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.

CLICK HERE and visit my online store – every sale helps me keep the e-doors open. Thanks!



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.

WonderCon approaching

So I am positioned at table E-07 at WonderCon 2018 this year. After getting stuck on the waiting list for a few months, I have a new sketchbook prepped, a new comic almost finished, and another comic in production with an oft collaborator and friend Jamie Gambell.

Jamie’s podcast can be found here https://www.whoiampodcast.com/
Jamie and I collaborated on this piece for Nix Comics Quarterly.

Both of us work in post production and met through Karl Altstatetter of Extreme Studios. Karl used to host a meetup called Koffee and Komics in Universal City which turned into a broader collaboration culminating the Samurai Graphic Novel.

I knew Jamie worked on various projects around town, and I primarily worked out of the Universal backlot. For a few years, I would walk past the CSI soundstages on my way to lunch NOT knowing Jamie worked right inside stage 21 or 22 (CSI used stages 21-25 for almost ten years) depending on the schedule.

On one of my longer lunch breaks, and after finally figuring out we worked on the lot at the same time, I hung out backstage during a shoot once to talk about some comics stuff. Pretty laid back set, and every once in a while Jamie said the trams Universal is famous for would bleed into the audio of the shoot. Not something you can avoid, but you make do.

Jamie has had a podcast (at one time featuring your truly) about creative people processes and projects at https://www.whoiampodcast.com/. It’s worth taking a look at a lot of creative variety in there – musicians, actors, writers, comedians, publishers and more. If you are one of those struggling “below the line” like me, it’s always worth a listen.


The Art of Who Cares

I have always had a serious problem with “The Art of So and So” books.

I’m already pretentious enough without showing off a bunch of work no one saw in the waking world, that the idea of many sketchbooks just seems, well, selfish.

I get it. And I have done some of my own at the suggestion of other creators. But I have to admit I refrained from calling it “The art of …”

The real reason? Who cares. Who flipping cares. Note the lack of a question mark. It’s not a question anymore if everyone and their brother can publish a sketchbook of random stuff you didn’t make any money doing. To put it into really simple – and sometimes incomprehensible business speak to some – it is monetizing your sketchbook.

Why does that bother me? Why do I hate it? I think it’s seriously too much to ask for someone to proclaim what they do is really art by slapping it right there on the cover. It really only bothers me when people slap that moniker on there and the book is filled with rehashes, remixes or reinterpretations someone else’s intellectual property. And yeah I’m picking on fan art monetization. That should bug every artist but it doesn’t.

At some point you may find yourself at the nexus of copyright and theft – the real question then of your art is whether you are the thief or the victim. And I’m not talking about that Steal like and artist nonsense. That phrase has been abused so profusely the original author should have disowned it by now. But the lecture circuit is too profitable these days.

Stealing like an artist, as I define it, reminds me of something Frank Lloyd Wright said about his work. Nature was his inspiration, where you might say he “stole” his ideas. But he called it organic – as in organic architecture. That an architect experienced nature, it passed through their soul, and something new emerged. THAT is how you are meant to steal like an artist. It doesn’t mean selling prints of Poison Ivy having sex with Black Widow (mashups are fun, don’t get me wrong, but calling it art or stealing REALLY begs other  embarrassing questions).

SO my ranting continues. And I chose a theme for my sketchbook – a simple 24 page convention first for me. It’s themed around the ideas of the apocalypse – everyone’s favorite way to mull over the end of days, only I am using the doctrine of fair use CORRECTLY,  borrowing phrases from authors around the world, and coupling them with pieces I have created over the years. The effect, I think, is new, at least for me.

A funeral, flowers and a ring

So Wednesday is Valentines Day, and this is not a rant about romance or relationships or any of the usual vitriol about corporate reasons to spend money.

Well, in part it might end up that way. But for the few years after my father died I made sure I sent flowers to my mother. My father was a loving guy, and there was a cute look and grin he always had when he would tease my mom about this or that. It’s that look that says I love you, life is good, laugh with me and everything will be ok. It was usually after something broke, or more accurately, he broke something.

My mother always said that their first home, in a village on Guam called Mongmong, was her favorite. Their first son, daughter, their first car – a lot of family firsts were left in that house when the rest of the kids came along and made it necessary to move.

Few people in the world even live life as long as my parents were married – for nearly 60 years. And like a lot of kids, I felt like I both added and subtracted from their happiness at times. Bad grades and slight delinquency aside, I think I tried later in life to be more additive in that respect.

They were married for more years than I have lived even now and I know I’ve never made any commitment nearly as important or as lengthy as their marriage. For that matter I think they were married for longer than the popular notion that Valentine’s Day represented an obligation to spend money on restaurants, candy and expensive jewelry.

In the classic notion that money doesn’t equal happiness, my parents would always exclaim their higher form of wealth. As long as happiness, love and more often than not – FOOD – were in good supply, everything else was superfluous and wasted. Which was often why I was a total hero when bringing home fresh fish, caught that morning with my father. At least I thought so.

So when my mother finally passed, it was harder than ever to understand – given the national pastime that Valentines Day represents these days – that someone had by either ignorance, misplaced or by greed and malice, stolen my mother’s wedding ring. No one, not the nursing home staff, the ambulance crew, the hospital staff or the mortuary employees could find it.

I get that it is a small object, but the relationship it represented was more valuable than it’s setting or jewels. But our family did not pursue the matter further than official channels allowed at the time. It was more important to meet with cousins, talk about old times, and imagine them together again somewhere better than a place that lets symbols of devotion fall through cracks.

I’m not entirely sure I’m as forgiving as I should be on any given day – cut me off in traffic on a Monday morning and you might catch a clever adjective or two and some sworn penalty when I come to power. But being incredibly devout people, my parents impressed me more with their virtues as I got older. If only those virtues were genetic traits passed on to future generations. It’s that lack of forgiveness that would have me believe I am adopted were it not for the resemblance being rock solid.

I made a joke after the funeral to try an ease what I felt were still some tense nerves regarding the missing ring. My Dad had a pretty abrupt sense of humor, like a lot of his family did. In passing through the pearly gates, my father welcomes my mother with that grin, but then things get a little serious. His expression droops into a familiar disapproving stare usually made when one of the children has broken something expensive.

He stops her, and says “Hey,” pausing for effect, “Where’s your ring?” And before she can explain the whole folly of dozens charged with her care on earth, he chuckles, smiles and maybe even winks and says “Did you leave it at your boyfriend’s?” At which point they would laugh, forget about it, and get on with the rest of forever.

So this Valentine’s Day, there are – I am sure – any number of reasons to spend silly money on toys, trinkets, vacations, and all manner of ways to validate to the world how much your current relationship means to you. But I guess I just like flowers.

Making new samurai

I spent most of my time since Christmas writing the next comic – graphic novel, whatever people care to call it anymore.

But this one is going to take a while – even though I have most it outlined, mostly scripted, and I have roughs for the first chapter.

 So most of the work I have done on the book has been writing – I always save certain bits of dialogue for the last phase before the book is done and sometimes that has caused a few typos to slip through the cracks. But when working on the more tedious parts of production, little bits of lines here and there get tweaked as I spend more time with the work.


This book is going to have a lot of internal monologues – thoughts and information presented in a style a little different than I am accustomed. I wanted to experiment with storytelling that comes across almost completely as data – with meaning and weight that makes sense only when attached to the events portrayed in the imagery.

One of the general weaknesses of mainstream comics, one of the biggest things that bothers me about the medium as a whole, is the level of dialogue. Basically, I just don’t feel like the adults in comics sound like adults. While comics aren’t the best medium for drawing out conversations, no pun intended, the vocabulary, meter and weight of some of the actions depicted never seems to have a matching weight in words.

I get it though, for the most part. You write for the audience in mainstream comics or any medium. Some people say you have to write for yourself, or some version of that axiom. I prefer to say that I write to explore ideas and the world that supports those ideas.

Some writers are great at this. The characters get written with a careful attention to personality and education. But one thing is obvious, and it’s that when a writer who is not as smart as they want their characters to be tries to write those characters doing something very difficult, personal or remotely interesting.

If it’s out of your experience as a writer, it’s your job to seek out a similar experience, someone who has that experience or anything to get you closer to it to have a genuine response for your characters. Short of anything illegal, dangerous or impossible – you have to find something analogous. Then you have to be honest about it.

Is graphic novel still a dirty word?

So I don’t really care, arguing about whether graphic novel is still a novel is pointless mental masturbation. Call it a first world problem. Call it anything but an argument.

If you bemoan the idea of someone trying to dignify a really long comic book with a word like graphic novel it kind of ignores the impact that medium has had.

And that’s really what I enjoy – the medium of comics. I lost my taste for mainstream comics and even many less than mainstream comics a long time ago. But I always appreciate seeing something being done with the medium that in the mainstream that shows appreciation for the craft and medium.

I had a long talk a few nights ago with a friend who used to work in comics retail about how mainstream comics and fans have struggled lately – in my opinion they have always struggled. Struggled to be taken seriously, to be accepted, to reach new readers without losing old ones. It’s a publishing dynamic that hasn’t changed since the first time someone held out a floppy issue and said “Hey, wanna buy this?”

My friend and I then started to argue about something that IS actually important. Knowing your audience is something that is key to making anything get off the ground in business and publishing. I always hate listening to other comics creators muse about making something, then “Not caring about whether or not anyone likes it.”

That’s almost suicidal. You’re going to need to care about how much people like something eventually, because that often determines what you do NEXT. If they hate it, do you quit? If they love it do you make more? Pretty simple right? But so many creators miss a beat – everyone knows what they want to make. What most people miss is whether or not an audience exists for that thing you want to make.

My friend Vince argued that if I was making something, that I could assume there were other people out there like me who would be interested in it. With that, I agree, but what eludes many comics creators is reaching those people in enough numbers to make something financially worthwhile.

A long time ago, I concocted a model of making comics that has near zero costs until they actually get printed. Open source software, no material costs, only the sweat equity and meager cost of (more often than not) someone else’s electrical bill (thank you Starbucks – that’s not a plug, but a fact).

Time, of course, has enormous costs, and approaching convention time I rack up some bills – adding everything to a nice spreadsheet, looking at profits and losses – and weighed against the more intangible and sometimes more important metric of emotional success.

But I always weigh the results of small shows appropriately – when you have a small following you have to weigh things properly. I never took statistics, but I know that to weigh the results of something too heavily can spell really just make you spin your wheels. But at the level of a mainstream title, you can really (as a British friend puts it) “cock” things up.

All that said, I grit my teeth when someone talks about their followers and likes – especially when I see that they don’t have particularly large numbers. That constant social media drug that creators listen and get lost in is too often am irrelevant blip that creators mistake for the arrow on a map.

The only thing that moves me to action when the sample is so small is unanimity – to total lack of deviation, the uniformity of the signal. I’ve only seen that once in any of my work and to my regret it was for something I did not own. A piece of fan art, which I will not link to, has become the most popular thing I have ever created.

A lot of people would say I should chase that IP theft train, because why not? Everyone else is doing it – it gets you noticed and blah blah blah. I can’t help but feel it’s a dishonest way to make things – and while some companies consider it flattery until the courtship (translation: do fan art until you get noticed), I want to spend my time making MY work. I don’t care about making Disney shareholders richer.

I have made fan art mostly as an exercise in media studies – I have sold some of it. Enough to keep my website fees paid for a few months here and there, but I table at conventions where people who have never worked for a mainstream publisher in any capacity sell nothing but other people’s intellectual property.

I had a nickname for it – Popularity piggyback, but that’s too un-meme worthy for the general public these days. And even as legal counsel for Deviantart once pointed out, even if you did a mash up or self styled version of a property, the phrasing of copyright’s gives the original owners a wide range of tools to come after that work. Mash ups – another word for “expose me to more than one lawsuit.”

And yeah, go ahead and lecture me about fair use. When you’re broke all the time, doing mostly but fan art, aren’t very talented to begin with, yes – of course you’ll make a fair use argument. I’ll give you a more accurate term – small use. As in your work is too insignificant to merit the attention of an intellectual property holder.

Before I descend into nothing but ranting – too late – when I DO go to shows where this stuff happens (i.e. ALL of them), well, I just kind of shake my head. People make a lot of money at shows doing their IP dance, I make enough to get through the show with my own work.

So, I just keep working. On my graphic novel.