Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hotspot #12: Breaking Your Arm Patting Your Back

My latest column is up over at Comixpedia. It deals mainly with typical mystery tricks, and just for kicks I inserted some webcomic personalities and mascots in the comic. I may be a limited artist in some aspects, but I do flatter myself that I can ape art styles somewhat.

However, I have to say the recent theme, Mystery comics, gave me a bit of a twinge, because even more so than fantasy or sci-fi, Mystery has always been my favourite genre. I like stories that make readers think. I like the mystique of the unsolved. Most of all I like the concept of someone being able to see further than anyone else just because he/she observes and reasons accordingly.

So why does this give me a twinge? Well, one shortcoming of being in the Comixpedia staff is that I always feel I shouldn't ask or suggest that my own mystery comic, The Jaded be reviewed because it wouldn't be good journalism. There's no point writing/drawing a webzine if everyone who wrote for it just used it as a platform to talk about their own works. It'd be patting yourself on the back. Even worse, it just wouldn't have been fair, me misusing my influence that way.

And so, as a sucker who is very much at the mercy of her conscience, I held my tongue. And now that Mystery month is over, and despite the twinges, I'm very glad I resisted the temptation.

Ironically when I first started doing The Jaded a couple of years ago, to me, there was nothing I wanted so much, or considered a greater honour than having a Comixpedia review of the said comic. I suppose it sounds silly, and it's probably a sign of progress that I no longer feel so badly about it and even dare to admit it as I am doing now. It's not that I think a Comixpedia review is any less of an honour. It's not that I care any less for my comic. (Granted, it's on hiatus now, but that's because I'm too busy and I care too much for it to churn out a half-assed job. I'd rather put it on hold and do it properly when I have time.)

It's just because I want them to do it of their own accord, with no prompting from me. I want people to review my comic because they see something in it, not because they want me to write about theirs or link to them and it's a way of catching my attention. I want to be sure the comic is reviewed on its own merit. so only then I can be sure that it was picked because it's a comic of quality [x] about topic [y], and not because author [z] makes it.

I want all this because I know that more than anything else, it'd be a true test of whether it is good. And yes... I know that at this, many people will jump up and down and protest and declare that a review isn't proof that a comic is good.

On its own that point stands true.

But to me, if someone takes the time to analyse and write about something you created for the sake of the thing itself that you created, with no strings attached, no favours expected, and without knowing you...

No matter what anyone else says, in my not-so-humble opinion, that is the greatest compliment of all.

I rarely write and inform the comics featured on Webcomic Finds that they have been reviewed. I only do it for those cases where there's something on the site itself that leads me to believe that they are looking for feedback and would appreciate it greatly.

Why? Simply because that how I would want it myself.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Stopovers at two "Dies and is 'Ded' Laughing" moments

As you all know, I've been busy recently and even went for a spate of time without reading webcomics. Now that I'm bent on catching up, I'd like to share two moments from two of my favourite comics where I laughed so hard I choked:

The first is from LinT, where great drama and strife is being enacted.

Both moments need context to understand, so I'm going to be obliged to give a quick background blurb. Naturally, spoilers abound!

At the moment, Sangwine, the blond elf is confronting his long-time rival, Al'bert, who taunts him back by professing he knows where Sangwine's house fairy (long story), Hope, has been taken. The result is Sangwine flying off the handle and threatening Al'bert with the worse fate that can ever befall an elf.

And I'm not talking about balrogs here.

(Clicky to see full sized page at source)

Next is Nahast, which managed to impress me by not pretending, like most fantasy comics do, that long flowy hair can hamper vision, and women do not need support while running around:

So while the girls go off to do their erm... supporting, Xu're, the shaman and his spirit guide, Thunder, arrive at the lighthouse where Tzelan is training the girls...

I suspect the thing that makes both jokes work so well is because they're so subtle and told with an entirely straight face. Ironically, it because these two comics are primarily fantasy comics, unlike the humour strips that people call the 'funnies', that makes the joke all the funnier for being unexpected.

On another note, most of you should notice that the current theme over at Comixpedia is Mystery comics, which alone should tell you why I asked for recommendations to Mystery-themed comics last post. Thanks for your suggestions so far, and keep em coming. Even if they're not used here or there, the recommendations will come in handy next time I'm bored and want to sink my teeth in a big fat mystery!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Pinging Art #0.8: A Demonstration of Inking with Chinese Calligraphy Brushes

Hey everyone! It's been a while, but I've been too busy (god forbid) to draw so the blog didn't get updated in the meantime.

Today I'm making a cover for Chapter Four of The Jaded. It's been a custom for me to have a portrait of a different character for each cover, so we had Jade for Chapter One, Jin for Chapter Two, Doc Ice for Chapter Three... now it's Lysanne for Chapter Four.

The chapter name is "Tears of the Deserted" and there's some fun stuff in store as I get to draw lots of fancy-dress. I want Lysanne posing in fancy dress with a set of tanzanite jewelry.

These are my pencils of the picture. You'll notice they're quite finished and clean. My friend Steve Bryant from Athena Voltaire once told me that best inking is done on good pencilling, and muddy, messy pencils are very difficult to ink, so I'm taking his advice as a philosophy to inking.

Let me introduce you to my new arsenal of inking tools. I like inking using brushes. Recently I switched from my usual sable brush and india ink setup to something closer to my roots: Chinese brushes and inks.

There are several reasons why I prefer the brushes and ink to their western counterparts.

Firstly, grindiing the ink sticks on ink stone to make ink everytime I want to ink may sound tedious, but I actually quite enjoy doing it. I'm told the process of grinding is supposed to calm you down and get you into the mood for writing/inking, but for me the main two advantages of this is 1) I can control how black I want the ink to be, which can be ridiculously black, and which my luckless india-ink counterparts have to resort to searching for super-black inks or drying out their ink bottles for. 2) My second advantage is I get fresh, new ink each time I ink. Anyone who has used india ink before should know that about half-way through the bottle, most india inks tend to "go off" after a few weeks/months, and start sedimenting (I hate it when that happens, it makes for horrible blotchy inking). With the sticks, I only make enough to use each time, so there's hardly any surplus left to go bad.

Secondly, the good chinese brushes, while larger at the base than the sable brushes, can retain just as sharp a point, and hold far more ink, making it easier to make long, smooth strokes as you need not dip the brush in as often. An added plus is that even the more expensive hair for the brush (xiao lang mau or wolf-hair) is still cheaper than sable. (Well, at least where I live). I guess they charge cut-thoat prices for these in America and Europe, but here they're literally a fraction of the price. Plus they actually have decent pencil-thick handles, instead of those ridiculously toothpick-thin ones. (Ok, I'm exaggerating, but you know what I mean).

It's worth noting that for any kind of brush inking, it's always worth investing in the best brush you can afford. For chinese brushes, steer clear of the goats-hair brushes. Those are horrible.

These are the results of my rough inking. As you can see, despite my best attempt to keep the paper clean, I smudged some ink across Lysanne's nose.

After scanning the image into Photoshop, I do some painting over (to get rid of the smudge) and some levels tweaking to emphasize the black and get rid of the paler greys. The lighter grey washes I use for shading,

I make a copy of the clean inks and do some further levels tweaking, so that the images becomes almost pure black and white. I'll use this layer for quick colouring (easier to paint-bucket), then toss it away when I'm done.

Going banzai with the paint-bucket, I quickly fill in the large spaces with flat areas of colour, using a brush to fill in any spots the bucket misses.

After that's we toss away the stark black-and-white layer, and superimpose the clean inks on top of the colours. I usually like to add a bit of colour and shading to this, and not to mention the high-lights. Note how alive the highlighting makes her hair look.

Add a frame, background and the text, and we're done.

Around this time I notice the mistakes in perspective and facial features in my original pencil, but it's rather late to do corrections now, which will be a pain and proves why Steve is right, it's always best to correct your mistakes at the pencil stage, and not when you've gotten to the end of the whole process!