Larry Latham.
All this in addition to rounding up the five gazillion medical records and dealing with long-term benefits if I can’t return to my job. By 7 pm I am completely worn out.
Ok, appointment at MD Anderson confirmed, travel arrangements made, ass-kicking mental attitude amped up to red.
You know, if there were such a thing as Cthulhu, I think he’d be a cancerous tumor. If I didn’t already have a completely different idea for my own version of the big C (!), I think I’d got with that, but I’ve spent too long laying the groundwork for the story climax to change it that radically. Plus, I still think my idea is cool.
I guess any change in the body’s chemistry brings about various strange urges, like the proverbial link between pregnant women and pickles. For me, it’s been a craving to see Charlie Chan movies, especially those with Warner Oland. I’m not a particular Chan fan; I have far fonder memories of Boston Blackie and Sherlock Holmes and even Ma and Pa Kettle, but who am I to argue?
I’ve also been organizing my collection, getting it compacted down into one area of my house instead of strung out all over, and moving all other books out of the way. Wow, I have a lot of stuff! A lot of it is probably valueless (as opposed to worthless) but it sure means a lot to me. I even found a 1987 issue of Crypt of Cthulhu that I did the cover for, which I am reproducing below. My concept has changed radicaly, but hey, thirty years ago…..
I received two great pieces of news today that I want to share with everybody.
1.) MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has accepted me for treatment; they have experience with the particular rare cancer that I have. We are just working out scheduling.
2.) io9 posted an article today about 51 webcomics that have never been nominated for an Eisner award but SHOULD BE. Lovecraft is Missing is on the list. I’m flabbergasted and proud and pleased and stuff like that there. Given the fact that there are thousands of webcomics, and many done by highly professional people, to be included on this list is just….wow.
And right now, I am going to my workroom to work on the latest page as well. Looks to be a good day.
Obviously I am not going to give a drawing course in a single post, so I am going to assume you already know how to draw well enough to get your point across, or have an associate who is going to do it with you. But if you’re just starting out, the least I can do is introduce you to your enemies.
Twin Killers in Cheap Suits
Like all good demons, they hover around us perennially. Make no mistake, they want you, and they will do everything in their power to get you, though naturally, like all good demons, they’ll drape their evil in enticement and allure. That’s why they are so successful.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the two Crown Princes of Hell, Procrastination and Perfectionism.
There are, of course, charms to work against them, but only two: Commitment and Discipline. In some ways, that may sound like the game isn’t worth the candle, but in the end it comes down to your answer to this question: Do you want to do a webcomic or not?
I’m going to assume you said “yes.”
I think I put this in an earlier post, but it’s always worth repeating: Commitment means doing what needs to be done even, perhaps especially, when you don’t feel like it. It means that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. There’s always something else that needs doing, and always something else that seems like more fun. That’s where Procrastination is in its element.
The only real method I’ve ever found that is successful against Procrastination is the Five-Minute Rule. When you don’t feel like working on your comic, and in the absence of any life-threatening emergencies, commit to sitting down and working on your project for five minutes. Set a timer if you like. At the end of five minutes you reassess…and you’ll be surprised to find that your interest in working has increased.
Commitment also comes into play when you find yourself spending hours and hours over a single panel or face, always finding something wrong. That’s a sure sign Perfectionism has snuck up on you and sunk its teeth in.
There’s nothing wrong with standards. I believe in doing the best I can at any given moment. And the higher your standards, the more work your comic is going to be. That’s all to the good…
…except when your standards keep you from getting the work done, or even when they are severely impacting your life in a negative way. Derrick Ravey, over at Everyday Decay, has an interesting tale to tell in that regard, so I suggest you check out his blog.
Perfectionism’s greatest friend is unfocused Commitment. Are you committed to that one panel or to getting your story out to the public? It’s a balancing act, sure, but you have to decide.
And how does one do that?
Oooh, sounds kinky. But you don’t need to dress in leather for this one unless you want to.
You do have to remember that you’re going to get better as you go along. Your reach will, if you’re creative, always exceed your grasp.What’s perfect today is going to be imperfect tomorrow.
And you will improve more by doing a thousand decent panels than one or two ‘perfect’ones. That means learning to let go, move on, do it better next time. The point at which you let go is, unfortunately, up to you. It’s not an easy decision.
Discipline also reinforces Commitment. In fact, Discipline is the strength that allows you to keep your commitment.
You’re not a ‘writer’ or a ‘penciller,’ you’re a story-teller. Even a single gag panel is a story. The most incredible draftsmanship, the finest rendering, is not going to make much impact if it doesn’t convey its point. Flashy panel layouts and whacky perspectives won’t do it either. All can add to the impact of what you have to say, but in a pinch, clarity always trumps window dressing.
Play to Your Strengths
If you’re not (fill in the artist flavor-of-the-month here) then don’t get lost in pretending you are. You can be influenced -lack of influence, so they say, is lack of interest – but the sooner you find your own way, the more quickly you’ll find satisfaction in the work…and believe me, it is a lot of work. A LOT.
Now me, for instance, I have a shaky hand. I can sit and mope about not being as slick as this guy or as graphic as that one, I can put off drawing my comic because I think people won’t like my work, or I can get over it and incorporate my supposed weaknesses into my style. And although I always strive to improve, as should you, your style is going to emerge anyway, so the sooner you get to it, the sooner people wlll quit spotting the Mike Mignola swipes.
If all you draw is stick figures, then draw stick figures, the most expressive, powerful stick figures you’re capable of; that’s what it’s really all about, expression. Yeah, we all love to drool at the folks who draw for the ages, but comparing yourself to them is a dead-end game, ’cause you’re not them and you never will be them and if all you want is accolades then you really don’t want to express yourself in the first place. I guarantee that any successful story teller would be telling stories, even if they had to work in a laundromat to make a living. (Shades of Stephen King!)
There are lots of comics on the web that have very simple drawing styles and yet are still very popular, because it really is all about the story you tell. Take a gander at Order of the Stick, or the noob; A Softer World uses photos.
Lately rediscovered, likely by Bruce Timm when he redesigned Batman for animation, is the idea that you don’t have to draw realistically to tell compelling dramtic stories. Anyone who has ever read Dick Tracy strips from the thirties and forties could have told you that.
No matter what you set out to do, your own personal style will emerge over time, the amalgamation of all the things you’ve taken in during your life-to-date.
You can’t make all your decisions up front; your strip is going to grow and evolve. Waiting to finalize your drawing style is merely procrastination and/or perfectionism in a cheap suit.
But you don’t want to set out on this journey without some idea of where you’re headed. Too easy to get confused and lost, and that will kill you as surely in your storytelling as it will in a blizzard.
Just as with your script, you need to at least decide as much of what you want to say as you can…then feel free to change it as you go along.
It’s called growth.
Today is my 61st birthday.
Went to the oncologist yesterday. Aside from the fact that he was an asshole, I didn’t get much out of the appointment. Wow, could it be because he didn’t have my records or ct scan and, after my wife provided him with copies, he barely glanced at them? Or maybe it was the fact that he seemed genuinely perturbed that I didn’t feel bad like I am apparently supposed to. Either way, though I am not Pollyanna-ish about this, I don’t believe in this guy as far as I can spray urine, so we’re off to someone else. Trying to get into MD Anderson in Houston. We are supposed to hear by Thursday.
Prognosis? Well, nobody knows, and Dr. Doofus was so non-committal that I might as well just make my own guesstimate. On one hand he’s talking about possible years, and in the next breath 9 to 16 months.
One of the really positive things to come out of all this is the realization that I want to spend however much time I have left –and it might be years and years — doing the exact same stuff I am currently doing. Might like to travel a bit more, but writing, drawing, reading, collecting, yakking with my friends, enjoying the world, loving my wife….it really is who I am. That’s a big relief.
I’ve always known you folks were incredible, but I won’t reject the proof expressed in your comments. Thanks everyone for every good wish, thought, prayer, and hug. They feed me (in a good way) like nothing else can. A couple of people sent in cash donations, which is nice, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart, but it’s unnecessary. However, that money has been put aside with my advertising proceeds and other various cash into a fund that will be used to defray any costs of getting LIM finished or in book form.
I should get my biopsy results today. Then I’ll have a better idea of what happens next.