Surface Redux

Let’s get this out of the way: if I had the money I’d buy the Cintiq Companion 2.

Ok, now on to the business at hand.

Those of you who’ve read the blog before will have seen my somewhat instant romance and subsequent falling out with the surface pro. The biggest problem with it? the pen nib (made out of something like .001pence worth of plastic) literally wore down in days. Microsoft sent me some replacement nibs, but buy then (three days or so) of owning it, I’d lost my -already somewhat wobbly-faith in the device as a whole. And given I’d spent £1,099 on the top end Surface Pro 3 (i7, 256Gb, 8Gb RAM) to replace my extant Macbook Pro and Cintiq 12″ device – a system that worked perfectly for years – I knew I’d end up using the mac & cintiq and could no longer justify the money on the surface pro.

So I returned it.

But I still missed it. I missed having a portable device I could do finished comic book work on. I went on holiday lamenting the lack of surface pro (or any decent device). I bought with me the macbook pro and an old graphics tablet that would do the job in a pinch.

But, on holiday and feeling low, I pottered in to PC World and did some calculation and in a moment of weakness I bought another one. This time rather than top of the range, I went mid range – the i5 with 4Gb RAM and 128Gb hard drive, and given the UK/EU exchange rate, I managed to pick it up for £690 (the UK price in PCWorld has it at £739)

I reset my goals, rather than replace my existing system this would work in conjunction with it. Rather than replace my still very good macbook pro, it would replace my old and ropey ipad (which I use at my drawing table for looking up reference, checking email, reading scripts, and so on) – that meant I wouldn’t be doing high end stuff on it (though, to be honest, I don’t do “high end” stuff, but I always feel uncomfortable unless I’m buying as good as my budget allows).

On testing though, what I found, was that there’s NOT a significant different between the £1099 and the £690 surface pros, at least not as far as Manga Studio is concerned. Certainly, if I were to use some of the more complicated natural media brushes that mix colours as they draw I might notice a slow down, but I’m running 600dpi A3 sized images – which are actually way way larger than they need, if I was serious about colour and needed speed, I’d probably reduce those down to 300dpi without any great loss of fidelity when they finally print.

The surface pro has a fan but I’ve never found it to kick in or even get hot when I’m running Manga Studio – in fact, if it does kick in, I’ll usually find it’s because a background app is running (and I’ll boot that app and things will cool down).

I’ve set up drop box on the surface pro, and I store multi story manga studio files on their, which means any edits I make on the surface pro are uploaded to dropbox and available on my macbook pro pretty quickly. (Where the macbook pro then takes care of backups).

Not sure what happens if I try and edit the same file on both, or indeed what happens when they get out of sync – hopefully dropbox will take care of it, but because I’ve set up the files to only open one page at a time (and it saves between changing pages) the worse that’ll happen is I’ll lose one page (but since I work traditionally, that might only mean I’ll have to rescan something and I may have lost an hour or two of edits).

It’s lovely to be able to sit in the living room and do some of the more mundane manga studio tasks (I scanned 11 pages yesterday, dropping each into the correct page on manga studio – granted I had to keep walking in to the studio to replace the page being scanned, but I WAS unchained from the computer desk!).

Oh, and on the pen nib front: I’ve readjusted the sensitivity of the pen so it uses a lighter touch so hopefully I’ll wear the pen down a lot less, though, I wish it was as sensitive as my cintiq which can give a line with just the lightest feather touch, the surface requires some amount of pressure to get any sort of line.


Digging below the surface

So, I’ve had the surface pro 3 a couple of days now and have had something of a change of heart. The machine IS wonderful. There’s no doubt about it. I do love it.


The pen.

The surface pen well, specifically the pen nibs. I’ve owned this machine for four days and in that time I’ve finished colouring a piece (it was almost entirely coloured already) and I’ve scanned some pencils which I’ve then edited and then printed, inked traditionally and then re-scanned. Pretty light work I think. In that time the pen nib has become a frazzled piece of plastic. It looked like this:


that tip should be pointed. It doesn’t seem to effect the drawing, but really if this is three days of wear what’s gonna happen after a month?

I’ve been told by one person this fraying eventually stops and the tip becomes solid, but I’ve googled and this seems to be common among demo machines in shops (explaining the reticence of pcworld in having a demo pen out)

Microsoft were also helpful and have offered to send out a pack of 3 replacement nibs. But at this rate of going those nibs might not last a week, plus when I buy computer equipment I expect it to last 3-5 years, will they be so keen to send out nib #460 in year 4?

So the upshot is, I’ve mulled it over and my wife and I have agreed. I’m taking it back for a refund. A £1k device that’s otherwise great ruined by what is probably a fraction of a pennies worth of plastic material.

It’s a shame.

Instead, i’ll be keeping my pennies and pounds for the next cintiq. It’ll be expensive (and I hear it’s as elegant to handle as a brick, and it gets hot etc) but cintiq know how to make nibs, that’s for sure.

Will let you know how I get on returning it, I’m assuming the nib makes this unfit for purposes, but pcworld my have other ideas.


On the surface…

UPDATE!!! I’ve decided to return the surface pro owing to problems with the pen nib. You can read details here. Upshot, brilliant device massively undermined by possibly its cheapest component.


So, I went a little doolally and bought myself a Surface Pro 3 (the i7 with 256Gb storage and 8Gb RAM).

My plan was to replace a Macbook Pro and a Cintiq 12XW. I’ll be honest, if I had the cash the Cintiq Companion would be on my wish list, but it was never gonna make it. As it was, the Surface Pro 3 was a little expensive, but thankfully a couple of cheery invoice payments made it possible.

I’ve been using macs for years now, and though my previous life was as an IT supervisor (starting age 14, working mostly in tech support and programming) working in windows environments, I didn’t miss windows at all.

So let’s run through the good and the bad, keep in mind, this is based on two days usage.

For  recap – here’s how I worked with Manga Studio, MacBook pro and Cintiq 12XW

Pencil on paper, scan, add panel borders in Manga Studio, do any pencil corrections (resizing/redrawing/adding perspective grids/objects/photos/etc) print pencils out as blue (keeping panel borders black) ink this, scan in inks and do corrections.

Basically I don’t do much in the way of digital drawing. I also don’t push my system terribly hard.

(You can read much more in depth details here …)

The surface pro is smaller than my cintiq 12XW but with a much brighter/better display and similar screen size – no side buttons (which I do use often)

Manga Studio has a great tablet mode that sets the interface to be usuable with fingers, though it still felt small, it turns out you can also set the interface in windows to a little larger and that helps a lot (actually that also helps the overall interface in windows)

I have an external monitor (bought in a second hand shop for £15) it’s not a great resolution but it rotates, and plugs in to the surface so now I have a two monitor system (though you need a mouse or other device in order to drag things between the two windows).

I bought me a small (1tb, physically tiny) external Seagate drive that comes with backup software, so I get backups when it’s plugged in.

I have a cheap (£10!) Bluetooth keyboard I bought for my ipad, and it’s fine and dandy for using with the surface, good for hotkeys in Manga Studio.

Took me a little while to get my pens gathered up that I use in MS – I’ve been using it for years and had accumulated both a lot of good stuff and a lot of cruft, so took the opportunity to clean it up a bit.

So here’s some direct comparisons:


I think drawing is still better on the cintiq, but the resolution of the surface pro, and the fact that it feels faster in Manga Studio mean I’ll happily battle with it (esp since I don’t draw digitally all the time) I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was a pure digital artist, maybe I’d save for the new cintiq companion (in terms of processor, memory the equivalent companion is about £600 more than this surface, but it’s not really direct as the cintiq is a cintiq…)

I like the feel of the pen, but it’s becoming apparent that the ergonomics of it aren’t maybe as well thought out as the cintiq pen – the cintiq pen has a thick based narrowing into a thin point, which means you can see around the pen as you draw, the surface point/base don’t taper in just the same way and I sometimes find myself not quite seeing where I’m drawing (which I think matters, but it may be just a matter of calibration – and deliberately setting the calibration off so that the drawing point is above the contact point so I can see it).

Ok, more positive:

The space saving! Oh my gosh. Even with an external keyboard and external monitor, there’s a good chance I can just use the surface on my drawing desk when I need it, meaning I can get rid of my massive computer desk (which, tbh, would be a shame as it was a bargain £25 in a charity shop, and is quite, quite lovely) but removing it would actually double up my studio space! (that’s something I can hardly even imagine!)

Portability, ok you get this with the companion, but the surface is light enough I can rest it on my chest while lying down, and hold it up with my left hand while I draw with my right, and my left hand thumb remains in reach of all the important manga studio buttons – I can go to bed at a reasonable hour and just work!

The kickstand. I don’t trust kickstands. I think they’re ok for moderate use but they WILL break – especially if you lean on your device to draw. My cintiq 12XW has some awful cracks around the base where its stand meets its plastic – it’s ok though, I bought a need laptop stand that’s pretty much perfect, though the quickstand actually remains pretty useful for putting up on a table for reference or for those odd times I’m out and near a table without an angle. Great for occasional usage, is what I’m saying.

Surface Pro software – I’m happy to just use Manga Studio 5 EX on this, it’s great, occasionally I’ll look in Microsofts App Store, but it reminds me of big shopping centres in China, from the outside it looks professional and neat and then inside pure chaos with knock off stuff everywhere. Not a fan. Many of the apps I’ve come to expect just don’t exist (no iPlayer??) although since it’s a full on windows the internet delivers the webexperience pretty well.

The OS is … ok. There’s lots of little issues that I don’t like and weirdness (for instance I accidentally turned on “Narrator” – the equivalent of “VoiceOver” on the mac, you touch something and it will read it out for you. All well and good except I have no idea how I turned it on, my volume was turned to zero so it didn’t actually say anything and it just looked like a weird bug) there’s some properly ugly touches too, like rotate where you rotate the device and it fades out and fades back in in the correct rotation. The iPad is much more elegant.

I’ve transferred all of my current projects on to the surface pro and tucked away my cintiq, moved the MacBook pro into a different room and will keep using it for accounts (etc).

So, to sum up,I like it a LOT. If I had the money I’d’ve plumped for the Cintiq Companion but it’s a decent enough price difference to make me wonder if I DID buy the companion would I be left wondering did I spend far more than I needed to…

Pricing Artwork

There’s a lot of stages in a comic book career. And sometimes you end up revisiting them. I’m at a stage where I can sell some of my original artwork (certainly not all of it or even most of it) though I don’t use dealers.

Pricing artwork can be tough, especially if you’ve never sold artwork before. The biggest difficulty is that artwork isn’t a fungible –  a page of my artwork isn’t identical to a page of someone else’s artwork, it’s not even identical to a different page of my own artwork. Every page is unique.

So I price my artwork on a simple formula: how much can I sell this page for that won’t make me regret selling this page.

There’s some factors in there:

I much prefer selling artwork to people that I know will enjoy the artwork. I’ve sold artwork that I like for way below normal value to a kid because they’d used the printed strip in a school project and were a fan. I was delighted, and, to be honest, I’d’ve given the page to him but for this second important factor:

Giving artwork away (or selling it too cheaply) makes the recipient perceive the artwork as cheap.  John McCrea has a great anecdote on this and you should ask him, but it boils down to : the more money someone pages for the artwork the more likely they are to put it in a frame and enjoy it. (The less money? the more likely the are to fold it over and use it as packing material for something else).

Sometimes I like a page and want to keep it. That page costs more. Sometimes I hate a page and don’t want someone to buy it. That page may also cost more than it should (but I’ll often not show it anyways). Sometimes it’s late on in a show, and I’ve sold no artwork and I’m tired and I’m hungry and that’s when it’s dangerous for me to sell, because I’m prepared to take any reasonable offer.

I did once sell a page to a celebrity. That page went for a little more than usual (though I suspect I could have doubled or tripled the price)

The real truth is though, you need to make pricing mistakes before you find your level- you need to ask for too much to find out what too much is for your art and you need to undercharge to find out what makes you feel sick knowing you didn’t charge enough. Only you can price your own pages.

(Unless it’s got Wolverine on it, in which case you can charge thousands.)

Weekly Workout…

Hey ho! First week of Feb nearly done, so here’s where I stand:

Work wise: 5 pages for 5 days. Looking good for a page a day for this month.

My working week looks like this:

Monday : All day work. Hopefully a nice pencil and ink day, or, if I’m lucky, get a page pencilled and inked and another pencilled.
Tuesday: I get to work while kids in school, until 2 o’clock. So far I’ve managed a page on those days, usually pencilling in the morning and inking in the evening. Sometimes it’s been harder and all I’ve managed is to ink a page – but I still count that as a page in the day.
Wednesday: I get to work until 2 again. Again, pencil and ink if I’m lucky, if not it’s just inking.
Thursday: Work all day. I hope to pencil and ink a full page and maybe start another page pencils.
Friday: Work most of the day. Knock off early, until everyone is in bed then I work.
Saturday: family stuff, then work when I can.
Sunday: family stuff, usually a little lighter, work when they’re asleep.

I’m trying my best to keep to just two projects at a time (I’ve juggled  more). I plan to deliver three pages per week on one project (fixed deadlines) and around three pages per week on the second project.  So far, I’ve done better than that, but that’s my minimum. The two projects will basically keep me working solidly until August (assuming I can do 25 pages per month). I’ve had to turn down a weirdly large amount of work, frustrating, given last year I was doing next to nothing for most of it (though that was largely me not being able to get any work done).

Dept of Monsterology has three more chapters to go, each chapter has 24 pages, plus a cover (and I have two covers to do for the first two chapters). Project G (my terrible codename) has 22 pages plus a cover for each episode – four episodes in total. Doing the two concurrently means I get one full book done every second month. Maybe I should have just done one book followed by the other… doing two totally different projects I do three pages of one then three pages of the other, a nice number jumping between two books means I don’t get bored. I find US books terrible big meals to swallow in one go.

Don’t forget to sign up to my monthly mailing list – I’ll be giving away a sketch (a full colour sketch) to one lucky list member at the end of the month!

Signup here.

If your name is not down…

You can’t be on my mailing list (it’s called Channel Hex).

Sign up now, over the weekend I’ll send out some snippets of some of my favourite things I’ve drawn this month – super exclusive (but spoiler free).

I’ve had the mailing list for a little while, and it’s rarely used, but this month I’m firing it up for a regular monthly transmission of art – highlights from the month along with how much work I managed to get down (I’ll try and keep it interesting) art aside, much of the rest will turn up on the blog, but if you want to see something before anyone else… the mailing list is the only way…

Back to the drawing board.

I’ve ordered a new drawing table. It’s pretty basic (and here it is on Amazon) I’ve never liked drawing tables with parallel rulers on them (though I concede the last time I had to deal with one was in the late 80s, so who knows now?) but this is a plain, boringly functional table which tilts at and angle, and should be small enough to fit in to my studio. Right now I’ve drawing on my large computer desk (that I’d hoped would replace my old drawing table and my rubbish old computer desk, it was brilliant idea that …er… didn’t work out.)

Anyway, I’m going back to old fashioned inking, let’s see if I can stick to it the entire year. Sometimes my inking / drawing process needs a reboot – I slip into bad habits quickly, and the work suffers. Usually I switch up to digital (or if the digital is the problem, I switch up to analogue) and then the problems go away.. for a short time. It’s a problem with the artist rather than the tools. And since I derive more satisfaction from the traditional methods of working, that’s what I’ll stick to. Core values!

I really want to up my productivity this year, I have two big projects for the year, and that’s all I’m doing. I’ve a checklist of pages to draw (it’s a scary long list) and as long as I tick one off a day then I’ll have a great year, guaranteed. (Course there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to check them off, that’s where will power/luck come in to play.)

Screenshot 2015-01-04 17.38.15

There are 12 of those little grids on each page, the gap at the top is the project name, the numbers 1-25 are the number of pages I potentially could do per month. Hey, if I get 20 per month I’ll be like the happiest little artist in the world.

You can download a pdf to use for your very own if you like here:

Comic Progress

Let’s check back at the end of the year to see how we all did.

I set aside two drawers in my big old art storage folder for the two projects, which means, hopefully, I’ll not get lost in switching between them (I often start projects with the best organisational intentions only to end the year wondering where all the art went – it’s never a problem as it’s all scanned in to Manga Studio and stored in a single story file, but those originals are lying around here somewhere dammit..)

Also: more pomodoro’s this year. 2015 will be the year of the Pomodoro! Anyhue, got to go, this is clearly fallen into procrastination now…

2014 Year in Review

Cheerio. 2014, you were looked upon with some serious optimism, a chance to fix all the things that hadn’t quite gone to plan in 2013 but within a very short time (the first week, in fact) you quickly became hell on earth. Anyways, as is the norm here’s my comic book year in review…

endofyearreview2014_001 endofyearreview2014_002 endofyearreview2014_003


So, entire year overshadowed by Nathan’s bout of anxiety/depression. I’ve gone into detail about this before, we’re coming up on the one year anniversary of it kicking off and we’re still watching Nathan just in case – this year though he has a helper in school to make sure he can cope with change and what’s going on (because otherwise he’s as smart as a whip).

Then my health took a real nosedive. I’ll be honest, the IBS didn’t come entirely out of nowhere; I stopped drinking in my late twenties because I’d find standing in a bar drinking I’d get a deeply uncomfortable pain under my ribs and in the last few years other things have happened that are all linked to IBS. Only this year the minor annoyances and weirdness coalesced into one incredible stabbing pain in my stomach. It really was night after night, at least until I took up the fodmap diet. Now, I’m mostly ok – though it doesn’t take too much to upset my tummy and it feels like I have to watch everything I eat just in case. On the plus side: actually lost weight! on the negative side: it’s incredibly depressing to be ill all the time.

And those were the lowlights – throughout the year one disaster after another – any of which would be a real low point, but since they were all cast in the shadow of Nathan’s anxiety I barely remember them at all (though I know they happened).

On the plus side, invited to Shanghai to talk to kids about drawing comics, and I went – and had an amazing week around Shanghai. Totally incredible. And Belfast had a couple of comic cons that were great, too.

Lots of high points, but my productivity just feel into the ground and dug itself lower than I could imagine. This year I want to fix that. Get out of the gate and draw. That’s it. That’s all I’m planning for. Hopefully I’ll get the breathing space to do so. Hope you have a great 2015!




Now totally knackered. Sat beside lovely old Chinese couple who despite them not speaking any English and me not speaking a word of Chinese insisted in showing me all their photos. Then the old man rubbed my belly! Presumably for luck.

Flew over Russia. Which was an unexpected surprise, discovered I don’t really understand the options on my fancy camera, so can’t really show you the awesome pictures I should hav been able to take of the orange glows from the Russian cities at night. They did look amazing. Anyway, I’m tired now so going for a jet lagged induced nap…



(This is my welcome banner! )

I’m heading off to Shanghai today. To be honest, my excitement is tempered somewhat by the weird tingling sensation from two day old dentist work (I suspect a nerve was clipped and it’ll feel like this for months) and the ongoing struggle I’ve had with severe stomach pains, which I’ve sort of self-identified as IBS and I’m on the FODMAP diet which is definitely having a positive impact, but I’ve no idea at all how that’ll go in China and this is the longest I’ve been away from my wife in 20 years.

Bringing a large sketchbook, a hudl (preloaded with game of thrones series 2, and the BBC Human Universe documentary) some books (digital) and tools with which to draw. I’ll be meeting friends new and old, but it’ll be particularly fun to see Tom Kline, at one time director of the Queen’s Drama Society (20 years ago) and writer/director of many of the plays I was in then too. He also, coincidentally wrote one of the first comics I ever had published, in the comic DNA Swamp (issue 1 and 2) (actually it also appeared in the comic DOMAIN for one issue) and he’s now the director of an English language school in Shanghai, I’ll be there, I think Scott McCloud will be too – it’s going to be very surreal.