Pages of Eight Number 3

I admittedly worked harder, faster and better on this one comic than most things in my life. And oddly I did it on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 which I didn’t even think I would even own were it not for the fact I needed a larger tax deductible tech expense for 2016.

I find myself touting more brand names these days because it honestly seems like more of them have been meeting my needs unexpectedly than ever before. I didn’t really NEED the Surface, I had a Wacom Cintiq – the smaller 12ux – and it still worked, still performed well aside from oft driver hangup weirdness.

I committed to doing two things in my process for making comics which were both based on being more mobile. I wanted to work more in different environments – to join that coffee brew house regular crowd of screenwriter wannabes wasn’t as a attractive as the ambient noise and air conditioning. But I wanted to be more mobile as well as more social when it came to my comics this year.

Like most projects, I solicited input from a trusted circle of friends. But from a list of a dozen or so chosen I managed to get one full list of notes. That 80-20 rule – 80 percent of your results comes from 20 percent of your efforts – now looked more 92-8. Still, not bad odds considering the list I sent to were all professional. chronically busy people.

I had the opportunity to sit in and sketch for Brave New World in Newhall, CA for Free Comic Book Day and managed to give a few people my latest book. To most of the people I handed it to, I prefaced it with a qualifying statement – “This is my best book to date.”

Saying that really doesn’t mean much if you consider that if you are an artist who constantly seeks to improve, EVERY book you do should upon release should be the best book you’ve ever done. Hard to manage. But I internalized the cliche, stoic ethos that everything should become and opportunity to practice some key virtue. I used the word ethos, even for me, that’s pretty snooty.

So turning the somewhat lukewarm copout of “well at least it’s a tax write off”, into “I made the best book of my life” was a nice byproduct of that ethos.

The last, and for many comics creators these days, most difficult aspect of authoring something you feel is the best you can do is the acceptance of that creation’s ultimate faults and failures. It’s going into the world with a huge handicap, bustling against the noisy summer releases from the media giants, and being buried by its own platform’s wasteland of underappreciated books.

The stoics call that last step “willing acceptance” – specifically, it’s what too many winners call the Loser’s prayer – the strength to accept the things one cannot change, the courage to change what can be changed and wisdom to know the difference. That bit never gets old. Those mocking winners end up in the loser’s circle on a long enough timeline, and under their breath, they all start praying. Haha!

Pages of Eight 3 goes live on Comixology tomorrow. I hope you can take a look.

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RIP, rant in peace

I actually went back in for about an hour to try and see if it was worth going back in just for some kind of promotional value. But since leaving, it feels like the technical changes amount to very little.
I admit it, I am highly allergic to popular opinions, fashion and what people think resembles clever thought. We read too much crap and do too little real work. Rant, rant and rant.

I know there are apps that track your facebook usage, and people make claims about their habits “I only use it blah blah blah.”

I have zero doubts about how many hours get wasted blathering on it incessantly. That’s why I still blog. To rant in peace.

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Ego arch enemies

Ryan Holiday has quickly become one of my favorite authors with only two books. “Trust Me, I’m Lying” and “Ego is the Enemy” are two truly indispensible books for authors in the age of easy self publishing.

They are both quick and easily digestible reads, each with deep warnings about how dangerous the simple act of telling yourself an inaccurate story can be. I love writers, some of my best friends are writers, and that moral license inevitability compels me to tell them my favorite writer joke.

“What’s the difference between a writer and a large pizza? A large pizza can feed a family of four.”

For me, this joke is a test of character. If they think it’s funny, it’s because they understand the struggle but if they don’t it means they understand only the fear and treat it as an insult.

How could it not be? There are plenty of successful writers, and they dominate mediums like literature, television and comics. I think that reading Ryan’s books will help cure you of the inability to get the joke.

If you are a writer, I recommend these books – there are too many important ideas in them to ignore. But the most critical theme between the two of them is the simple and stoic idea of knowing, and being honest with yourself.

If you don’t laugh at my jokes, I promise I won’t take it personally. But maybe you should.

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WonderCon post mortem

Literally the worst best convention ever. Hyperbole aplenty at this year’s con, the one show where I feel like there’s enough action and an audience for what I do. And that, honestly can confuse people because I do a lot.

When you walk by my table, you usually get a glimpse of my sculpture. For three or so years, I have been using 3d printed sculptures to draw people to my table. This year printed out a digital model of a concept I painted digitally a year or so prior. It was a nice progresson, 2d, to 3d, to 3d print. Cool right?

The morning of the second day, as the rush of people grew, one of my fellow exhibitors knocked over the statue. Most of the tentacles snapped right off. I was mentally prepared for this to happen before the show, but I really thought I was going to knock it over and not someone else.

It was a proud moment for me – I was actually trying to finish a commission when it happened and that turned out pretty darn cool.

I actually felt the palpable panic of the people next to me, who were very apologetic and far more embarassed than I was. It felt strange, usually I’m the one who freaks out, throws a fit, leaves, or just throws in the towel. I guess the added pressure of having to finish a commission for an old friend took the pressure off more than added to it. The pressure to create after destruction, it’s rocket fuel.

But I knew I printed that object so fast and light that it was particularly fragile. I took the risk. But even with the shattered tentacles, the piece still drew quite a few people curious about the look – to some people it looked like a demonic Venus De Milo, broken but still beautiful and almost unimaginable any other way.

It sits shattered at the very highest point on my desk hutch. Like a trophy.

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Deadlines and pricing

I have a few options with my latest book, all of which are driven by the WonderCon Deadline this year.

I made it into the show, that’s not the problem. I wrapped up my last days on the show I was working on – they day job – and took on a freelance job which put me a full two weeks behind the much more comfortable schedule for delivering Pages of Eight 3 at WonderCon this year.

Since getting my Ultimaker 2, I’ve been trying to have a cool new printed project every year – something to have at the table that starts conversations. This year is no different, but with barely enough time to finish Pages of Eight, I might just print out some older projects instead.

I did think I would print out something else from another show I worked on. I got to build and animate a fun horror comedy creature sequence in the Sundance premiere of Snathcers from some fun UCLA alumni.

Hopefully, they can sell the series and I might get to work on it again, but I like having something at the table which represents a broader swath of what I do. Printing out the Snatcher creature itself would be a fun way to show that.

I might even be able to print it out life size – the actual creature was barely a foot long. Crouching over a skull – that might be pretty cool looking. Though I’d need almost as many weeks to print and paint it as I have for Pages of Eight. And I can’t sell the Snatcher, really. I have no rights to its design. A lot of work for a showpiece.

SO when I make up my mind, the show will have ended already, HAHA.

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Chunky Man Bun and other fads

I get that people have dramatically cooled on open source software – just like they have cooled to 3d printing, Furby’s and Cabbage Patch Kids. BTW, the title of this post was just me picking on someone who walked into the coffee shop. I can be so superficial. But deep down I’m REALLY shallow. Smirk.

But people still have enormous appetites for certain things – stuff that’s past it’s heyday and prime. Some of us don’t let go. There are things I know I’ve grown out of so to speak – I don’t avidly do anything popular culture oriented (ok, I was a Twitter fiend for a year, tops). I haven’t had cable television for at least seven years. Stopped collecting comics twenty years ago, and don’t have Netflix.

But I am usually always aware somehow of trends – you can’t avoid them with Twitter, Instagram and other apps these days. I still get email detailing trends, whether that’s spam or not is up to the filters.

I had a discussion with a friend the other day where we were talking about the shrinking market of independent comics. A market that was already small, driven by its own creators and given very little credence in the other popular arts. It’s such an easy predictor of some people’s behavior – if it gets popular they jump on board.

So maybe the glow of The Walking Dead has worn off to the point where no one is mining independent titles for another prognostication of creative and financial success. Saga, anyone? No?

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Getting ahead of the page count

How do you think indie comic artists with full time jobs get work done? Often slowly, often in pieces, very often in bursts.

I had a good burst while working full time on the Netflix comedy – coming to a netflix login near you. I would get home from work, fire up the Surface Pro and munch on dinner intermittently while trying to pick up where I left off the night before.

I spent every night – with one exception – working on as many panels as possible, writing an re-writing in the two or 2.5 hours before going to sleep. I never wanted to let the sleep thing get out of hand.

I am actually more than week behind my realy ambitious schedule but considering it took me the better part of a year for the last issue of Pages of Eight, I think I am so far ahead of the page count that I can’t help but celebrate a little.

For me, that means I can grab a burger or some pancakes … then get back to it.

And that’s a half truth – let me explain … to the three of you that give a shit.

I don’t tend to draw for long periods of time. I can burst through certain tasks, for about two hours and then need a break. Often I spend that break doing anything but drawing – looking over copy, checking the next tasks on the upcoming pages, thinking about light and lines (spoken lines, not just drawn ones).

It’s a nice way to manage the demands of being your own editor – whiile I am primarily an artist, I write this book as well so I have to give a lot more time to that side of the process which I feel is the far less labor intensive part of it all.

Even so, I manage to write myself into corners – the crowd shots, the weird angles, lots of times. But I know what it’s worth to me, I know what the way it works.

Off to the drawing board (or Surface in this case).

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Own it like a Girlboss

SO I am on hiatus from the day job at the moment. The last shots wait for notes, and there are always notes. Shots rarely come back from QC (quality control) but when it does happen, it’s usually something very essoteric and usually easy enough to fix in a few hours.

SO the show is called Girlboss, the fictionalized version of the rise of Nasty Gal – the vintage clothing web sensation. Doesn’t sound like my usual does it? No – and that’s why I kind of loved the experience.

While shows like Battlestar Galactica and Defiance had tons of visual effects, shows like those get a lot of leeway in a strange way in that they often show you things you for whiich you don’t have a complete reference. You can get away with a lot because of the amount of “real” gets taken away. In a show like Girlboss, there is nowhere to hide, everything has to be as close to real as possible because MOST of the show doesn’t depend on spectacle. It depends on drama, performance, and humor.

I haven’t really had a job in my career like it – no monsters, spaceships, or other spectacle.

Last year, I had a brief shot at working on Star Trek Discovery, I got a call from a friend and producer I’d worked with before asking if I was interested. TO be brutally honest, my heart really wasn’t in it. My old mentor, supervisor and friend Gary Hutzel had passed away and I know people always say move on and get new experiences but this was after all, my choice.

I decided not to pursue the lead, I had my own goals that were starting to have a lot less to do with prestige jobs and more with my own storytelling. Not getting any younger, etc.

I recently learned the entire in house visual effects team for Discovery had been let go without ever finishing a shot. Kind of feel like I dodged a bullet there.

One of my least favorite things in life is pouring my effort into something that never gets seen. I had already been through that on Blood and Chrome which I worked on with Gary. Through no fault of his own, almost all of my work was edited out of that show. Nine months of work never got seen. It was down to a producer making a broad change to sequences to fit his vision and my work ended up being redone after I had already left the production.

It happens to everyone who works in television or film – massive amounts of work ending up being cut or worse. Actually I don’t know what’s worse and I have never been satisfied with the attitude “at least the checks cleared.” That’s never been why anyone who loves this work does it, so why should it be the rationale for the times it goes horribly wrong. Silver lining? Few people can tell the difference between cheap tin and overpriced silver, and they don’t call it “visual effects” for nothing.

My heart goes out to that team. I know, have worked with, and truly love some of the guys on that team. I know these guys can fly, I also hope they land just as well at other facilities.

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One third done, two months to go

At least, I hope. WonderCon Anaheim is at the end of March and I am only now finishing pencils and layouts.

If I go on hiatus at work in the next two weeks which is entirely possible, I may just make it. It’s a rare opportunity to have full time to dedicate to my projects. The personal cost is astronomical.

I’ve actually looked into hiring a colorist towards the end to make sure I don’t miss the print deadline I set. It’s not that I don’t like or can’t color my own books, but it is aside from from lettering the only major part of the process I feel comfortable delegating.

And that’s always a big question for indie creators – how much do you delegate? For me it’s simple, I can’t delegate things I can’t afford in terms of time. Money isn’t always the issue, I am pretty proud of the fact that I never spent a dime on production software for my books. Printing costs, conventions, travel and meals are the largest periodic costs that are unavoidable, and yes, I don’t  always cook my own food before a convention. I used to.

But knowing some very good and professional colorists lately has been a blessing. My friend Jamie Gambell, another indie publisher has this delegating thing down to a tee – be honest, pay what what you promised, be specific.

We here too many stories about comics Pros getting into fights over unpaid projects, creative disagreements and other ephemera. But I’ve been a work for hire guy most of my life and know that when I put my goals ahead of the project’s goals, pain is all it causes. And yeah, there were times I thought the pain would be worth it.

So maybe it’s time to delegate a few things. Can’t hurt, right?

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Running for office … space

People talk about the movie Office Space a lot in the context of their jobs. It makes sense that the themes cross over no mater where you happen  to work.

Wrestling some future projects, why is this so hard?

I work in a visual effects studio with custom made furniture, polished concrete floors and, too often, too little light. But the atmosphere couldn’t be less like the movie if it tried. That doesn’t mean it’s any more glamorous. I joke all the time that it’s demo reels that glamorise the work because we look like a bunch of telemarketers or accountants at our desks.

I’ve been thinking that I am kind of running out of space for the projects I want to tackle in the future. Which is odd because I have been using my Surface Pro more often and can be anywhere with it. But the scale of some upcoming architecture and design ideas means I might need actual fabrication space.

Router tables, bandsaw, maybe a CNC machine – I can’t afford any of that, but it’s goal right? One of the most exciting products I’ve seen lately is a handheld computer assisted router that could really help with some larger constructions I want to tackle. Think the ultimate transforming desk. Or outdoor portable studio.

I’d want there to be an engineering element to more of my work this year – real structures, great spaces, something grand. Does this sound like a new year’s resolution? Not really, that would be too formal.

What is formal is trying to get my latest book done. Almost all of my engineering ideas take less actual time and energy to finish than a single issue of my comics.

Well, we’ll see.

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