Aug 31, 2011

Airship Daedalus Cover Finish

Just handed this off to the client and they seemed to like it.
Onto the next one...


Aug 25, 2011

Airship Daedalus Cover

I recently finished a cover for a webcomic series that may be going to print soon. It was an interesting gig and was right up my alley in terms of good pulpy fun. After the initial thumbnails I locked down a sketch.

A few days later I delivered a color rough and proceeded toward the finish line. Of course a lot changes between the rough and the finish, including the drawing.


Aug 22, 2011

Film Through the Backdoor: Screenwriting & Comics Pt. 2

Looking back to move forward.
While reading through the last installment there were some things I thought would be valuable to expand upon. So bear with me if this seems like I'm jumping around a little. You may even thank me later.

Doing your me it's fun!
You can shell out a ton of money at your local comic shop (LCS) to see the latest and greatest offerings. This will get you up to speed on trending styles in writing and art. Be experimental look at the plethora of books outside of the superhero genre, there really is something for everyone. If you don't know what you're looking for a good LCS clerk will point you in the right direction. Describe what kind of movies and television you like, which would include your own screenplay and they'll be more than happy to help.
Don't be surprised though if they're not all sunshine and rainbows toward you. Their first love is comics not customer service. So it might even be a good start to look online or interact in various forums. Google "comic forums" and you'll be up to your neck in filling out profiles.

But if you don't have the money to spend on back issues, trade paperbacks (collections of several issues of a book that constitute a story arc) and graphic novels (self-contained longer works) then your local library might be hip to the jive of comics as literature--as they should be. Online research will also help you find the top comics and books that have won Harvey, Eisner, Shuster, Inkpot and various other awards over the years. Then see if your library carries them. Most of the better ones do. If not, there are several online stores that specialize in these volumes that you can get for discount.

The way a lot of books are written today they 4 and 5 issue story arcs sometimes within a larger over-arching them. Something worth keeping in mind.

So once you've done your homework, you did it right? Hey, I told you this wouldn't be easy, but I hope you find it fun. If may have to ask yourself, "WHAT AM I DOING HERE?"

What do you want your project to look like? Hopefully while doing your homework you wrote down names of publishers whose books you liked. Keep in mind the printing quality and the design of the books. You really want your book to look the best it can and be in good hands in terms of marketing and getting the word out.

Check online to see what kind of presence the publisher has and what other people say about them. See how many of their books have won awards.

Write down names of artists you like too and ask yourself: What is it about their art I like? It might be the ease in which they tell a story or how much photo reference they use.

You should be able to READ a comic by the pictures alone since this is primarily a VISUAL MEDIUM. This constitutes good storytelling. If you can't the artist might not be right for you no matter how cool their style is. Remember it's a collaboration.

Be aware of how they may tell your story by the types of books they illustrate. Just because they illustrate superhero stuff doesn't mean they won't want to try something different. Even if you don't approach them...knowing their names will be useful later.


This is similar to film in that it's gotta grab the person drawing it, publishing it and buying it. Because in the end you'll be the person presenting it to all three of these types of people, perhaps more. The pitch may change depending on who you pitch to first. Your initial pitch of your translated screenplay will probably be a few pages long. I know it sounds ambiguous but I've written 2-4 pages for a graphic novel pitch that ended up being anywhere from 90-163 pages of comics. I've only written screenplays I've never translated one to comics...that's just not my bag.

Obviously, a logline would start things off right. Then it's up to you to summarize your story from there as concise as possible and as enticing as possibly. It's a mix of sales and succinctness.

Artists and editors have no time. Editors especially, work on several books from inception to print and they still have a ton of talent to cajole and coddle and new books to launch and ads to oversee. Make your summary so that you know the WHO, WHY, WHAT and so forth and it hits all the big moments. Give the person reading no excuse but to respond to you as quickly as possible.
Because you can bet they're looking for an excuse to get back to work and for you to stop wasting their time.

But where do I find artists and publishers?

Say you have in mind what types of artists you think would be good for your book. Artists are usually easier to approach at comic cons than they are online. Look for the cons in your area and check out the guest list and artist alley listings. Familiarize yourself with their work, bring several copies of your pitch (not the whole screenplay or adaptation) if they want to see more have it ready to print but no sense in lugging around more than you need.

Chat them up, buy a sketch get to know them as a person and vice-versa. Remember too, there's a fine line where some comic people are mistrustful of film people who want to get in to comics. But secretly many comics people want to get into film, me included. Same with the comic and video game industries too. The dream to cross-over to greener pastures is ubiquitous.


Here's how the conversation with a penciler could go: Ask them what their schedule is like, if they have a lot going on in the next few months. If not, then ask if they'd be interested in reading a pitch to get their feedback. This is key because it doesn't obligate them to an unseen project they don't want anything to do with. If it's only 2-4 pages then nobody has lost any sleep.

Even play a little hard to get too. Mention that you're really trying to refine this pitch and hope that it can entice an art team to come on board knowing full-well it's a long shot. And close with the idea that you RESPECT THIS PERSON'S OPINION, because if their art is as good as this, then they probably have exceptional taste. I know...sounds like a load, but really it should come from your truthful center.

Who knows, they may read it. Make sure it has your name and contact info on it too. And give them your business card. And thank them for their time.

Publishers are a tough nut to crack, especially for writers.

Publishers are represented at cons by their editors. Getting an editor to READ your work is virtually impossible. WHY? Because many publishers have a policy of not taking unsolicited samples from anyone. They say it's because of possible overlap in stuff they have in their production pipeline and they don't want to be sued. It's happened and everyone is skittish. That's why your best bet is to have an artist in place ahead of time and come to the table with a fully formed project.

If the art is enticing enough, the editor will more likely read it.

So what if an artist gets back to you? Now things start to get interesting.

I'll talk more about it in the next installment.
Always remember, this industry is small while far-reaching, poor while having very few successes. So tread lightly and be honest with your provocations. Do your best to be authentic and who knows you may make a couple of friends along the way.


Aug 20, 2011

A Process: Part II

After I had some time to think about this I realized I'd be doing myself a disservice by painting it in oils. A couple of things came to light. But most importantly getting it into my computer at a high enough resolution for print was the ultimate undoing. My camera does a great job but not 600 dpi of greatness. I could have taken 3 different shots of the piece so as to make the 240 dpi higher once I pieced it all together...but accuracy counts here folks.

On the other hand there were some problems people had with the color rough as well. Some design problems came to light which needed fixing in a big way. Something that would have been excruciating on canvas. Still it's good discipline and not to be ignored.

So, knowing what I know now and having finished this digital piece for the client, I
still plan on painting this for myself because I like a lot of what was accomplished. Since the oil painting isn't going to be the cover I may make further adjustments to the overall design and simplify it. But now at least I'll feel a little more carefree in my approach. At least I hope I do.

I still have a couple more projects in the pipeline but soon, I'll be breaking out the oils again.
Watch out!!!


Aug 15, 2011

Film Through the Backdoor: Screenwriting & Comics Pt.1

On occasion I've been contacted by several screenwriters in the past to "adapt" their screenplay for comics. I even got an email from a Hollywood stuntman!

Like the saying goes, "Everyone in L.A. has a screenplay." That just may be true.

There's something in the air I think. People see comic properties being turned into film and believe there's a backdoor into a movie career and while I think it creates a lot of disingenuous comics it also will keep happening until that window of opportunity is shattered by a string of bad films or new trends.

An acquaintance of
mine is writing a column that goes more in-depth about this but I offered my own thoughts on the subject that I think might be worth a share.

Comics are and always have been a visual medium. Much like film.

BUT... Comics are not film.

Comics are not storyboards either, though they can be storyboards and ultimately abuse the precious mechanics of comics.

Learning about the gears and inner workings of comics and good (an even bad) comic stories first and foremost before sitting down to write a script I think is most important. Learning about all the different types of comics out there can more inform the story and style of script you want to write. Not all comic stories are meant to be movies and no screenplay is meant to be a comic.

Firstly and lastly read a lot of comic scripts!
Befriend writers see if they'll send you some old scripts. That will get you on board with structures, formatting, and style choices.
Investigate to find out if the scripts are an artist/writer collaboration or a writer who doesn't know who is drawing his story. Then buy the comic whose script you just read to see how it was translated. You'll see the short and long of it right quickly.

Find out what it is about the comics medium that will make your converted screenplay special.

Otherwise, the sharp snappy dialogue, the concise descriptions of people, places and things is great. Stick to that. Don't become the "director" suddenly. The best comics are when each collaborator does their job and allows the mind-meld to do its magic and coerce the next person down the line to do one better. We're all trying to tell the greatest story possible. Good artists are going to bolster any element, motivation, action they can with visual symbology, metaphor, composition and design.

Think of artists as a living film crew all-in-one. From Director to set-decorator...that's half our job. The other half is story-teller.

Nothing turns off an artist, like myself, than somebody who doesn't know how a system works. Comics are made up of a lot of people who couldn't fit in anywhere else. We know an outsider when we see one. So don't be surprised if you're not received with open arms.

It's just like film in that regard.
Rarely will anyone in film receive anyone with open arms unless their resume is on their sleeve and worthy of note. And that's just to even have someone smile in your direction. Filmmaking is nothing short of producing a miracle with huge budgets...comics is clearly not that. But they can still be expensive in their own right, barely making enough to pay for the printing bill let alone the creators.

So why are we equally dubious of outsiders?
Because we can make comics our own. No money, no extra help, nobody else. We all have comic ideas and with the inception of the internet and digital media we now more than ever don't NEED ANYONE else.

However, comics is a very isolating creative experience and collaboration can be very rewarding. G
reat comics CAN be made with a lot of money, a lot of help and ideas. And usually are. But the best ones are usually made with the right balance of passion, creativity and skill.

Personally, I like scripts that start off with a bang, keep you turning the page and end with either a satisfying conclusion or a heavy cliff-hanger. Whatever happens in between better make sense. I want clean scripts with the dialogue finished so I can design my panels to fit the correct amount of words. Screenplay writers may or may not know that they can add extra panels where a character takes a moment for do the internal stuff that screenplays all say, " that's for the Actor to discover...or the Director to direct."

Action sequences should have little to no dialogue to keep good pacing because the reader ultimately controls the pace by how fast they read. Keep that in mind: more panels more dialogue more information to digest.

Count words! Pick up a comic or 12 and count how many words fit in many of the word balloons in different panels, scenes and pages. It's almost a haiku of sorts. Writer's should feel equal to the task of directing the actor as does the artist. As for camera direction unless you need to "angle on broken watch" or be more specific leave that for the artist. You may suggest at times an XLS (extreme long shot) to really play out a scene a certain way but know that the artist is holding the camera.

Writers do not have final approval on the art. This is just a wake-up call not a hard-and-fast rule. It's to say be aware this is still a collaboration, but at the end of the day an editor will have the final say, if there is an editor. The artist has to feel good about what they've done and the writer has to be sure that their ideas are clearly illustrated.

Realize too that the workload is unevenly distributed 20-80 or there-abouts depending on how deep your collaboration goes. Some artists help with plot points and may suggest dialogue or acting. So tread lightly and really ask yourself, "Is the change I want in the art going to make the overall product 10% better?" If it is, ask the artist what he thinks of changing something. Hash it out. But be sure to explain yourself in terms of how it serves the story. Because that's why we're all in this together.

Comics are generally 20-22 page monthly books. A screenplay is probably more translatable into a graphic novel 64-200+ pages of comics. That all depends on how committed you are to the comics medium or your screenplay.

Artist have to eat, pay bills and sometimes support a family and pay a mortgage. Health insurance is many times a luxury. Since comics is a visual medium and artist do much of the heavy lifting, MONEY is a great way to lubricate the creative process. Artists tend to make anywhere from $4000-6000 for pencils and inks at the larger publishing houses. That is close to a living wage for a 22 page monthly book that they should be able to deliver in 4-5 weeks. Just keep that in mind.

The property split is usually 50/50.
It's probably a good idea to make it contingent on the artist to complete his end of the bargain. Contracts are helpful in this matter and should be honored to the letter and clearly understood by all parties.

Just like film, doing the research in the medium is important. Artist love working with great collaborators and smart people who are in the know. Like most art forms that may look deceptively simple to do really well, I assure you it is not.

To bastardize a saying I hate but is seemingly applicable:

Comic creation isn't just for children anymore! :)


"What I really want to do is direct...that's why I got into comics."

Aug 8, 2011

A Process: Part I

I took on another cover project for the second issue of my friend's magazine. The first, if you'll recall, was a giant watercolor piece that was a scanning nightmare. This may be a nightmare of a different color.

I'm actually going to try and finish it in oils and then shoot it with my new Canon 7D. I prefer to send all color images print-ready at 600 dpi, especially if there is any blackline work in it. However for full-color and no blackline with this method I may not have that option without having to stretch the final image to spec. Stretching images is bad as Photoshop has to interpolate pixels causing them to double-up while at the same time losing clarity.

Regardless, my approach to project is the same.
I started with a plethora thumbnails after some direction was given to me. Then I moved onto character sketches and designs to support the theme and mood that I was hoping to achieve.

Doing my best to keep things loose I roughed out the layout with more detail and some initial shading to see where I might take it.

Using a grid overlay on tracing paper over the rough, I redrew that onto canvas using black prismacolor pencil and then finalized it in ink. Since it's a wrap-around cover I thought it best to have elements of interest large enough on both the front and the back. Seems to be okay so far.

Usually I run into trouble once I start in with the color. Something will bug me and will throw me into a tailspin. Or I'll lose my way and all confidence as to where to take it. Thankfully this first part seems to be fairly straight forward. Now onto the next phase of value study and color options which for these purposes I'll do digitally and quick at that.

More soon...


Aug 5, 2011


So here's the close to final painting for a book called Officer Downe. I've been sitting on it for a couple of weeks now trying to decide if it's really worth going into again.
As you can see from the below sketch the energy level has not been maintained. Why is that?
Over-rendering caused by zooming in too close? Not sure exactly but it doesn't quite endear itself to me.

But at the end of the day it is what it is and I need to move onto the next one.
Here's the next one: