Monday, March 14, 2011

Mark Twain Insult of the Day #8, and more

You're getting tired of these. I can tell. But I love them and it's my blog. Today's Twain target is Elisha P. Bliss Jr., who published a few of Twain's books under what Mr. Clemens later decided were unfair terms.

I never heard him tell the truth, so far as I can remember. He was a most repulsive creature. When he was after dollars he showed the intense earnestness and eagerness of a circular-saw. In a small, mean, peanut-stand fashion, he was sharp and shrewd. But above that level he was destitute of intelligence; his brain was a loblolly, and he had the gibbering laugh of an idiot . . . I have had contact with several conspicuously mean men, but they were noble compared to that bastard monkey.

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Speaking of the Graphic Medicine conference I'm helping to plan for next June in Chicago, we've just started to look at the proposals for papers, talks, panels, workshops, etc. that people submitted. We have many excellent ideas to choose from--maybe more than we can accommodate in the time and space available, I don't know yet. Personally, I'm relieved. I mean, you just never know! What if we'd gotten none? My co-organizers had more faith and it looks like they were right. The hard part now may be having to turn down terrific proposals just because we have too many. Seeing what we have to choose from, I am confident we're going to have a wonderful event. Registration is open!

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My thumbnailing for Mystery Project X proceeds apace. I'm more than halfway through a very rough draft of what I hope will be my next book, expect it'll take me a few more weeks to finish, and am happy with how it's going. I'm getting a lot out of the process. The act of committing the layout, dialog, and sketchy figures to paper (well, pixels) is helping me solve old problems, raising new ones, and sparking new ideas, just as it should. I've also resolved some technical special-effects issues to my satisfaction for now. It's interesting: as I mentioned before, I never really thumbnailed either of my first two books (I did a bit on WHTTWOT) but it's really working well for me. I just need to do it faster.

I think "process"--insights into how different people do the job--is interesting. Some cartoonists approach their work "pictures first," letting their art inspire a story, while others work "words first," essentially illustrating a script (I'm mostly the latter, although I'm always looking for opportunities for art to convey meaning and help carry the narrative load). I recently read an old interview with a cartoonist who said she never did a rough draft of anything, and had lost jobs because of it. One publisher wanted to print her work but, not unreasonably, asked for some idea of what they might be getting first. She couldn't do it; that wasn't how her process worked. She didn't know what she was going to do until she did it. I find that alien and fascinating. I wish I could spend five minutes inside a mind that works like that.


Jim O'Kane said...

Brian, the process you described is fascinating. I was wondering as a child of mixed technologies - - do you thumbnail first on paper and then in Photoshop, or does stuff arrive faster in one medium than another? Several artists I know who were born in the 60's seem to find that pencil sketching, followed by scanning and finishing on screen, seem to be their fastest production work.

One more question - when you create on screen, are you a mouse man, or a Wacom kinda guy?

Brian Fies said...

Jim, for the new book I scripted out the dialog, much like a screenplay, broken down roughly into panels of action (one page of script = one page of graphic novel). My first thought was to do just as you suggest: thumbnail it on paper with pencil and scan it. However, I also wanted to lay in the text, and since I now letter digitally (Mom's Cancer was hand-lettered on the original art, WHTTWOT was lettered via computer using a font comprising letters sampled from Mom's Cancer) I figured what the heck: just do the sketches digitally as well. It's working.

In general, I try to be smart and efficient without sacrificing style and craftsmanship. A lot of stuff I once did with glue and White-Out and scissors I increasingly handle in the computer. It's just stupid not to. The net effect is that I am gradually doing more and more digitally. Instead of taking five minutes to fill in a big black area with ink, I'll just leave it for Photoshop and do it with a click. I'm building a library of textures and patterns I can paste in. The trick--and something I work very hard on--is that everything has to look like it belongs in the same universe.

I use a Wacom. It's good enough for the purpose of thumbnailing, but when it comes time to do the finished art it'll be India ink on paper, then scan-letter-shade-color-layout in Photoshop (here's where the thinking ahead comes in: if I'm lucky, I'll be able to cut-and-paste a lot of the lettering I've already done into the final draft). For what I do and the look I want, nothing equals ink and brush (or is a fraction as fun and fulfilling). Speed is nearly irrelevant, although I imagine I still draw faster analog than digital. What I miss is an "undo" button.