Monday, October 31, 2011

STS-23: Baldur, Inks

So for today's piece of art, it's one of our major characters for Of Stars and Swords, Baldur. Normally he's wearing heavy armor, but as that isn't practical to wear 24/7, we needed to design some more casual clothes. As he's a priest, robes made sense. Caroline put this one together herself, and we'll have the color version to show a little later in the week, along with the design sketches that got us to this point.

Monday, October 24, 2011

STS-22: Hawk Studies

Today's update is a series of hawk studies that Caroline put together. Of Stars and Swords will be featuring such a bird after the first story we have finishes, so we wanted to get a handle on how things should look.

More art coming here soon, and Wednesday marks the uploading of page two of the webcomic!

Friday, October 21, 2011

STS-21: Some Thoughts on Our Short Comic, The End 2

Or: Things I wish I knew then.

Hi, this is Caroline! I usually don't mind letting Graham do all the talking here, but after seeing his response to our 8-pager I wanted to talk about the art end of the project.

While this was our first comic we did together, I had been making comics for about 5 years prior, though nothing really worth sharing now. It was a hobby, and thus I was used to short-cutting. The End was the first comic I aimed to handle professionally, and I was using a whole new set of tools and materials:
-pre-lined 11x17 bristol, instead of drawing paper cut down to 8x10
-acrylic ink and nibs, instead of whatever pen was lying around

I got to play with new ideas that never popped up in my manga-esque comic from my teens: hatching, perspective, full backgrounds, light source.

But I was still fumbling in the dark really. I was mimicking what I saw professionals do. I lacked the confidence to push things a little further. And I was still too lazy to put in that little extra bit of work to really pull things together.

So here it is, my list of things I know now, that I wish I had known then:

Rulers are your friend! I didn't think it was possible to use a nib AND a ruler and I didn't really care to try. The result, sloppy hatching, squiggly lines, and hours trying to correct as much as possible in Photoshop.

Don't half-ass your hatching! Hatching should be tight and run in the same direction as your planes, not at an angle to them!

Line-width variation is key! That thing wayyyy back there should not be outlined as thickly as this thing right in front of the camera.

Don't be afraid of color! I still have to yell at myself over this. Desaturation is great when it is intended, and stands out even more when your colors have confidence elsewhere. Bright colors are nothing to fear as long as you have-

Global color unification! Light is always tinted. You can have wildly variating colors as long as you apply the same tint or filter to them all. Photoshop even has built-in tools for this (with I rely on heavily now).

Give your backgrounds the same attention you give your figures! Bad backgrounds were steps above the no-backgrounds I was used to doing, but I regret not spending more time on them now.

EDIT: and one last thing I forgot, always be mindful of where your text and bubbles need to go and how much room they will need. Pull the camera back in text-heavy panels. Try to root your figures to one side or the other to make room for text, instead of plopping them in the center with very little space on both sides. I now make notes in the margins of the bristol board if there is a lot of text for a panel or anything special like that.

STS-20: Some Thoughts on Our Short Comic, The End

First, an apology. This is the second post here with no art. It won't happen much, but hey, you get to read me ramble on and that's just as good, right? Okay, it really isn't, but this could be just as insightful, especially for others wanting to make some comics or just learn about how Caroline and I work.

Everything here refers to the mini comic we did about a year ago now, which we just recently finished showing off here on the internet, an 8-page story called The End. You can see it all right here if you haven't already.

First, the genesis of the story. A while ago, a competition for new comic creators appeared called the Eagle Initiative. They wanted a max of ten pages for an original story, and if one was picked as the top three by a panel of jurors, the story would be published. Now, sadly, the Eagle Initiative didn't happen due to a lack of entries. Seems that not enough people had the, excuse the pun, initiative to actually finish a short project for the competition. But we did, and while disappointed that the competition fell through, we were glad we could finally release this thing into the wild.

I spent a couple of days brainstorming ideas of what we could do in a short story. It's a struggle, as I tend towards longer, more complicated ideas, so I really had to take the time to figure out a plot that could be interesting and yet worked out in, at most, 10 pages. Somehow, in my looking for inspiration, I found myself doing what I tend to do when I want to think: casually trolling through wikipedia articles and learning. The subject I had somehow gotten myself on began with just generally looking at the structure of the universe and what we know, then lead to black holes and physics behind them, and eventually into the possible futures for the universe itself.

The concept that really grabbed me was the heat death of the universe. It's something that has always fascinated me, so it was easy to latch onto again. The concept is complicated, but here it is in brief: The universe is expanding. At some point, far, far in the future (trillions and trillions of years), the expansion of the universe coupled with stars and black holes and similar stellar masses use up all the available energy. Stars die, but no more are created. The universe literally goes dark, and over time, black holes eventually disappear, too. Everything gets cold as matter slows down, atoms themselves even stop moving over time. After all of that, there's just nothing left. Real nothing. In some ways, it can be a terrifying idea.

But I knew I'd read something about this before, so did some research into stories that might hit on the idea so as not to copy something without meaning to. That's when I found the story I was looking for, Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question", which you can read for free here: It's a short story and a wonderful read. After reading it, I realized I had, indeed, read it years before, but the ideas that Asimov's expertly tackled were a bit different than where my mind was going with the concept. Incidently, our main character is named Isaac as a tribute to the inspiration for the story. So I figured we were safe, and ran it by Caroline who absolutely loved it.

When it came to the script itself, the idea had gelled solidly around my own question: If humans lived long enough to see the head death of the universe, how could they survive? The idea of a computer simulation, similar to what was done in the movie The Matrix, immediately sprung to mind, but that alone wasn't enough. So more research went into the nature of time and, again, black holes. This led to the key concept of The End: relative time. If time ran at a different rate inside a digital universe than the real universe, humans could experience an infinite amount of lifetimes before the real universe died.

So we set to it, and somehow the story ended up not needing to even be 10 pages. After writing the script and having Caroline give it a look, I threw down the page layouts in light pencil. This is basically me blocking out shapes of the panels, where the figures will go, the camera angle, etc. After that, Caroline came in and did the finished pencils. She then inked it by hand, we scanned it in, and she colored all the pages digitally. Really, this is where the brunt of the work happened and Caroline definitely nailed it. The last step was me again, lettering the pages, which simply amounts to placing the word balloons and all the other text.

Bam. Finished comic.

It was the first full story we'd done, and altogether, those 8 pages took us close to five months to do, in between work and us planning our wedding. We had good reasons for the slowness, obviously.

So with that long-winded look at where this all came from, it's time for a look at what I think we did well and what we (mainly me) stumbled on.

First, what I think we did well. Overall, I am insanely proud of this simple story. I'd like to think that we told a short, compelling story in comic form that works very well in the medium, even without the need for action. As stiff as the script was at times, I feel that it fit the piece and the character. The panel layout is, overall, solid and the lettering leads one through most of the panels well. The art isn't our best, but for where we were then, it was our best. I firmly believe that, for us diving in headfirst on this, everything came together shockingly well. The coloring, especially, makes this. The brightness of the first pages contrasted with the greys and softer glows of the last pages does exactly what we'd hoped it would.


But. Always that with us artists. Art wise, the only real problem I can see is that we just didn't have a handle on things just yet. The stiffness of some of the poses bothers me, as today they would have so much more life to them.

The panel layout works overall, but somehow I don't think they served the emotional concept they should have. As it was scripted and worked on, the first three pages were all within the digital universe. Thus, I wanted the panels to hint at that structure by forcing the pages into a solid, 9-panel grid without any variation. After that, with the latter pages, the panels would go wilder, with bleeds and odd shapes to imply the real world. Yet, I think this being shown in digital loses this emotional transition as the pages aren't seen next to each other. A page turn really would have made the Page 3 to 4 transition perfect in my mind, with the last panel of Page 3 and the first of Page 4 retaining the same shape and size.

The rest, visually, I'm fine with. That leaves the last, and definitely largest, problem. As I posted these weekly, I reread them one at a time as everyone else did. I found that, upon rereading them, the story wasn't nearly as clear as I'd hoped. There are quite a lot of very heavy concepts being played with here in just 8 pages, so there was rarely more than enough space for a sentence or two to explain things. Sadly, my inexperience at writing such things caught up to me there. Chiefly, I just don't think the idea that time flows slower inside the simulation than in real life, and the implications of that, were clear.

It's kind of a vital point to the story, and I feel like I missed that one. But we live and learn, and if anyone really wants to see me continue on like this, ask me what it should have said and I'll make a post even longer than this one just about how time works in the digital universe!

But that's it! There's nothing else to say, from me at least, on The End, other than hoping you enjoyed the read despite the flaws. We definitely learned a lot from those 8 pages alone, and hopefully anyone that follows our work will see that as we our next projects continue forward. So thanks for reading this long post, and hey, if Caroline wants to add anything to make it longer, she is perfectly free to!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

STS-19: Of Stars and Swords Launches!

Of Stars and Swords is Live!

That's right, after weeks of talking about it here and months everywhere else, our fantasy webcomic is live! Please head over there and check it out!

Updates will be weekly at the moment, every Wednesday, with a prose piece to go with it. It's possible that, in the future, we might speed up the updates to twice a week, but for now it's going to stay as it is for our own sanity.

I've said this everywhere, so I apologize if you keep reading this, but please spread the word. We need all the help we can get to be noticed and read, and we really think we've got a good story to tell with good art! Besides, a story isn't a story if no one reads it!

So head over there and enjoy our first page. Should have some art to show here in a few days!

Monday, October 17, 2011

STS-18: The End, Complete

So for easier reading, here is all of our mini-comic, The End, compiled in one post and in order. In the next couple of days, I'll be posting some thoughts on the creation process, what we could have done better, what I think we did well, etc. Many people say it's not good to talk negatively about one's own work in public, but I want to do some honest, public critique of our early work to show how we go about working and to maybe help others not run into the same issues we have.

I hope you enjoy the comic, and it definitely does read better in one stretch rather than a page at a time!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

STS-17: The End, Page 8

And that's it! All eight pages of our short comic. In a couple of days, I'll compile these all together in a more easily readable format (i.e. in correct order rather than cascading) and also talk about some thoughts on what we've learned since this, etc. Hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, October 3, 2011

STS-15: Nika

This is Nika, another of the characters for our webcomic. Caroline decided she wanted to play with our earlier design for her and simplify it, so this is the result! This is another piece that's all Caroline and no me involved beyond voicing opinion, and it's also something she did fully digitally!