Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Hollow Men: On Character Design

So by now some of you may have actually read Flight Volume 8, which is neat! I was right, wasn't I? You enjoyed yourself. Toldja so.

I finally got my own hands on a copy, and had a wonderful time re-reading everyone else's stories. There are so many phenomenal storytellers with such distinct styles represented in this final volume...I think as a whole it really lives up to and exceeds Flight's high standards.

For my own part in it, it was really surreal to hold a copy in my hands. Like any artist, I feel a certain amount of anxiety seeing my own work all published and done. I vacillate quickly between that sensation that "it could be better!" and a general giddiness that it's actually done.
I think, with whatever perspective I can have right now on the whole experience, I feel content.

I am also itching to start working on something new! I've got a few projects that linger perpetually on the backburner...maybe it's time for one of those to take shape and start developing? Jellybots? Something else? Time will tell.

I mentioned last post that I wanted to talk about some of the character design process that went into Hollow I figured I'd give that a shot. If you haven't read the story probably should do so before you read the rest of this post, lest I spoil it for you :p


On Process II, Character Design:

When I start something...or at least when I started this...I think non-linearly. Not just visually, but in moments, emotions, color, symbols, etc. A random stream of things that jumble together, and ultimately become the final story...or they don't, and they sit around my attic of ideas and gather dust :p

I work full-time as a character designer for a video-game company, so naturally much of the miasma of my thoughts includes character design.
Just like with Story, it can be tempting to get caught up in the bits and baubles of character design. For me, I like to add hooks...little adjectives you can add to a design that give the viewer something to think about...some visual and conceptual handle that stops the eye and the mind and keeps you looking. I think that's vital to all really captivating character design...but the very best designs (it seems to me) don't just resort to gimmicky hooks to grab your attention...there's a deeper element of design that's beyond all that...and I think it has to do with sincerity.

It's that thing that, however 'uncool' or just weird the idea is, you just can't shake. Anyone can put more and more spikes, horns, wings, or whatever on a character...but that deep sincerity is what can make one drawing mysteriously captivating. It's literally one of the hardest things in the world to articulate (so if you don't know what on earth I'm going on about, I don't blame you) because it's a design thing, not a words thing.

So I'll stop talking theory and talk practically:

A boy paddles a canoe down a silent river in the forest, there are serpents in the water.

That means there is a boy and there are serpents. Obvious, I know. But to me...even in that simple sentence, those are specific people (er...and serpents that are also...kind of...people?). So the process of designing them is the process of trying to figure out how to visually develop the image you see in your minds' eye without losing their unique identity along the way. That means making decisions all along the way to ignore 'cooler' ideas that may occur in favor of 'honest' ones. Make sense?

It's like naming someone. Some names will fit and others won't, because there is already a someone to name. You can't go deciding that 'Peter's' new name is 'Optimus' when it clearly could never be. It just doesn't feel right. It won't stick. Optimus is a cool name, but not for a Peter.

The main characters in The Hollow Men are Jehan (the prince, though you wouldn't know it because his name is never mentioned) and the Hollow Men themselves. The first thing I knew about Jehan was that he had tattoos of hands on his shoulders.
There's something profound to me about the idea of a tattoo...and moreso the idea that that permanent mark could represent the impact of another could stand for kinship...that fealty could be expressed as a kind of permanent embrace. It just worked for me, emotionally, as a symbol. Of love, legacy, whatever...again it's a felt thing, not a words thing for me. So hands became a very important theme in The Hollow Men...which drove the story and some of the decisions I made in terms of how to compose certain frames and play certain moments.

It followed in the soup of my ideas that the hands had to do with his father. That there would be a scene late in the story where we would understand what they meant. And the image of black hands with long, slick talons came to my mind...violating that space. That's literally how it went. That was the second 'moment' that I knew had to occur for me to be satisfied. So the character design became integrated with the story itself and they helped drive eachother.

Then there were the Hollow Men themselves. MUCH more tempting to push further and further away. I knew the serpents in the water would be white. I knew the kind of personality I wanted and I knew there would be two of them with only one consciousness between them.
There was an idea I'd had, which I still like, that they would sort of...unzipper down the middle. They would twist and wind in and out of eachother (doodled above). That's the conceptual origin of the black line that bisects them. But because it pulled too much focus away from the narrative, I decided against it.
They were kind of a meditation on loneliness, I suppose? The thought of being completely alone in a crowd...the pair of them are only one thing, and that one thing is barely a thing at all...just an idea of hunger. A void always wants to be filled. To me, that is the essence of how it is to be alone.

There's more I could say, but I think I'll ruin it if I talk too explicitly about it all...I want to let you into the process, but not completely draw back the curtain and show you how the trick works (if it does) :)

I've talked a lot about preserving that initial idea, and I think it bears saying: pinning down and keeping inspiration can be an impossible thing. Like, literally. Impossible.

It's been the biggest struggle and the source of some of the biggest lessons for me. As an artist, you're constantly aware that once you lose that passion, it all falls can only do your best to tread water. Maybe your dogged commitment will see you all the way to the end if you just grit your teeth and bear it. It's never really worked that way for only get so far white-knuckling it before your strength gives out.

Like many things in life, I am so dependent on something that is so beyond my control: "Inspiration".
Who said I'd even have an idea to begin with, or that it would be a good one? After I start, what happens when the passion abandons me? I never finish. So often I feel like I don't have an idea worth preserving. When that happens, why start at all?

This could be a whole new post, but I make passing references to my faith and my praying a lot in this blog. I don't want to alienate anyone, but by the same token I don't want to shy from being candid:

A huge part of the art process is surrender. Giving up. And that is a huge part of prayer for me as well. I always wondered: how on earth does my faith have anything to do with my artwork? I found some new things out about that during the process of making this comic.
In art, as soon as you start to seize down on something, you overwork it. You kill the sketch...the pose turns out wooden and stiff. So I panic pretty consistently throughout the process. I second-guess myself and freak out. That's why I pray. And that's just one of the ways my faith has collided with my work. Not in some high-minded spiritualized sense, but in an even more 'practical' way than chasing emotions and trying to pin down dreams. Giving control over to something as 'abstract' as God makes a lot more sense when I realize I give control over something as abstract and fleeting as 'inspiration'. All. The. Time.

Phillipians 4 springs to mind.

Maybe more on that later? Just a thought for now.

Thanks SO much for reading. I hope you still do. A full several-page preview should be up of all the comics in volume 8 on the flight website soon. In the meantime, you can tide yourselves over with some similar posts from the other phenomenal contributors:

Much love,


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flight 8 is out TODAY.

Today is the day. This is going to be a good, long post. Don't worry, there'll be plenty of pictures!
To start: above is the final, full color version of Page 1 of my story "The Hollow Men" in Flight Volume 8.

I don't know what else to say, except that I'm SO excited that the book has finally hit shelves. I hope you'll buy a copy and support the last hurrah of this series. I can't emphasize enough how many great stories by other great artists there are in this volume. For all of us, this is bittersweet. For the veterans, this is the curtain falling on years of work and companionship. For me it is the strange feeling of having to say 'hello' and 'goodbye' at once.

Over the last few posts you've seen how this page has come from sketch to thumbnail, to black and white, and now to final. As the work progresses to final I have less and less to say about it. I hope the final story speaks for itself. And I really, really hope you enjoy it. The hope that something that I've done might mean something to someone is most of the reason I do this in the first place.

A friend of mine (who got her copy before I've gotten mine!) sent me this photo yesterday, and (I'll own up to it) I teared up. It's real. I can't believe it:

I could play this off like I'm too-cool-for-school, but really...why bother? You only get one first, you know? Today I just feel so thankful. You all know who you are, and you get a shout-out in the I won't belabour the point. But, thank you...really and truly.


On Process:

Based on the response from the last few posts, it seemed there might be some interest in looking more deeply into the process of how I work...or how I worked on Hollow Men. So I'm going to indulge and show you guys how this really, truly starts.

Below are some scanned pages from a little moleskine notebook I put to use when it came time to plan out this project. Blurred text is because I use my sketchbooks as prayer-journals and I was expressing the full-extent of my panic to an embarrassing degree :p
The rest is the frantic note-taking and shorthand I use when I don't expect to be showing anyone what I've been working on. I didn't proof read this, so you get to see all the mess I make before I settle on a direction.

At the beginning I was asked "what story do you want to tell?"
So, naturally, I panicked. I pulled out all the half-baked, partially complete stories and character designs I'd been sitting on and summarily dismissed them all. It didn't feel like time for any of them. So on an idle thursday in November, I took my anxiety for a drive and prayed for an idea.
A little daydream crept back in. It had originally occurred to me a year before when I was riding my bike through the forest around my aunt and uncle's home;

A boy paddles a canoe down a silent river in the woods, there are serpents in the water.

That was it. A story started to grow up around it. I think in moments, bits of color, visuals and emotions. The feeling of it washed over me and I pulled over the car to take notes.
That's how this mess always starts.

I should also mention that working on something this large (I've only ever done, at most, a 7-page comic before) and this important to me was a new experience. Much of the process was just any panicked attempt to wrangle this together.
I immediately started to sketch characters and play with themes. Before I got to the layout phase, I was burning through pages of sketchbook jotting notes...little designs, themes, ideas. Occuring, iterating, and discarding. I'll show you some of that later.
I sketched and jotted and eventually wrote a script. When I was finished with that I decided the script was too confining, and the problem was it wasn't true to my process: I was thinking in simultaneous visuals and bits of dialogue, not pages of text. I had to start thumbnailing or I was going to lose this thing.

So I accidentally came across a method that really worked for me. When I thumbnail I HAVE to keep it small and messy. If I get too big, I get intimidated by the size and start to feel like I have to render out characters. Nothing is more poisonous to getting thumbnails done well than a preoccupation with rendering characters or scenes. At this point, beyond the basic concept, they aren't the point. This is about story, speed, flow...pace. Bringing the reader through your narrative in a way that makes sense, doesn't confuse, and (in layout alone) makes them feel the story. That's about light, dark, composition, panel placement and size...not so much pose and facial expression. This is bullet point time. No sentences allowed.
The crux of this (for me) is trying to think through these things symbolically. Moving the reader through intense moments at a quick pace, slowing them for a beat with a large panel. If the character is feeling overwhelmed: overwhelm him with composition. If you want to feel the physicality and tension of each limb...get close in and claustrophobic. There's no rule here...I had to feel my way through it. But it is, without a doubt, my FAVORITE part of making comics. No other medium works quite the same way.
I had to iterate quickly and keep it sketchy. If I went digital I would noodle. And I needed some way to experience the flow from page to page. So I found a small moleskine I had around and didn't have a use for (it was so tiny...who uses that?) :p and the idea of sticky-notes occurred. With the moleskine I could dedicate each small page to a corresponding page of the comic. And with sticky notes I could stack, remove, move around panels and pages.

So that's what I did! And it totally worked for me. So below are a few scans of what I think are the first eleven pages of planning. It's still the truest form of the comic. After that I had to tidy up come thumbnails for approval. After that point the process is almost automatic...nothing to it but to do it...the challenge at that point is not screwing it up! :p

Anyways, hopefully this is interesting to someone.

It's a beautiful day in Providence...thank God for sunshine. Much love to you guys...thanks for your support and comments...they help keep me going! I may post more on the process of character and concept design later. For now: It's summer! GO PLAY IN THE SUN!



Monday, June 27, 2011

How It Grows.


Tomorrow Flight Volume 8 hits shelves.

Today I'm posting this: the black-and-white of page 1. I'm not sure whether to call it 'inks' or 'pencils' since it's neither. I worked with a totally different method than I usually do and the upshot is: The Hollow Men will be the first ever totally-digital comic work I've done.

I also tried to teach myself about value and composition by working out the hierarchy in black and white before I colored (which usually isn't the case...generally I do clean lineart and then try to figure out value and color together). I had a great time working in this method...I've always loved stark compositions, and it's so much easier to figure out layout when you're thinking about light and dark at the same time as lineart.

Hopefully it's interesting to see how something develops conceptually from start to finish. If there's interest, I can explain more of my thought process...but I think it's fun to see how different the layout of the final page turned out than the previous thumbnail stage, even though all the ideas are essentially still there. I'm trying to hone down what I want to say and how I want to say it.

Anyways, I have been getting really wordy I'll stop myself this time and just hope you guys enjoy the preview!



Friday, June 24, 2011

The Un-Glamorous Way Things Begin

I have been aching to just get this properly started.
I have precious little I want to show just yet, but I figured we'd start out slow and I could tease some of the preliminary work. So here are the thumbnails of some of the first pages I used to pitch my story 'The Hollow Men' to the guys at Flight.

In 4 days' time it will be published alongside the much-better stories of more seasoned comickers in Flight Volume 8. I couldn't be more honored and terrified. :)

I am hard-pressed to find a time in my life when I have felt more impatient. But soon enough it will be out there to read and I can relax and get on with the business of loathing it like any proper artist loathes all his old art.

So, admittedly, these are rough. And even the basic building blocks that you see here shifted around a bit before settling on the final design. But as sketchy and crude as these are, this is where the real work happens.
My greatest teacher taught me this about comics (admittedly plagiarized, if I remember correctly, from someone who'd told him): "The final work is the shit of your thumbnails."

And it's true. These aren't even really my crudest thumbnails, if I'm honest. I'll go and dig up the story pages I did for myself before I decided on this direction...they get smaller and cruder. If you can believe it, these were actually made to show people :p
In reality, what you're looking at is at least step 4 of the process.
After all the scribbling down written notes, gathering plot ideas and casting them off...I even wrote an actual script and then barely looked at it. Then I sketched characters, moved into a little moleskine which I covered with sticky notes, rearranging panels and deciding on dialogue. Panicking, making a mess. In fact, these are the result of a LOT more work than it looks like. As far as I'm concerned, these are the comic...the rest is just polish.

You know what? As I think about it, I think those first, sketchiest, illegible scribbles (before these) were the high point...the most honest version of the comic. Even these represent the beginning of a rollercoastering downhill trend.
Everything after the initial ecstasy of the first idea seems like a paler and paler attempt to recapture that seminal spark; to pin it down and show it to people.
It's a struggle, and a fascinating one, to try as hard as you can to preserve the life of the story through all the phases of creation. Over the duration of this project I felt like I found it, lost it, and found it again.
I'll need some distance from this to know whether I succeeded at all in the end. But this is the sloppy start.

And you get to read it without the dialogue, lucky you!

I really hope you guys stick around and check out the final product when it hits shelves. Not just my story, but the whole book. SOOOooOooon. 4 days. Just 4. I can wait 4 days. I mean, how many 4 day chunks have I lived through so far? A lot. It was easier then. I can do it again!






Friday, June 10, 2011

Jellybots: Duncan

Everyone knows that the best possible way to procrastinate and run from your feelings is to bury yourself in work! right? right...
I do tend to make more work when I'm feeling introspective. I was up late last night putting the finishing touches on this guy. I think he's my favorite. Not sure, though.

This is one 'bot that's been waiting to happen since I had the idea.
Guys, meet Duncan. (based again on another friend. Of the same name) He's the older-kid and a bit of a mystery. I think he might serve as sort-0f an instructor to the younger kids. He's, like, the Jelly RA. :p

Generally, teens as old as Duncan can no longer interface with the Jelly. But as one of the Candyman's first pupils, he's been able to grow and change with his suit. He's aloof and a little sarcastic. He designed the sphere floating alongside him in the suit himself; is that it's kind of his 'tell'. He's able to punctuate his expressions with an emoticon of his choosing. I'm hoping to get some fun juxtapositions out of the idea.
I just love the idea of him frowning sarcastically and the sphere being all ":p" I'll have to draw it and show you guys.

I had a completely different color scheme in mind, initially. It was going to be amber-colored and purple...or maybe even brown and green. But as I was drawing him and honing in on his character, I realized I wanted to make a darker, twilight-colored bot. What resulted (and if you've ever lived in/been to Providence you'll know what I'm talking about) is kind of the Jellybot personification of Waterfire. Go figure, right?

Hope you like it. I am literally counting down days until Flight is released and then until San Diego Comic Con. SO EXCITED. How to pass the time until thennnnn!? More Jellybots!

Much love,


Monday, June 6, 2011

Jellybots: Biin

"woogly woogly woogly," it seemed to say.

I got my Jelly back! :D

This is Biin (pronounced like 'bean'). Another based-on-a-friend character from the Jellyverse. Expressions on the right, a few alternate forms on the left.

She's one of the Candyman's first experiments in alternative-intelligence (they get upset when you call them artificial). She's the only AI in The Soup that isn't a proxy (controlled by a grown-up operator).
Biin doesn't exactly follow orders; In order for The Soup to accept an inhuman intelligence, she had to be programmed with a significant amount of childlike anti-reason. Like all of the suits, hers is malleable and adaptive...incorporating new information into her physical form as fresh matter is introduced to the Jelly.
She just learned 'hands'. She's pretty excited about them :)

She took me longer than I'd like to admit. The thing I've been challenged by (and excited about) with Jellybots, is that I spend a lot more time coming up with the concept than I do with rendering it out. The simplicity can be deceiving...she went through a number of weirder, wilder iterations before I settled on the above design as her default-state. The idea is that she'd be able to change pretty wildly according to the situation. I'm not saying I'm 100% on this design...but I think it has the spirit I was trying to capture :)

Hope you like her! Name, details, and design are all up for let me know if you have feedback!
Also, if you're confused about all of the things I mentioned earlier in this post: good. I haven't been very forthcoming with details about the Jellybots story, because it's still totally up in the air! So you haven't missed anything. I'm trying to confuse you with sudden detail on purpose :p

Hooray for summer!

Much love,


PS. The design. process. is. complex. :p

Friday, June 3, 2011


I got interviewed by this neat site called Something We Like.
If you 're interested in hearing me talk about me even more than I already do here, you can read my interview. I'll make more art, I promise!