Future Shocking

Yesterday was the first of day of a six week course on creating future shocks (and really any short comic book story) I was running for the Irish Writer’s Centre in Dublin.

It’s on a tuesday running from 6:30 to 7:30 every week for the next six weeks.

I’ve run a few one off courses, often with young kids, but more-often-than not I’ve focused on the art side of things (because, well … of course).

Having written a few shorts (more cowritten) but having drawn a substantial number of strips, there’s a little bit of imposter syndrome seeps in, because – who am I to teach anyone else to write short stories. But, you know, I know what I like, and I’ve a good solid sense of what makes a future shock work and I figured that knowledge has value.

The entire course is built around the idea of crafting a simple short story – start with an idea, write up a script, edit it, layouts, pencil it, ink it, letter it.

Roughly each week we’re covering one of those topics. Week one was about explaining what a future shock was and how to write one.

Week two will be about writing a script for an artist to draw.

A quick run down on week one.

I’d planned to get the bus down nice and early and to get some work done on it. Working on a bus, it turns out, is impossible. So next time I’ll be getting the train down.

It’s kind of fun to commute to work.

Arriving early, I drew up what I thought would be a fun little mood board of quotes of short stories on the white board:

 

I mean, I believe those words, especially Alan Moore’s – no better way to learn how to write than in short stories.

 

So I then talked through a couple of the classic future shocks – the Time Machine (absolute belter of a classic, that really isn’t a sci fi story at all) and Chronocops – because, if you think four or five pages can’t fit much in, you need to read it.

Talked about breaking a story into four pages, and having some sort of small twist/turn or even just a reason to continue at the end of each page. And that denouement on the last page.

As an exercise I stuck a bunch of words on the board as a way to think through some story ideas, the words were:

SCAR – WITNESS – ORPHANED – DISCOVERY – ENDS – FEAR – INVERSION – MONSTEROUS

The idea was to take one of those words and tease out some ideas for stories, so, picking one of the attendees at random I asked for a one word thought for “Inversion” – he said mirror.

Taking that as a starting point, and looking at four squares on the white board (representing the pages) I started to dig up a story (and not writing this down, at the time, this is my best remembrance of it:

About a man who wants to be alone, but he comes from a big family, his father dies and he inherits a large mansion including a strange mirror, that, every time he looks into it he sees just his own reflection and noone else.

He becomes obsessed more and more with the mirror, and brings it down to the living room, he works from a home studio – and is constantly interrupted (this is the writers life) and yearns to be alone, but is afraid of the mirror so keeps it covered.

He spirals into worse shape, obsessively driving his family away, and looks in the mirror to see all his family and friends reflected in it, but they’re not in the room. He smashes the mirror and finds himself alone again, but he’s on the other side, trapped and from that side he sees his family, holding a funeral for him.

Ok, it’s not much, but it’s a start and it’s from one simple idea.

I asked everyone to pick a few words and see if they could come up with something, which we’ll hopefully knock in to script form.

Another of the words picked was fear – this, I admit was a little harder to tease a story idea out of, but we went from fear to fear of the past. To the idea of the past literally trying to kill you. To a man attempting to invent a time machine, despite everyone protests that the grandfather paradox is proof that time will not allow paradox. Time, in fact, hates paradoxes so much, that as he tries to build his time machine he’s continually thwarted by accidents – accidents relating to old things, old books falling, statues dislodging, until finally-on a visit to a museum-he’s impaled by the bones  of a dinoasaur and we end with the caption “The past was literally trying to kill him. And it succeeded”

I think what I was trying to get out of this workshop is the notion that ideas are everywhere, you just pluck them from the air and work and work at them. Ok, those two stories – not classics – but there’s something in them worth exploring, and for a short story, it may be fun to write/draw them to completion because then you get to actually finish something. And done is better than perfect. Every time.

 

Computer Loopy

My macbook pro (which I love) has started to feel a little slow, so I decided it was time for an upgrade.

It works fine for digital drawing (though it can get noisy when the fan kicks in for painting at hi res) but it positively crawls when you try and do anything in 3d (as I have been doing lately – with sketchup, and using 3d models for tanks)

Looked around, but, sadly, like many of my peers in comics there’s a real struggle to find a new mac that fits – my ideal would be a mac mini with more oopmh, but it just doesn’t exist. So it was time to go back to PC. Having bought a surface pro 3, I’ve actually liked windows 10 – there’s things I HATE about it, but nothing I can’t work around in some way. Plus I’m keeping the mac for my day to day job stuff.

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at buying PCs and I’ve sought advice from friends on this front, so ended up building a system from overclockers.com (it is a bewildering experience after going from apple’s clean limited options to an explosion in a tinsel factory layout of PCs, and god how can PCs be both boring looking AND gaudy? amazing). Anyway, it’ll be black box I’ll hide.

So here’s the system I ended up with and why, first I asked a good friend of mine Sean Doran for some suggestions and so, unless otherwise stated, he’s suggested the bulk of this device and I was happy enough to with him.

(I present this in full because either this is boring to you in which case you’d’ve stopped reading earlier or you’re thinking of doing the same..)

CASE: Phanteks Enthoo Pro M Window Edition – Black Full Acrylic Side Window

This is the dull but gaudy bit of windows. Give me a nice invisible case, who the hell wants to look inside your computer and have lights? Ugh, never mind, this is fine. It’s all fine. Has a single drive bay for DVD/Bluray.

MEMORY:Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 PC4-19200C14 2400MHz Dual Channel Kit – Black (CMK16GX4M2A24

Many of these numbers mean little to me, it’s fast and it’s 16Gb – I’m currently happily working within 8 on my mac, so 16 seemed a reasonable upgrade. Clip Studio Paint works very nicely on 4, photoshop and other apps want more.
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 64-Bit DVD – OEM (MS-KW9-00139) 
Gotta have an O/S. Windows 10 – NOT awful. It’s actually alright and if it’s my main machine I can probably tweak it for exactly how I want to use it. Part of me is tempted to not even connect it to the internet – leave it as a machine that just draws and works, but there’s too much useful stuff on line (like ..er.. twitter)
BLURAY: OcUK Value Blu-ray / DVDRW combi SATA – OEM
I rarely use the cd drive I have, but I’d like something I can throw a bluray on to. If I remember right there’s some question over decent software to watch blurays on on windows (which seems insane it’s not a standard thing, but what do I know…?)
MAIN DRIVE: Intel 600P 512GB M.2-2280 PCI-e 3.0 x 4 NVMe 3D NAND Solid State Drive (SSDPEKKW512G7X1)
Ok, here’s the stuff. M.2 drives are new technology to me, in fact when I left the IT industry SSD drives (a kind of hard drive built on memory) didn’t exist at a consumer level. M.2 are similair to SSD in that they use memory (so silent and very, very fast) but plug in more directly to the computer so they transfer data at ridiculous speeds. 512Gb is actually storage for me to do all my work from-my current storage needs for all of the art I’ve drawn over the last 15 years is about 100Gb (and even that could be halved if I ever tidied it up)
SECONDARY DRIVE: Seagate BarraCuda 2TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache HDD – OEM (ST2000DM006)
Secondary storage, mostly for storing backups of things and any over spill. TBH most overspill will probably be me accidentally creating multiple copies of the same documents.
Graphics Card: Zotac GeForce GTX 1060 Mini 6144MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card
This is where I start flailing about looking for advice. Here I went for the best I thought I could afford on my budget. I’m interested in VR/AR stuff. I want to play with that. I’m convinced that’s our next big thing for entertainment (but I was also convinced by that in the 80s and the 90s, so I’m clearly on the optimistic end). Having played with Google Tilt (a 3d painter program for the HTC Vive) I really really want more access to that level of reality.
Processor: Intel Core i5-7600K 3.8GHz (Kaby Lake) Socket LGA1151 Processor – OEM
Ugh, this was a toughie, it felt wrong to go for an i5 processor when my current macbook pro has an i7 – but the i5 is quad core at 3.8Ghz and my current is dual core at 2.8Ghz so the spec was definately up. I’m still not entirely sure what the i5/i7 difference is, especially when measured over the years (is it just branding? suspect it maybe… 7 is definitely more than 5, but is 7 from 2013 more than 5 from 2017? stupid computers).
I have no keyboard (will, at least temporarily, use an older macbook keyboard). I’d like a small – no numerical key – keyboard with a backlight and the whole thing will be plugged into the 27″ cintiq (a second screen may be useful, but I’d like one with retina resolution so may hold off on that for a bit…)
Again, thanks to those online who were probably bored of my asking, and my pal Sean Doran. I’ll let you know when the computer arrives and what I actually make of it…!

Septembers child is full of grace (and pages)

So, here endith September, and the total tally for this month is… 45 pages. Averaging exactly 1.5 pages per day – though the reality was there were days where I spent the entire time pencilling and then mostly I was inking between 1 to 3 pages per day. But I’ll take 1.5 per day.

That means combined with last month, I’ve drawn 94 pages in two months, a somewhat astonishing record for me (and in fact most people).

I’m pretty sure that’s sustainable. I mean, there was definitely a dip in morale around the 30th page this month, but that picked up shortly afterwords. And for the most part the pages are pretty good too, high up in the quality of my own work(which is the only measurement that makes sense)

That said, there are two difficult aspects of being a comic artist: getting work and doing work. Now I’ve discharged all my current obligations (basically have cracked the ‘doing work’ bit) the next thing is get more work. Happily I have a month or so of grace as I’m able to live off the money earned from the work done (we draw we eat, that’s the basics of it as life as a comic artist).

Not sure what’s next. More Dept of Monsterology is certainly on the cards, but Gordon needs to write it first. I’d like to go back to American Gothic and do something monsterous there (I had fun drawing the four part Gunsuits written by Paul Tobin, though it coincided with a down period in the speed of production, most of that was drawn at a rather bankrupting 16 pages per month, and then the final episode was clawed out at 13 pages in one month – that feels like forever ago, and fingers crossed I’ll never hit a speed bump like that again).

I may just take the next month and try and do some big two samples. I’ve never taken a proper swing at their door, largely because I’ve been lucky enough to have work…

In other news:

Got myself a 27″ cintiq. Here’s a short review: yes it’s amazing.

I’m running it on a MacBook pro with 8Gb RAM. Manga Studio (or Clip Studio Paint), I think, doesn’t get enough credit for how well it works on any device, it really doesn’t push hardware at all – which suggests it’s fantastically well written bit of software. If I load up photoshop, or any other image editor within seconds the fans are whirring on the MacBook, but on Manga Studio it’s never -that I’ve seen-caused the processors to get warm.

Off for a few days to that their London, hoping to have a good time.

I think I deserve a short break!

The 49er

Ok, month’s over. Here’s the final count: 49 pages pencilled and inked, and a further 14 penciled. Averaging about 1 and a half full pages per day (ignoring just the pencils).

The month didn’t start of with any promise, as I’ve posted already, I’d just finished last month with 13 pages in the bag and a general grim feeling about my long term career prospects. BUT! A tight deadline job from 2000AD (drawing a zombie story in 12 days, which, ultimately I pulled off in 6) kickstarted the month for me and kickstarted the weirdest most productive month of drawing in my life.

I’m generally feeling pretty good about the art. It remains to be seen whether I can keep it up next month – though, no reason why I can’t just power through and keep going (with the added bonus that I already have 13 pages pencilled).

I think I need to draw around 40 pages next month to get some stuff in on deadline, but that feels more than doable now.

There’s a week in this month where all I did was pencil, and the final week saw a little tapering off – all I was doing was inking and some days the best I managed was one pencilled page. So, potentially, I can get up to 2 or more pages per day.

That’s a weird figure to conjure with.

It would be a mistake though to think this is the new normal. It’s not. I’ve got to make sure not to over commit to work – as I have done in the past, ending up blowing a couple of gigs that, if I was working at this pace would have been no problem.

November I’ll actually be commitment free for the first time in a long time, though I know a new Monsterology book will be on the horizon I have nothing else firmed up yet.

Anyway, good month for me. I hope yours was good. And tomorrow? kids back at school proper. YAY!

 

Summing up summer

Summer is nearly over. I can tell because the weather has changed from unexpectedly awful to totally as dreadful as anticipated.  My kids go back to school in a couple of days (thank god, we have 9 – NINE! – weeks of school summer holidays, and while some parents love having their kids off during the summer holidays, those parents are probably liars.

Page count, thus far, is 38. Which is a bit amazing really. I’m afraid I’m only ever one bad way to spiralling down to next to no pages per month (today has easily been the closest, having only gotten one page inked, yesterday was nearly the same except I ended up completing three pages) which is sort of daft, as I could take the rest of the month off and still claim this month as a major victory.

One thing it’s done is opened my eyes to the possibility of doing more things for myself – 25 pages per month for a publisher, 25 pages per month for me … think of the possibilities. I’m still sucking hard on writing, I’ve got some fun ideas ( I think) but not the time nor experience nor confidence to carry them through. That said, there’s a few things I’ve scripted with Scott Ferguson (my erstwhile co-podcast host on the Sunnyside Comics podcast, if you can remember that) that I may go and draw.

 

But that assumes I can find 25 pages of paid comic per month. And that’s usually been a struggle.

Anyways, comics good. Go and pre-order Dept of Monsterology Book 2: Sabbaticals from your local comic shop, I think it’s in this months “previews” magazine (no details to hand I’m afraid)

Go buy Gunsuits ep3, written by Paul Tobin, drawn by me.

And stand by for more comics.

Now, in twitter news, I offered to answer questions (and LO! but only one question did present itself)

Zoe Robinson asked:

“Do you agree you need to know the rules before breaking them”.

Yes. Though it’s probably a little harder to define what the rules are: a search for the rules then…

There are some obvious rules: paper is a fixed size. Artwork must fit the paper. Laws of physics dictate certain tools work in certain ways. Hard to break those rules even if you want to, though you can do some groovy effects if you know exactly how to bend the physical properties of pen and ink to your whim (greywash springs to mind).

In terms of artwork, it’s a good idea to know, for example, how many heads a person has before drawing a person. Which is flippant, but then the question becomes, what is the basic proportion of a human, can you break that rule? Well … probably? But then that’s not a rule so much as a strong suggested guideline. In fact most drawing rules are strong tried and tested guidelines – even the “people read left to right” is a long standing guide that, if your smart, you can circumvent it. Look at what Frank Quietly can do with storytelling on that front to be amazed and how easily that rule what be flipped on its head… But he can only do that because he understands the underlying rule which is that you control the narrative flow – you direct the readers eyes.

So, I think a good rule for whether you can break the rules is whether you realise you’re breaking them.

Breaking them without knowing your doing so is an accident while we can all talk about the happy accidents in art, in storytelling you really want the accidents to happen in a very controlled way.

-pj

 

 

Photoref

I quickly blogged yesterday about my current speed and casually threw out the phrase “Instant Photoreference” – quite rightly, I was pulled up on it, David said (in the comments yesterday)

12 pages a week, wow! Very impressive. Would you please elaborate on you use of “instant photoreference”? What is it? How does it work? Do you consider it “cheating”? Thanks in advance!

Let’s deal with those questions in reverse order: “Do you consider it cheating”- no, whatever gets the work done, as far as I’m concerned. You can be snobbish about it – and some use it well and some use it badly, but as long you’re not stealing someone else’s photos wholesale, then nothing is cheating.

“What is it?/How does it work?”. Ok, firstly I may have overstated it, by “Instant photoreference” what I really mean is that I pencil the page as I think it needs to be pencilled, largely without recourse to photoreference, then as I draw I hit hands or poses that I think are weak (or, more accureatly, are so well trodden by me that even I’m bored with how they look ) so I’ll take a quick photo using my iPhone and then just ink that directly over the pencilled thing. I don’t (usually) repencil, I just wrap it in and try and make it look like it belongs with the page that I’m currently working on. If it’s a car I might try and find online reference of a random vehicle and draw that in the inks (often what I’m looking for are the details rather than the specific image, so a car at 3/4 view in a photo may be used by me to draw a car that’s entirely front on, or from a totally unrelated angle).

I try not to let the photos dictate the drawing, and I often piecemeal bits of poses together so that it still feels like my pencils. The big no-no on photos, I think, is to literally trace or copy them leaving you with an obviously acted moment in a drawn image. Sometimes it’s ok – when you’re dealing with a vehicles. I did a war story using photos of a model plane that I’d built, literally tracing the photos – for the first dozen or so pages, by the end I was so familiar with the vehicle I could freehand it, and the image had more life.

Anyhue, that’s all. Hope that’s of some limited use. If you follow me on twitter (www.twitter.com/pauljholden), I might be tempted to post some of these stupid photos…

 

Page Counts

 

IMG_461323789

January: 28
February: 19
March: 11
April: 16
May: 16
June:16
July: 13
August (so far): 28

January was me determine to make up for the last few years – I Knew I was capable of a page a day (and had often done more) and I wanted to do that, so I figured out ways to keep track (you can read these methods in the blog under the process tag) I was pretty pleased to hit 28 pages, and there was even 5 days where I did nothing at all, so theoretically I could do more.

Feb I was about 14 pages in to the month when my wife broke her dominant arm at the elbow. A pretty serious break that, 7 months later is still a problem (and, in fact, she’s having an operation to see if it can be improved). I managed to claw some more pages back, to hit 19 – not great but not too bad anyway, given the circumstances.

March was awful. AWFUL. Between looking after wife, kids, and my returning stomach pains (which appear to be diet related and I’m mostly on top of now) 11 pages was pathetic, but I was prepared to wipe out the month.

April was rejigging things in my work and a determination to hit 28 pages again but somehow I plateaued at 16, and for the next few months it felt like 16 was all I was capable of, and that was depressing. It meant, even if the work where their I wouldn’t be capable of meeting a monthly deadline on a book and I certainly wasn’t prepared to go looking for more comic work when I felt so low about how much I was producing (and while quantity does not equal quality it always feels to me like the more I produce the better it gets)

May and June same as April, except the spiral downwards felt like it got worse, a real “should I stop this and think about a real job?”

July, god knows what happened here. Start of school summer holidays, I think. At this point ready to throw in the towel in comics – I earned so little last year and drawing 16 pages a month (assuming the work was there) wasn’t going to pay much more. It felt like my earning potential was severly limited, and I missed having a day job (secure money+could draw what I like when I like? WHY DID I GIVE THAT UP? IDIOT)

August.

August.

August.

I.. I’m not sure what combination of things happened. Maybe I’d hit rock bottom? (God, I hoped so – things couldn’t get much worse).

I took some extra work I was offered (they way I felt I’d never be offered work again) and burned through it. I switched from inking with a brush to inking with pigma pens (and I’m an inking snob so this has always been something I’d refused to do) moved to using the lightbox (see yesterday’s post) and found, somehow, I got faster and faster and happier and happier and, I think, better and better – my ego has always been intrinsically linked to my art – when I feel great about the art I feel great about me, and when I suck so does the art.

I’m off for a week, where I’ll just be pencilling, hopefully I can come back and ink like a demon and get three pages per day done (ending the month on an unheard of high number of pages for me). Kids start school next month, and there’s a possibility, one I daren’t hope for until now, that I may actually do all right in comics.

 

How I work Now…

I have altered work methods and I’ve jumped from averaging of sixteen pages per month to 12 pages per week. PER WEEK.

I’m moving through a slightly perfect storm of technique and confidence in my own work that I haven’t gone through in a number of years (which means I’ll end up forgetting it). But here’s how it works (and I should note, I’ve lifted much of this from watching how John McCrea works – a consummate professional and one of the hardest working people I know).

Layouts: I draw layouts on a pdf version of the script using the surface pro (yay! My surface pro has finally found a use!)

Pencils: I pencil at roughly A4 size in Canson 180 pads, using a HB pencil.

Scan these in to Manga Studio where I enlarge then print them out.

Inks: I ink using Zebra brush pen (for larger things) and Kuratake Pigment markers, numbers 01, 02, 08 and 005.

I don’t second guess my self on pencils, and I seem to be using a lot more instant photoreference, which I’ll usually directly ink.

Two pages per day is a pretty comfortable speed to hit (though it’s hard to judge cus usually I plough through three-five pencilled pages per day then spend the next few days just inking). Three pages is more than possible.

In print you can still pick up Gunsuits, ep 3 is due out soon (and here’s a page I like). Coming up: something fun with nazi zombies, and I’m in the middle of drawing Dept of Monsterology book 2…

gunsuits3_015

 

GUNSUITS #1

OUT NOW! In all good comic shops. Issue 1 features a cover by me and an alternative cover by Darrick Robinson. It’s a fun book to draw and I hope to get to do more of it, but that largely depends on you going and buying it!

If you’re in Ireland, I’ll be signing copies at The Big Bang in Dundrum on the 10th and in The Comic Book Guys in Belfast store, on the 11th – more exciting, I’ll be signing along with John McCrea for his new image book Mythic. So come and see us both!

 

McCrea and Holden on tour!

 

(And for those asking, will soon be returning to finish art on Dept of Monsterology book 2 – a book more bonkers than the first!)