The argument of Inking for the sake of printing is also obsolete in my opinion. Printing gray tones or full color paintings is just as easy as black and white now days. Printing in solid back and white is still cheaper but you can still adjust clean pencils to be black and white by boosting the contrast.
So for example, here’s one of my panels scanned from paper. This is a lower quality jpg so the image is a bit more blurry then my files but it should be good enough for this simple tutorial.

Here’s a closer look to see that it really is pencil. Number 2 pencil, to be exact.

If you select Levels in Photoshop by pressing Command+L (Mac) and whatever for Windows, then you will get this box. It might look different depending on what version of Photoshop you have.

Now pull in the sides until your lines get nice and black without screwing up the edges. If you want to go solid black & white then make sure your lines are nice and sharp as well as making a very high resolution scan.

I keep lots of grays to keep the subtile pencil marks in some places and there you have it.

Now I just need to clean up this crappy drawing. Sometimes my problem with this method is knowing I can fix any pencil lines I don’t like in Photoshop.  I end up flying through my final pencils with a bunch of little mistakes to correct later.

The other option is digital inking with a Cintiq or Wacom Tablet. I do this with an old comic that I’m slowly redrawing. It’s so easy it makes me question if I should even be drawing with pencils anymore. I just scan my thumbnail into photoshop and then lower the opacity of that layer. Then I make a new layer and with a black round brush tip, I draw my final lines. Instant Pencils and Inks in one easy step. It’s as easy to control as a pencil (especially with a Cintiq) and you can erase it as many times as needed before getting it right.

In the end, I guess it all depends on you. If you like traditional inking or if you’re a rock star inker then go for it. I just needed to eliminate unnecessary steps (and weaknesses) to speed up my output without sacrificing quality.

That’s my two cents.

Here is Spread 14 along with a few of the steps of my process. The only stage I’m missing is the thumbnail because I’m to lazy to scan it. Click to enlarge.

This week was pretty productive with reMIND. I almost finished coloring 4 pages (2 spreads) and I sketched some thumbnails for my Flight submission. I also think I figured out how I want my word balloons to look finally. This spread is an example of what I’m thinking so far. It’s more of a hand drawn look to match my art and lettering. I’m also toying with the idea of making each characters word balloon a unique color. I’m not sure if this will help or just make the pages look more colorful. We will see as the pages go. I’ll try to incorporate the color balloons from now on.

So, we are approaching the end of the first chapter finally. I think there will be 7 chapters total divided into 2 hard cover books about 130 pages each. It’s my attempt at bridging the gap between European and American comics. European comics are cool because they a treated more like books from what I’ve seen. They are around 40 to 64 pages and they come out whenever the artist finishes, sometimes taking a year or two. There’s just something I really like about that. It’s more about getting it right then hitting a monthly deadline. My only difference is printing in dimensions of standard American comics and having more pages so it’s a nice thick hard bound book. Anyway, enough of my idealistic daydreaming babble, there are several things I want to share today so I better begin.

First of all, notice the new advertisement that is on the left hand side of the blog. I just started this Saturday to see the results. If anyone has a graphic novel related blog then please join Project Wonderful and put your ad up here. It’s free until someone else outbids you. Plus if I end up getting a few bucks a month from it then I could use that to advertise on other sites.  Allowing others to advertise on my site brought up an interesting strategy. If you do a search on Project Wonderful for smaller sites without others bidding yet, then you can potentially put ads up on several sites without paying for any advertising. Just have your maximum bid at $0 and if no one else is bidding then your ad will pop up. It’s just an idea based on a few people doing that with my site. Another thing I’ve noticed is how inflated the numbers seem to be in the site statistics for my site on Project Wonderful. This makes me question how accurate the numbers are for some of the other sites I’m buying ad space on. It might just be a glitch so I’ll keep my eye on it and let you know how it goes.

Second, I wanted to say thanks for all your feedback last week with the ads. It’s been really helpful and has worked wonders for bringing in new viewers. Saturday was my best day yet. I placed an ad for $2 and brought in almost 200 unique viewers with a very low bounce rate.  It looks like quite a few people subscribed as well. Advertising on other webcomics really works for bringing traffic to an online graphic novel.

Third, I wanted to point at a few people out there who are making some interesting comics and blogging about it . I’m going to add these guys to my list of Comic Creator Blogs at the top left of this site. Please note that this list might change solely on how I feel about it. Later on I plan on making a giant list of links on my links page.

Other Good Comic Creator Blogs:

Shane M. Vidaurri

SMVidaurri.blogspot.com – Blog

SMVidaurri.com – Illustration site

I met this guy on the Flight Forum and have been following him ever since. Shane has been making a beautiful water colored comic and posting pages on his blog. Check it out and show him some love. He does some neat compositions and has a great style.

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Yaxin the Faun – Man Arenas 

I don’t know to much about this guy because I can’t read his blog but his graphic novel “Yaxin the Faun” is so beautiful that I just had to share it with anyone wanting inspiration. He also has a artist blog with other amazing art. His page layouts and compositions are really cool. His colors and character designs are quite good too.

yacinfields.blogspot.com – Yaxin the Faun

man-arenas-news.blogspot.com – Art blog

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Sam Mooney – a Manga Addict

Sam is living in Japan and drawing lots of short Manga stories on the side. He has some interesting compositions and stories techniques. I hope Sam keeps making progress on these and keeps sharing his artistic journey.

amangaaddict.blogspot.com – Manga Blog

nihonniiru.blogspot.com – Main Blog

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I have a few friends who are also starting a graphic novel blog. I’ll share them when they have some stuff to show.  If you have a blog specifically about making a graphic novel, showing your progress or techniques then please send it my way. I’d love to check it out and and maybe even list it here.

Model Sheets, Character Turnarounds and Expression Sheets!

One of the things I’m asked is how I keep my drawing style consistent on a project that’s taken over three years of my free time. Part of the reason is because I’m drawing a style that’s natural for me. My style. But I also recommend making a model sheet or character turnaround. This is extremely important if you’re working as a team to create a graphic novel. While working in the movie and animation industry, this has been an important learning experience. Sometimes I like to stray from the model sheet when trying to express an emotion. But knowing what to stray from needs to be in place before you can stray from it. In fact, I can really stress it’s importance now because I didn’t think I needed one for Sonja in reMIND and now she’s giving me problems every time I try to draw her face from a new angle or with a different expression.

My Definitions:

Model sheets are posed characters, styled ideally for a project. They can be referenced in order to keep an artist or team of artists “on model”.

Character Turnarounds are similar to model sheets but focus on the front, three quarters, profile and back views. I’ve seen Turnarounds with up to 8 angles. Some turnarounds only focus on closeups of the head at different angles.

Expression Sheets are examples of the range of typical expressions a main character might have to refer to later when trying to keep a characters personality “on model”. Here’s a good example I found online.

There are other names for these but you get the idea. They are all designed to help you keep consistent. Constancy is key to being a professional looking artist.  Notice I said “professional looking”. If your art is professional looking then it won’t be long until you are a professional artist.

My first commercial animation job was animating Barbie for Mattel. What a nightmare. Don’t ever take a job from Mattel. Anyway, we were forced to crank out animation without an approved model sheet and then when the model sheet was approved it kept changing. We ended up reanimating the same characters over and over.

I was hired later to design a character for a Windows XP commercial and the first thing I insisted was getting the final approval on a model sheet or turnaround before any animation started. Here’s what I ended up creating for the character turnarounds.

Notice the attention to details in height and proportions as well as pockets and folds in the clothes. You should be able to draw a horizontal line across any part in a turnaround and have the lines hit the same point of the character across the board. This is important to figure out at the start so you don’t have to redraw anything later when you realize the strap in the front never goes anywhere on the back. Not to mention just figuring out all the angles and faces really good. Another good idea is to make an expression sheet with several common poses and expressions. You can build these with notes of things to remember like what the buttons look like or the bottom of the shoes or how that fold in the pant leg looks. Here’s what I came up for Windows.

Another brilliant idea is to make a head bust, sculpture or marquette of your character to view from multiple angles and under different lighting conditions. I’ll go into this in a later post.

We were lucky enough to get James Baxter to do the character animation for this commercial. James is a legend in the animation industry.

Even though this example is from a commercial, all the same rules apply for your graphic novel. I learned it the hard way. I made one for Victuals but I never made one for Sonja. Now I need to keep reworking Sonja over and over until she looks the same throughout the book. Make a model sheet or a turnaround!

All this artwork was created at Stardust Studios. If you want to see the final commercial go to Stardust.tv. Click on their Library link at the top left and filter by “Tech”. Then look for “Windows XP: Monster 2”.  Sorry there’s not an easier path. Stupid Flash.

This week has been swamped with everything but reMIND. I’ve started worrying about running out of spreads to post every Monday. I even considered just posting half spreads (1 page at a time) instead for the next month or two to give myself some time to finish up the newer pages. As you can see, I still put up a spread. There’s nothing more motivating then a shorter deadline to keep the ball rolling. I’m planning on staying up late tonight to color another one so I can feel better about myself.

Advertising with Project Wonderful

This week I’ve been looking around at tons of sites noticing just how much traffic some web comics get. I guess I just don’t understand how a web comic can get 50,000 or more unique visitors a day like the Phoenix Requiem.  I seem to be missing something.  I mean the comic is beautiful looking but how in the world can someone generate that much traffic!  I just don’t understand.  I read in an interview that every now and then Sarah Ellerton, the creator, does bursts of advertising on a bunch of websites to draw in new readers.  You can read the interview here.

So I looked into Project Wonderful. It’s an ad service that many webcomics use allowing them to bid on advertising space. I decided to give it a shot to see what happens.  I made a bunch of banners and I bought about 5 ad spots on webcomic sites. I placed a few bids and got some ad spots for 20 cents a day and one around $5 a day. I don’t mind spending a little to test this stuff out.

The results so far have been pretty good with about 400 unique viewers in a 24 hour period before getting out bid.  I only ended up spending about four dollars so far. I can see how some of these guys can pull in 1000 unique viewers a day by just doing some smart advertising. So the next question is; should I start an advertising budget for reMIND? If I don’t buy a Starbucks coffee a day I could pay to get 300 unique viewers, all very targeted. Maybe 2% of them will keep coming back every week. That would mean I spent 4 bucks for 6 followers. Hmmm. Could it be that easy?

In doing this little test I noticed a few ads kept showing up on all the hot sites out there. Whoever these guys are, they sure spend the money to advertise. Nobody would be spending that kind of money if it didn’t bring a good return on investment. I definitely need to study this more. One thing I’m going to do is get the book called “How to Make Webcomics“. I’m not trying to make webcomics really but I think they could have some good information which could apply to what I’m trying to do here.  I’ll let you know what I think of it after I read it.

So I spent Saturday night working on some banner ads and I wanted to get someone’s opinion. Here they are. Let me know what you think if you have a second to comment.

So there you have it.  All my banners. Any feedback would be great!

In the advertising world there is a simple theory that if you’re given lots of options, it’s hard to make up your mind and you’ll never buy anything. But if greeted with one or two options, it’s easy to decide and you spend lots of cash. Well, that’s what some people think anyway. Just look at Apple products. They only have one option when buying a phone. The iPhone. They only have a few options for laptops and computers….and…the iPad?

I am this way when trying to decide where to post my blog, comic or artwork online. I’ve studied all kinds of options.  I tried multiple services for years with my portfolio. I learned Flash and built animated menus. I tried free portfolios. Even MySpace for some dumb reason. I’ve used many hosting sites some of which really sucked and some were okay but overwhelming when trying to settle on a hosting package. I mean, what’s SSH, SSL, CGI, Ruby, RoR, Perl, PHP, and MySQL? Please don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know.

So to make this simple, I’m not going to go into all the options, hosts, sites and portals that you can use. Instead I will focus on the two best ways for artists to start a blog or comic online. I might talk about BAD options later, but not now.

The two best options are Google’s Blogger or WordPress.org. Both are great and could be your Internet home depending on what you want out of it.  Before you decide, here are pros and cons of each that are important to me as an artist.

Google’s Blogger (Blogspot domains)


Blogger – Pros

  • Blogger is super easy
  • Blogger has free hosting of your blog and files.
  • Blogger is easy to access from any online computer.
  • Blogger does not spam your site with unwanted ads.
  • Blogger has a big artist community.
  • You don’t need to know any programming at all. Period.

Blogger – Cons

  • Blogger has to have (.blogspot) within you domain name. Unless you forward one to it but that costs money.
  • Blogger has limited templates to choose from.
  • Blogger does not have a menu bar.
  • If you want to move to another host later then all your permalinks are permafried.

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WordPress.org with ComicPress template


WordPress – Pros

  • ComicPress.
  • WordPress has thousands of free plug-ins and widgets.
  • which means WordPress is easy to customize to do ANYTHING you want.
  • WordPress has the ComicPress template to help showcase your comics in addition to your blog.
  • All your permalinks are registered to your domain name so they can be moved to a different host without changing your links.
  • WordPress has page options and so it could pass as a website or portfolio as well as a blog.
  • Comicpress allows you to click through your comic pages easily as well as many other features.

WordPress – Cons

  • WordPress takes a bit more time to set up.
  • ComicPress takes some knowledge of CSS to customize.
  • WordPress needs a webhost to store your files.
  • You need to buy a domain name and web hosting service.
  • I recently noticed lots of spam comments. But this can be controlled. It’s still a little hassle.

So there you have it. If you want things as simple as possible then use Blogger but don’t expect it to be unique. If you want more info on the two then do the google search: Blogger vs. WordPress. You might want to get comfortable. It’s an endless search. But that just proves they are the two best choices.

I switched to WordPress because I wanted to start having a professional presence on the web. I wanted my site/blog to have a unique feel as well as other pages with links and information aside from my blog. I liked the idea of controlling my permalinks and content too. Here’s what reMINDblog looked like on Blogger. It’s still active but I rarely update it.  But if you decide to set up a WordPress blog then I strongly recommend one host.

Bluehost.com

I’ve used many hosts before and the only one I will recommend is Bluehost. In fact Bluehost will give you a free Domain name for life if you use them as your host.  It’s $6.95 a month for everything.  Wordpress recommends Bluehost above all the other hosts and Bluehost is the only one to offer a WordPress auto install. I used it and it set up everything in a minute and logged me onto my new WordPress site. Bluehost also includes everything you need for WordPress and Comicpress to function. Bluehost has unlimited bandwidth. This is important if your art or comic gets popular. You don’t want your site getting shut down when tons of people start flocking to it or be forced to pay more money for more bandwidth.

You will need to buy a domain name too.

Usually about $10 a year. Use Bluehost.com not Godaddy.com. I have many domain names I’ve bought over the years through Godaddy and I hate logging in because it’s a maze of confusion and unnecessary complications. And Godaddy’s customer service is like talking to death. Bluehost is very simple without all kinds of stupid add-on options slapping you in the face trying to force more money out of you like Godaddy. I’m slowly moving all my domains to Bluehost now.

The only thing that takes time to get set up is ComicPress.org. Like I said before, it takes some CSS knowledge (which I have none) if you want to change it up much.  Luckily I have a good friend who knows how to do that sort of thing. The CSS thing is the biggest drawback, in my opinion. But after the initial setup, it’s been a breeze ever since. I love it! I love Bluehost. I love Wordpres.

If you decide to use Bluehost then do me a huge favor. Click through from these page links. I will get some cold hard cash for sending people there who sign up. It’s the best and only host I’ll recommend and it’s perfect for WordPress.org.