Saturday, December 29, 2012

STS-47: OSAS Dwarf Designs

At the end of the Issue 2 for Of Stars and Swords, we finally had our heroes encounter a fantasy staple: Dwarves. So here's a look at Caroline's design sketches for the two main Dwarves in the comic at the moment.

On the left is the Dwarf Commander, who never got a name because I never bothered with it. Maybe later. But he's much more our standard Dwarf, beard and all. Even then, Caroline made sure to keep him with a closer-cropped, dignified looking beard to help his military look. The armor he wears became the standard for the Dwarves, so any background Dwarves you see tend to be wearing the same design, though usually with helmets.

On the right is Algvi, the scout that joins up with the characters to lead them underground. With him, I gave Caroline only two suggestions: Make him bald and give him some kind of tattoo on his head. She ran with that, added the wonderful mutton chops, a nice nose scar, and roughed him up in a way that gave him a lot of character. His armor is, essentially, the same as the Dwarf Commander's, but leather rather than plate.

Monday, December 24, 2012

STS-46: OSAS Issue 2 Cover Inks

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone!

We're currently in between Issue 2 and 3 for our webcomic, Of Stars and Swords, and while we're taking a two week break before the start of Issue 3, that doesn't mean we don't have something coming for you. Caroline has been putting together a cover image for Issue 2, because for some reason we enjoy doing those after the issue ends instead of before!

We'll have the full color version up on Wednesday on the main OSAS website, but until then, how about a look at the inks?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

STS-45: Redesigns

Through the comic, we've reached a few points where I've come to realize that a particular character design just isn't working, or needs to change to fit where the story is.

Aram got a complete redesign between issue 0 and 1.  His original costume was too garish and all over the place.  When the comic headed in a more grounded direction, he needed a more unified and realistic wardrobe.  So he went from some weird Korean/caveman combo to barefoot Frontiersman.

At the same time, Nika got tweaked a little.  Her gypsy skirts were replaced with a heavy wool skirt and thick belt, her ballet-inspired slippers became baggy boots, we cut off her long ponytail to give her a rough charm (and to remove the genie semblance), and added a long necklace to give back some girliness. 

Seren went from long hair to short at the same time, and upgraded her knives.  But her haircut was not a redesign.  It was something she did herself, off camera, probably with one of her daggers.  In a perfect world, all the other character changes would not have needed to happen, and Seren's own subtle change would be more unique.


Lately, Marguerite's design just hasn't been working for me.  She seems out of place, even for a mystical creature.  My main concern was to make her look more resilient.  While I loved her original design, I felt she needed more coverage up top, and more weight in her outfit below to balance the design and allow the loose fabric of her dress to really pop.  And real shoes.  No one, no matter how magical, should have to trek across the countryside in dress sandals.

So from left to right: First we have Marguerite's original design, by Karen Ledford of Melfina Cosplay.  Second is our concept for her, though in the comic I never put the necklace and I pinched her waist more and lengthened the dress.  Last is the new design that will pop up next issue. (hah!  And I didn't notice until now that I put her in the same pose as Karen did!)

It was a challenge to stay true to the silhouette and colors balance of the original.  I also had to make sure I wasn't repeating design elements inherent in the other characters' outfits, so cap sleeves, loose sleeves, and longer gloves were not an option.  The boot covers are a favorite of mine that I've been itching to use, and keep the boots from being too Sailor Moon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

STS-44: Alternate Of Stars and Swords Page

Alright. Due to sickness, we had no Of Stars and Swords update this week. It's the first week we've failed to update since launching, and it bothered us both a great deal, but it was the best decision. Caroline, especially, has needed the time to recover from whatever hell we both managed to catch.

But it's Wednesday and I feel wrong not putting SOMETHING online for people to enjoy. So I've got something for you all, and I like to call it the reason why we don't let Caroline do the writing...or, alternatively, the reason why we should have her doing all the writing.

Below is the version of last week's page that Caroline gave me to letter. These days, she always does some flatting before I get the page, so color of various kinds is not out of the ordinary. But for this, she decided that she would put in her own words...

Just in case it wasn't obvious from the text and the color choices, Caroline enjoys turtles.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

STS-43: Scifi Comic Preview - Character Lineup

Hey, everyone!

Over the past few months, I've been working on putting together a scifi comic to run alongside Of Stars and Swords. Plans are being made, scripts are getting finished, and art is even starting to come together! A couple of months back we showed off some headshots for the characters, but initial designs can only go so far.

Alongside starting on the initial pages, I recently put together a full lineup of the main characters. Caroline helped me tweak them to get things just right, and afterwards she inked the piece. So here's a look at the main cast. Should have a color version to come relatively soon, handled by Caroline of course. As usual, click to see a slightly bigger version!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

STS-42: OSAS Splash Page Layout

Hey, everyone! Last week's Of Stars and Swords page was a big splash page that Caroline nearly killed her hand and eyes on. It's only fair to give you a look at the layout she put together, since this is one of the rare times she put together every step of the art. So here's her layout sketches which you can compare with the actual page by clicking this link!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

STS-41: OSAS Horse Studies

Hello again! So this week's Of Stars and Swords page is full of horses! Before getting going on the page, though, Caroline did a bunch of studies and sketches on the layouts we put together. And here they are for you to enjoy, along with another look at how the layout for this page began to compare against where it ended up!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

STS-40: OSAS Colors

Hey, everyone. I know we're quiet here, but that's only because Caroline and I are hard at work on Of Stars and Swords! We also just launched a Prose based side project for the webcomic, featuring its own story in the same world, if that's your kind of thing! And in addition to all of that, there's more prep and work going on for the long-talked-about Scifi comic. Not to mention random sketches, ideas for some prints, and other things that you're likely to see here as they get done. So yes, we're busy!

But I've got the perfect thing for this blog today. Caroline's been coloring the Of Stars and Swords pages just a bit differently lately. Trying some different ways to simplify what she does and still be comfortable with it. And then I threw Page 4 of Issue 2 of the comic at her. It's a travel montage, with five completely different scenes on one page. That is not at all easy, and Caroline really worked hard to make them all work individually.

So here, for your eyes, is the entire page minus those pesky letters I feel compelled to cover up all her careful shading with!

Slightly larger version on deviantart:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

STS-39: Scifi Comic Preview - Headshots

Hey, everyone! We've been a little quiet on the blog due to chugging along on Of Stars and Swords. Hope you're reading and enjoying it, but this post is about another project we're working on.

Unlike Of Stars and Swords, I'll be handling the heavy lifting on the art, with Caroline only inking me and doing some basic colors (unless the plan changes on that end). So that means I've been spending a lot of time forcing my own art skills back into shape. It's rough, and I'm getting quite a lot of assistance from Caroline to have work that's actually presentable, but it's finally paying off.

So as a little preview of things, here are the headshots of four major characters for an upcoming Science Fiction comic. I'm in the process of putting together an 8 page short comic to get this off the ground, and the pencils on that should start coming along soon. After that, a full launch is to come!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

STS-38: Process

Hey, everyone! I know it's been a little while since we've updated the blog, but we've been busy. Excuses, I know. However! Here's a nice, meaty update for you all to enjoy.

As of today, our webcomic, Of Stars and Swords is up to Page 5 of Issue 1, technically page 25 overall. And with this page, we figured this would be a good time to give a rundown of our process in creating all of this. I'm not going to go into too much detail, but feel free to ask any questions. We might do some more detailed process posts later if you like this one!

So. First up, the script for Page 5!

A couple things on the script. This page, and the next year's worth of scripts I've written for Of Stars and Swords was written in Celtx. It's a great free program with a built in comic script format that I love. Only problem is, exporting the files in other usable formats isn't really that easy. I still love the program, but I'm now doing the bulk of my script writing in Scrivener. It's a very complicated program, but also insanely powerful and exactly what I need since I make tons of outlines and other notes that the program can all combine together while I write the script.

Now, as for actual process. This script was written well over a year ago now. In some ways, that's a good and bad thing. The bad part is obvious. It's older and hopefully I'm a better writer now that a full year has past. But the good is that I can look at this script again, but as if someone else entirely wrote it. The main problem? It's wordy. Now, this is a page of heavy exposition for a scene that's basically setting up the conflict of our entire plot, so it's going to be wordy to a point. It is, however, too wordy. There's a limit to how many word balloons you can cram onto a page before it just becomes unreadable, and this script has it right on the edge.

Thus, it gets edited down. Now, where the edits happen tends to vary. I try to do them on the actual script, but that doesn't always happen. This is a case where the edits are actually on the lettering stage, so we'll get to that in just a bit.

Layouts are next!

Layouts for the page are something I also handle. With the script in front of me, I do exactly what you see happening there. I'll draw out various ideas for how to break down the panels. This page is an interesting one to see, as three of those quick sketches look almost identical. This tends to happen when my head gets stuck in one area. I don't erase them because it's me working them out as I go, and I usually don't realize I've made an identical layout until I look at them both. That means two things to me: Either I've hit on the right layout for the page right away, or I'm not thinking outside the box enough.

I figured it was the latter on this one and got Caroline's input. The two page layouts on the right are what happened when she and I talked it through. You can see that it's the same basic idea, but trying to push it into something a little more visually interesting. The top right one was exactly what I had been trying to find, so then I do a slightly larger version of the page with very, very rough sketches of where everything goes. It's crude, I know, but the point isn't to look good so much as to get an idea for how much space everything should take up on the page and, just as important, where the word balloons will fit.

Also, on this page, we had to introduce a new character that we'd yet to design. So Caroline and I talked him out while she sketched and there you have the face of our Elf Commander. We really wanted to keep him from that usual long haired, girly-looking stereotype and I really like how he came together.

After that's done, I pull out a full art board and get the panel borders mapped out. Then I take it down to Caroline and she gets to hold it hostage for the next few steps!

Using my layouts as a rough framework, Caroline puts the pencils you see above together. On this page, she mostly stuck to the placements I had set out, but if you look closely you can see that panel two is now zoomed out just a bit and she's added in Barstof in the background rather than ignore him entirely. She also zoomed out on Nika in panel four and played with her pose, and this, thankfully, gave more room for the text.

There are times where my layouts are simply ideas for Caroline to use to get someplace even better. It really just depends on the exact material and how bland my layouts are. We're making a real effort to change up camera angles and not use too many of the same shots, but it's easy to fall into habits if you don't have someone else constantly checking on you.

When the pencils are done, I scan the page and give it right back to Caroline so she can ink it. All her inking is done traditionally using nibs (a Hunt 512 for thicker lines and a Hunt 102 for details) and acrylic ink. This is the point to really nail down where the blacks are going to go, and balancing that amongst the entire page is very important so as not to distract the eye too much. With a lot of inking in comics these days, it's just one stage, but we do things a little differently for Of Stars and Swords.

After the blacks are down, Caroline puts down an ink wash of watered-down acrylic ink.

Caroline uses the wash to help add texture to the page. It also is a precursor for how she colors, putting in basic shadows that will be expanded on during the coloring process.

This is a stage I've wondered if we should skip, simply keeping the more structured black inks, but the wash adds so much life and depth to the pages that it would be a mistake.

After this is done, the page is scanned yet again, and then Caroline adds color!

Here with the colors, things are finally digital. Caroline does all of this in Photoshop. The ink wash gets tinted various colors based on what is being shaded and you can see how it adds a great deal of depth to the final look of the page.

Now, this next image you're going to want to click as it's pretty big.

That right there is the template I use for lettering in Illustrator. The idea for this kind of template is something I have shamelessly taken from Scott McCloud, and it has taken lettering from something I dread to something I love doing. Once Caroline is done coloring, and sometimes before depending on how fast things are going, I take a low res version of the page and drop it into the center of my template to start lettering.

As you can see, I have pre-made balloons ready to be copied over. They are also immediately ready for text to go in them. There are two layers so that some balloons can be on top of others if necessary. It's worth noting that the outlines for my balloons are not individually constructed, but an actual property of the layer they're on, so it's much easy to slide balloons together like you see in Chloe's line on Panel 2. I don't use templates for tails, however. I prefer to make those based on where the balloons are placed and work them out more naturally.

That big open spot on the left is for any color swatches or various other things I might need. As you can see, there are only two things there right now. Those are the colors of the gradient for Seren's captions, which you can see combined in a caption box over on the other side. That other grey area with text information is where I play with sizes and shapes of things. You can see the commander's nameplate in a slightly different form there.

And as I mentioned before, if you look at the text and compare it to the original script, you can see where edits were made for clarity or simply because I wrote way too much. Also, you can now see why the entire left side of the map was empty, as it's now almost completely covered by text.

After all that's done, Caroline looks it over to make sure I didn't make any typos or other stupid errors. Which I tend to make. Quite a lot. So I fix those, give her the file, and she puts it all together and puts it on a torn-page template she made for us. it is, finished and hopefully looking better than that script could have hinted at!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

STS-37: Preview

A panel from page 3 of the new issue. Trying to loosen up the pencils to save time and make inking less tedious. It's nice to leave some decisions open for inking, instead of just having to straight trace my pencils exactly.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

STS-36: Preview of the Week

No preview last week because Graham and I decided to share this snapshot of a couple pages in-progress on Twitter:

This week's panel comes from that first page, finally finished.

The straw roofing has won me over.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

STS-35: Preview of the Week

Another Of Stars and Swords panel. I'm trying to remember that everyone carries around weapons and they don't just pull them out of thin air at the beginning of a fight.

I've been looking foward to drawing more character interaction and it definitely picks up after issue 0.

Monday, January 16, 2012

STS-34: Preview of the Week

I wanted to start sharing weekly previews of stuff in-progress. Mainly peeks at pages I'm working on in earlier stages. This week, I share with you a panel from page one of the next issue of Of Stars and Swords.

It's simple, but it came together nicely and didn't fight me too much. My pencils aren't as clean and finalized as they could be, but I'll fix the line weight and other problems when I ink.