Friday, July 29, 2011

Where do ideas come from?

One of the aspects of working in a creative field that I find challenging is coming up with good ideas. Staring at a blank page, trying to fill it with something wonderful and inspired, can be incredibly daunting. I've learned that ideas tend to pop into my brain at the weirdest of times, which explains the tiny scraps of paper with scribbled notes filling a drawer of my art desk.

I think inspiration hits when I'm relaxed, not really 'trying'. For example, I came up with some concepts and plots during bus/metro rides; crammed into public transport with fellow commuters like a sardine, losing oneself in imagination seems a reasonable way to escape.

I think it's easy to come up with bad or boring ideas; it's pretty simple to take an existing concept (or genre) and rework it slightly, plugging in generic characters and situations. I find it difficult to settle on ideas that just feel right and 'original' (which, considering how absolutely everything has 'been done', is nearly impossible).

Recently, my Mom and I with my two daughters went out for breakfast. We were all discussing her new car, and started teasing her about her fast driving. I blurted jokingly how it'd be a funny story to have a Grandma driving wildly with a cute child through the city; as I mulled it over, an unrelated germ of an idea I'd had long before (about an oblivious elderly man facing Zombies) floated to the surface of my thoughts.

I could nearly hear a bell chime as a fun concept was born, one that I instantly found appealling and tremendous fun: a Grandmother and granddaughter drive through a post-apocalyptic world, fighting mutants. I whipped up some quick sketches, and couldn't stop grinning:

Of course, Thelma and Louise meets Mad Max isn't high literature; that being said, the idea screams 'fun' for me, and I think it'll be easy to come up with adventures for my daring duo. I mentioned it briefly on my Facebook, and folk seemed to like it as well.

I hope this glimpse into my creative process (which is basically random musings colliding in my brain) has been enlightening!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Monkey Poo!

In late 1997, I was contacted by Troy Wilson about an anthology he was putting together with comic stories starring monkies. I managed to whip up the following strip, using a Pike Armstrong villain recast as a hero:

I had alot of fun with it, and enjoy drawing in a more cartoony style. Eventually, I dropped out of the project, but am glad to be able to showcase these pages today. Maybe I should continue Multi-Monkey some fine day!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Inker or tracer?

While putting together my blog last week, I thought it might be interesting to demonstrate my approach to inking. When I began reading comic books, I noticed that the work of certain artists changed depending on the inker assigned to them. I wasn't sophisticated enough to understand the artistic process involved in producing a given comic book, but I discovered how it was done over time.

Chasing Amy by Kevin Smith featured a scene where inkers are called 'tracers'. Strictly speaking, one of the main goals of inkers is to darken and 'clean up' pencils in order to guarantee a clear reproduction. That being said, the artistic contribution of an inker can be tremendous, depending on the state of the pencils he/she has to work with. When an inker is given rough pencils or layouts to work from, the process is called 'embellishing'.

Inkers have alot less wiggle room for creativity these days. Advanced technology has allowed publishers to print directly from pencils, which are darkend and cleaned up digitally. Pencillers tend to labour extensively over pages, with inkers discouraged to deviate from what they've been given to work with.

I miss the days when embellishing was common. It was cool to see how different inkers interpreted certain artists' pencils, and I appreciated the creative contribution by an often overlooked member of the creative team.

When inking Ash's pencils for Super Combo, I was excited. I enjoy his dynamic, loose approach, and figured that my style could mesh well with his. Here's a comparison of before and after:



My goal was to define the outlines clearly, add a line weight in order to have specific things 'pop', and fill in background detail to enhance the visuals. I also chose to flip certain poses to create flow, and resized panels with dialogue balloons in mind. I think the marriage of the two styles works well, resulting in clean, fun artwork.

I think inking has always been a strength of mine, it often feels easier for me to work over someone else's roughs than fill a page with my own doodles.

Next week, an unpublished 4 page story involving a special monkey!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Concept 4: Super Combo

Super Combo is an idea that seemed to suddenly pop into my brain, fully formed. Over the years, I'd mulled over having a character working at some dead-end job as either part of his backstory or a plot point. I had a few previously designed characters floating around that didn't quite fit into any of the concepts I was developing.

It hit me abruptly: why not have super-powered characters working a dead-end job?

Kind of like X-men at McDonald's.

I'd spent my early 20s working at Monsieur Felix & Mr Norton Cookies downtown, so I had plenty of experience with a 9 to 5 existence. I decided to skew the concept towards teens, since they tend to try out for menial jobs to support their school aspirations or daily expenses. A comic series involving adolescents trying to find their paths in life while making new friends working at a burger joint (while dealing with strange abilities) seemed ripe with promise.

Characterization and action sequences would go hand-in-hand. I tried to create interesting (visually as well as personality-wise), culturally diversive characters. Writing teens accurately will be the biggest challenge, as well as providing a glimpse into their thoughts and feelings as viewed through a super-hero lens.

Like I've said before, I think the idea has tremendous promise. I asked Ash Jackson to produce some pages, and have finally gotten around to inking and formatting the first four (which will also be part of my September ashcan).

I really like the results, and hope you will too.

Friday, July 1, 2011

DC line reboot

DC Comics will be relaunching 52 titles with first issues in September, combined with an aggressive marketing campaign and same-day digital release. The company hopes to improve its market share, and create a new base of dedicated readers to help prop up dismal sales.

It saddens me how comic books have fallen in popularity over the decades. There are many factors to blame, including cover price, accessibility, and inconsistent product. Once distribution became a monopoly, folk had to actively seek out specialty stores to pick up an issue; I was first exposed to comics at a depanneur spin-rack, an impulse buy that certainly changed my life.

Comics used to be directed at 'all-ages'; material was sometimes sophisticated, but could be appreciated by just about any reader. Helpful notes and thought balloons scattered throughout a given issue kept the reader 'in the loop' with what was going on, encouraging them to track down past issues referred to. Stories were constructed to be 'timeless', and could be reread without feeling overly dated.

Comics today have become overly-complex, continuity-driven (without clear explanations), and feature antagonists with questionable motivations. Creators claim that this makes the books more 'real'. but the reason I personally read comics is for escapism. Most books published today are confusing, badly paced (spending multiple issues to tell a story that could be told in one), and lack 'super-star' artists; when I started collecting, artists like George Perez, Frank Miller, and John Byrne were at their prime, producing absolutely fabulous work.

At one point, folk aspired to work in comics because they genuinely loved the medium; nowadays, a gig in comics is a stepping stone to 'Hollywood', or a temp job until something better comes along.

I guess the spiralling demise of the industry has served to inspire me; since companies no longer publish the types of books I picked up as a youngster, I guess I decided to try and create them myself. After reading thousands of comics from all eras, I figure I have an inkling of the ingredients required for an entertaining comic book. Of course, my stories may be simple or derrivative (and my concepts a bit lame), but I feel strongly that a fun, appealling comic book that any kid can pick up and immediately get into should be 'sellable'. My daughter's enthusiasm at whatever concept I tinker with is proof enough for me.

Perhaps the comic book as I knew it growing up will eventually fade away. Regardless, I feel a genuine love and respect for the medium, and I think I always have ever since that first issue I pulled from a spinner rack. I have no idea how far Sore Thumb Press will go, but I am proud of myself for trying something.

Next week: Concept 4