Spread out, and do math

It’s not rocket science, plenty of people use spreadhseets BECAUSE they hate the math of figuring out and tracking data. You simply can’t do all of this mentally or you’d be buggered.

I use  a simple spreadsheet to keep track of printing costs, pricing, impact on sales and aspects of planning for shows.

And all of it comes from the MOST basic equations in ANY spreadsheet. Some people a re better at this than I am but nearly every analysis I make starts with this:

Sum(RowA x RowB).

Everything about that “x” or “/” or “-” makes the difference between total cost, cost per unit, and profit margin. Ooooh, really artsy terms eh?

It’s not sexy at all, it’s especially dirty to some artists who are just starting out and perfectly happy making a few bucks pressing the flesh at a con an not worrying about the fact they only made enough money for the Uber to get back home. To be honest, I’ve been there (I have my own car, but I’ve been busted at a few cons).

So open a google spreadhseet (my preferred cloud solution for business – there’s an advertisement in there somewhere – pay me Google) and give it a try if you haven’t already.

One of my favorite things to do is simulate the sales figures before a show by altering a few numbers here and there to see manage my expectations before a show – changing figures and seeing totals update in real time really helps planning what to buy for the next show, what to dump, and seeing what small changes can do to the whole picture.

So have fun with your numbers, they’re not so scary when you can see them all at once in a way where they’ll behave.

Prints, profits and preparation

So when it comes to conventions I seriously over-prepare. I always want to have a new book out every year, maybe some new prints. Compared to other artists who do the convention circuit full time, this is a drop in the art bin.

Even with Wondercon looming I want to create something – I finished editing both my sketchbook and new comic so I guess I just needed to do something different.

But the truth is I still work full time when possible and don’t have that imperative to create for a marketplace. But every day and night before a con I am doing something related to creating, preparing, practicing or testing ideas before the show. And as they say, it’s all fun and games until the show starts.

Watching some of those artists hustle through the con scene sort of reminds me of old lectures on ecosystems – top down predatory hierarchies, etc. The people who are really making the big money don’t follow the con scene, they MAKE the cons. Cons being kind of the operative word.

I could never do a con scene unless I had a larger and more profitable business to tour with. I appreciate some artists are able to make that work, travelling and selling at every stop. But that just doesn’t make sense to me as a business. Cons are what I would do in support of a business, not as core to business itself.

It’s like a new band that goes on tour without an album, it just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t make big money at conventions, but I have been able to make a consistent amount of money. That amount of money needs to adjust with the costs of doing the conventions and it’s become clear that it isn’t enough. I’m having to raise prices, cut costs, just like any businessperson should do when confronted with a lot of these “environmental” conditions.

So yeah, “it’s hard out there for a pimp” is the operative phrase. Same as it ever was is probably a lyric closer to my wheelhouse.

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80/20 Writing/Drawing

So the whole process for my graphic novel is kind of upside down from my usual process. I love comics as a medium – and in another life before freelance art, I spent an enormous time writing.

I used to be a student journalist – spent the last years of my college life writing and editing the campus newspaper. It was my most important training for self publishing because I basically did most of it myself.

I took my own pictures, wrote most of the stories, wrote the editorials, and even drew the editorial cartoons. As an interesting side, I even managed the campus radio station. But that was more because I loved getting new music for free than any desire to become a professional radio professional.

My usual process is to block out pages in basic text, then go straight to thumbnails, writing actual dialogue is something I usually do last and only because it’s the easiest thing to change at the last minute.

But I have been super critical of many writers in my space – that somehow, I don’t feel like they have spent anywhere near enough time crafting something that is suitable to the medium of comics. If the saying is true, that to a hammer everything looks like a nail, then I felt most writers viewed everything as text.

They may have imagined something, thinking it through in their mind’s eye like some movie playing back in their heads. But most of the time, it is some replay of a popular movie, or even another comic, that they have internalized and wanted to make their own.

I think exposure to too much media makes a person far less creative than they could be. I don’t like to work with writers who’s only comparisons come from popular culture. I know it’s inspirational for some writers to look at the latest Netflix hit and declare “that’s what I want to do!”

I fall victim to the same tendencies, after all I basically rip off Blade Runner in everything I’ve ever made. Hypocritical, I know. I’m working on it.

I’m ranting again – I have never spent this much time trying to write something as if someone else were going to draw it.

Van Halen and life in general

Van Halen. A name and a band, and for me personally kind of a mantra.

I started playing guitar when I was twelve, but I can’t say I ever truly studied music formally. My mother was a music teacher, and she did for a short time demand that I learn to play piano but Van Halen made me bargain and whine for a guitar instead.

Piano just wasn’t cool enough. I told her many years later that I had made a mistake by not learning piano as well as I did guitar. But it was my choice, and as long as I was learning to play SOMETHING musical, she was happy.

I can remember a class I took in college where everyone was told to bring in something purely audio, not necessarily music, as part of an active listening exercise. I brought in “Cathedral” off the album Diver Down. I asked the class what instrument they thought it was and there were some who already knew but no one guessed it was a guitar. Look it up if you’ve never heard the song.

It’s really more of a solo than a song, but it got me thinking even when I was a kid that the guitar or anything was open for exploration. That formal learning only takes you so far. Eddie learned to play piano to a pretty high level, also encouraged to do so by his father (also a musician). I’d learned that just like Eddie didn’t play like anyone else, I didn’t want to create like anyone else.

That first song, Running with the Devil has a lyric that goes “I live my life like there’s no tomorrow, all I’ve got I had to steal. ‘Least I don’t need to beg or borrow. Yes, I’m living and I face that guilt.”

I think for me that lyric means something else – it’s not a call to hedonism that so many people misinterpret it to be. It’s kind of fatalistic – I HAVE to live like there’s no tomorrow because TODAY is so hard. It’s not all just a big party, it’s about the work that you have to do to get done.

Running with the Devil still gets a lot of radio airplay. Yeah, I still listen to the radio. It’s definitely a technology that’s lost it’s cool to the mobile earbud army of iTunes zombies. And any time that song plays, it still feels fresh to me.

I bought a Parker guitar a little over two years ago, even though the company kind of disappeared recently though many promise it will return eventually. It’s a guitar with a lot of really carefully crafted features to facilitate playing. Smooth surfaces, good components, lightweight construction.

I think plenty of people would accuse Parker guitars of being clinical. Too clean. But they don’t get it. The Player is the one who is supposed to add that “dirt” or “fire” – Eddie would famously tell people it’s pointless to tell you what gear he plays, because you will always sound like you when you play.

Kicking back into my favorite pet peeve of fan art, some often say that fan art is exactly that same outlet. That people are adding their own spin to established characters. Eddie would, I think, vehemently disagree and his argument would be one of his own albums – Diver Down.

As any Van Halen fan fan can tell you, Diver Down is a bone of contention – it is largely cover tunes. As a fan, I love the albums original songs – the aforementioned Cathedral is on that album. But Eddie hated it – too many covers, Van Halen had already slogged through the Los Angeles music scene playing covers because party goers demanded it.

And artists often view selling fan art as a means to get the bigger gig. And it’s true, I think it has happened – but Van Halen became a top rock icon because of it’s original work, not it’s cover songs. Gene Simmons didn’t hear their demo of cover songs, he heard their originals – Running with the Devil was one of those songs.

So who are you Running with? The Crowd? Or the Devil? Haha!

Deep color, and running blades

Colors are mostly done now.

I was really happy with that last panel – in kind of benefitted from all those years of rendering depth maps in my day job as a CGI/visual effects guy.

Depth maps are weird to look at in isolation – painting them by hand is like painting a deep landscape with no actual details.

If you are a colorist, making flats which basically recede in value per layer of the scene accomplishes this pretty easily. And since I am ultimately a Blade Runner devotee with too much time on his hands, I almost always make some kind of Blade Runner homage or hide an Easter egg in the architecture somewhere.

I think I’ve done this in nearly every book I have published – some establisher somewhere invokes or cribs a detail from the movie. To real fans, it’s sometimes painfully obvious, and I like people’s reactins (especially die hard BR fans reactions) when the spot them on their own.

Anyway, hope to see some you at WonderCon 2018 in artists alley, table E-07.