Saturday, March 8, 2014

Story Secret 1

Never doubt your original idea.

What I mean by the "original idea" is the very first inspiration--the idea that sparked your interest and got you telling this particular story. What I mean by "doubt" is change or delete or otherwise mess with that idea.

In the movie Kiki's Delivery Service, Kiki has a crisis. About two-thirds of the way through the film, she loses her magical abilities, including her ability to fly a broomstick. Depressed and worried, she continues her life working at a bakery but sees no way to recover. Finally, an artist--a friend of hers named Ursula--comes along and they have an amazing conversation:

"You fly with what's inside of you, right?"
"We fly with our spirit."
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about; trusting your spirit! It's what makes me paint and makes your friend bake... We each have to find our own inspiration."

The original idea--be it a picture, a situation, a character--is that for a story. It is the inspiration: the reason for doing it.

Don't lose that!


Revision is a wonderful thing. Its job is to make what you have even better. It helps your ideas become understandable to an audience and grip them. It can make your work sing.
Naturally, change is a part of that process. There are lots of times in development where events, places, scenes, and even entire characters will need to change (or get the axe).

But the point of revision is not to mess with your inspiration! You're not trying to make yourself tell a different story, you're trying to tell the story that you already have in a better way!

Let me put it this way: have you ever played a video game where part of the objective required MASSIVE backtracking? To me, that always feels like a huge waste of time; a desperate attempt by the authors to add a few extra minutes (or hours, ugh) to the game.
If you change your original idea, you're doing a backtracking quest, only instead of having to go back to the beginning of this level or this game, you have to go back to an entirely different game and beat that first.

Doubting Thomas

I know this only because I have trod this path one too many times.
Once I worked on a story for more than a year before realizing I had sapped it entirely of life by deleting the thing that got me telling it in the first place. The basic idea came from a trip I took to New York City in my senior year of high school. I was completely captured by the mix of old and new, the largeness and smallness, the strange and the ordinary. It was a key part of my idea, which took place in NYC in the fifties.

So naturally, (like an idiot) one of the first things I changed about my initial idea was the setting. Then the ages of the characters. ...Then the main plot...

Yes. Much and many backtracking hours occurred. It was a really stupid waste of time. I remember working so hard and trying so many things, and finally I got to a point where an actual event in my story was the villains stopping for gas. Literally, part of the plot was that the villains were on their way to take over the world and they had to stop and put gasoline in their car.

My dad, who is my confidant and mentor in most things but especially in stories pointed out the ridiculousness of this idea.

I was so frustrated I started to cry. (I cry pretty easily. It's embarrassing.) I told my dad, "Do you know how long I've been working on this!? More than a year since my original idea!"

He said to me, "What was your original idea?"

I said, "It was a murder mystery set in New York City in the 1950s that involved psychic powers."

We both sat there, stunned.

Finally he said, "Well, why didn't you tell that? That sounds awesome!"

Whatever problems I may have, I'm going to try never to doubt my inspirations again.


Don't doubt yours, either! If the inspiration was enough to make you want to tell the story, how could it not intrigue an audience member? All they have to do is sit and look! And even if it isn't for everybody, don't give up. Again, if you found it interesting, there's an infinitely high chance that someone else in the world will, too.

Now go make something!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Getting More out of One Panel: Overlays

An overlay is just what it sounds like: one picture laid over another. Used properly, it's both effective and efficient--in other words, you get more and you use less.

Japanese comics use it often and obviously, to a few different effects.

 Here, in Megumi Tachikawa's Kaitou St. Tail,  it's simply adding information about who is speaking. The character (Lina) wouldn't fit in the "shot" clearly enough to be recognizable unless you used 2 panels. Instead of wasting that space, the artist used an overlay to add the necessary "panel" or information. (You could count this as 1 and a "half" panels, since she breaks the panel border.)

Here's another informational panel-combination using an overlay:
Megumi Tachikawa's Kaitou St. Tail
Instead of "cutting" and flipping around the "camera" to see this important note, the artist simply made an overlay of the necessary information. The arrow pointing to the box also eliminates confusion as to where the note is or how we came to be looking at it.
See how efficient that was?
And wasn't it clear? No confusion --> effective communication.

An overlay can add more subjective information, too. Like how a character feels about a situation...
Megumi Tachikawa's Kaitou St. Tail

...or a person. (This one is from CLAMP, in Cardcaptor Sakura.)

The examples I've used here are Japanese, but it's effective in American comics, too (if less common).

 Here's an extremely effective emotional overlay (or underlay??) by Carl Barks.

 This one from Jake Parker's Missile Mouse #1: The Star Crusher is diagrammatic in nature, communicating where the main character is and the scale of the destruction he's creating.

I've used it, too, and it's really helpful.
 If you ever need to get more into a panel, this is a good way to do it.

Try it out!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Panel Order

When I'm making a comic, I always try to make sure that each page is readable--the audience is able to follow exactly what is going on and in what order the things on the page should be read.

One little trick I've found helpful is this:

Stagger your panels.

The basic idea is to never have your gutters (or panel borders) form a "+"
Instead, offset it a little. I do it all the time.
There's a big and a small off-set on this page.
This helps the reader keep on track left to right rather than fall down the page.

Exception: When you have material that can (should?) be read in any order.

This is an old example of mine in which, as long as A is first and D is last, the panels will still make sense. However, there are much better examples of this in comics where the creator uses this effect to show events occurring simultaneously (such as multiple character reactions to a shocking event).

Doing this one simple thing and playing with it will help your readers know how to read your comic without thinking about it! Then they can get caught up in the characters and story.

Now go make some comics!

EDIT: There is one other exception that I neglected to mention: if you make your pages all with the same layout consistently through the comic, it can be okay to just establish reading order as a matter of habit. However, I still think that can be unnatural and jarring for a reader if they aren't used to your comic pages yet.

Also, comic strips combined into a book don't count because there is a much larger horizontal space above and/or below each strip. In the above suggestions, I'm referring to (1) entire pages (2) with similar gutter width between all the panels.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Eliminate Unnecessary Panels

This was an exercise I did on one of my old comic pages. It helped me immensely.
 On this page, the two characters are stowaways in the baggage car of a train. The guy in the green cape is hungry. The train has just barely started to move and is going extremely slow, so he thinks maybe he'll just hop off and run for the dining car. However, on the the next page we see there are some guards in the way. Here we're setting up the guards panel and...I dunno, maybe getting some humor out of how slow trains are. 

Here's the exercise:

See the last panel of row two? Cover it up. The comic is still completely understandable. Nobody needs to see the car door close.
You still get all the information--that the girl closed the door--simply by skipping from "1" to "3."

It's amazing how much the human mind will assume, if you just let it.
Here's another example on row three:
See how, even without the middle panel, you still get that she reached up and covered his mouth, surprising him?
There's even one more panel that's a good candidate for simple deletion, and with that change made, we get this page:

See how much more importance each panel has? Can you feel the difference?
The original page was like a storyboard. Each action was painstakingly illustrated. A lot of hard work...but it didn't function that well as a comic. Now, each panel has life and vigor. Not only that, but the information is conveyed with fewer drawings, which means less work, and you get a whole extra row of space to use! 
Here's what I figured out from doing this: when unnecessary panels are axed, not only will more information fit on the page, but the reading experience is stronger.

Do this exercise with some of your favorite (or your own!) comics: cover up one panel and see if the previous and the next panel still make sense without it. Whenever I do this with a great comic artist's work (Osamu Tezuka, Carl Barks, Jeff Smith, Bill Watterson, E. C. Segar), I always find that each panel adds something to the story. Taking one out changes the information and the feeling significantly.

I'm not saying eliminate all panels that don't progress the plot directly. There's much to be said for mood and atmosphere (Tezuka especially does it all the time). But there's not anything to be said for wasting your own valuable time and effort. If it doesn't add something, get rid of it.

(There's also combining panels to get more information out of them, but that's another post.)
Until then, good luck with comics!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cover Work

I thought maybe the peoples would like to see a few process shots and a final product.

So here they are!
My assignment was graciously afforded me by the talented writer, Zachary Ricks. You can find the book HERE (corny thumbs up)!

 The raw, uncleaned, blood-and-guts lineart. All pen on paper. Perspective weeps as I try to draw a guitar.
 The first steps of digital coloring. Here I was doing some detail work on the suit--giving it some scars from previous battles.
 My first attempt at full color. When I sent it in to the author, he had some minor suggestions.
...Which were REALLY GOOD suggestions. That princess looks way better with her eyes open. Also, I touched up the lighting.

Well, that's it for now. STAY TUNED... But not too tuned, since apparently I never update here. :P

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Handy GIMP shortcuts

I use the GIMP for my work, and I've found that these are the keyboard shortcuts that I use the most. Use them as combos! Try adding ctrl and shift to more tools and see what you get!

Start-up Stuff:

  • Ctrl+1 (,2,3,4,5) = Open the first document in document history (the most recent document you worked on) –or the second-most recent, or the third, and so on up to 9.
  • Ctrl+O = Open
  • Ctrl+S = Save
  • Ctrl+Shift+S = Save as... (aka “Save a copy”)
  • Ctrl+D = Duplicate the current image into a new file
  • Ctrl+E = Export
  • Ctrl+Shift+E = Export to a different file name
  • Ctrl+N = New document
  • Ctrl+Shift+N = New Layer


  • N = Pencil
  • P = Paintbrush
  • X = Switch BG and FG colors
  • O = eyedropper (color-picker)
  • Ctrl while using pencil or paintbrush = eyedropper
  • Shift+E = Eraser
  • Shift+B = Fill Bucket
  • [ = Shrink brush size
  • ] = Increase brush size


  • Ctrl+C = Copy
  • Ctrl+X = Cut
  • Ctrl+V= Paste (but then you have to Anchor it—by mouse-click or by the button underneath the layers)
  • Page Up = Move up a layer
  • Page Down = Move down a layer


  • Ctrl+A = Select all 
  • R = Rectangle (and E = Ellipse but I rarely use it)
  • U = Magic Wand (select a contiguous section)
  • Shift+O = Select by color (VERY handy!)
  • F = Free-hand select (lasso)
  • While using ANY selection tool:
    • Shift = add to selection
    • Ctrl = subtract from selection
    • Ctrl+Shift = Intersect with current selection (in other words: “only select inside what is already selected”—helpful for fine-tuning selections by color, for example)
    • Ctrl+I = invert selection


  • + = Zoom in
  • - = Zoom out
  • Space Bar(+mouse move) = Move around the image
  • 1 = 100% view