Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Time to Buy More Paper

27 x 42 cm.

When I started my "Last Mechanical Monster" webcomic late last year, I described how this story emerged from a different story with the same characters that I'd been working on for a couple of years. In 2012 I began penciling the pages of that earlier version and drew more than 100 pages before realizing, a year later, that it wasn't really the story I wanted to tell.

How hard was it to develop a story for two-plus years, draw 100 pages of it, screech to a halt, turn on a dime, and start over in an entirely different direction? Surprisingly easy. I loved the new idea--the webcomic I hope you're reading now--and what had become a tough boring slog through characters and plot points I didn't enjoy turned into an exciting fresh reset. The project went from work to fun, and has mostly stayed fun since.

I'd penciled the original story on sheets of 2-ply Bristol board, a heavy paper with a little texture that takes ink well. It's also not cheap. Faced with the prospect of starting over from scratch, I grabbed a page from the old story's stack, turned it over, and drew Page 1 of the new-and-improved story on its blank side. Verso became recto, and I created Version 2.0 literally on the back of Version 1.0.

Now, more than a year after I began, I've just about run out of paper.

That's a milestone for me! Not only have I surpassed my effort on V1.0, I've basically doubled it, since this time I'm both penciling and inking the pages as I go.

My original V1.0 scheme was to write the entire story first, then pencil the entire story, then ink the entire story. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought that process would help me maintain a consistent art style throughout, and give me some flexibility to change the story as I went. For example, if I thought of a great bit while working on Page 100 that required something to be set up on Page 20, I could go back and do that in the script or pencils without wasting time and ink.

In practice, it was difficult and boring to do nothing but writing, then nothing but penciling, for months on end. I was already dreading the upcoming months of nothing but inking. I needed variety. It seemed like nothing ever got finished. Around the same time, I'd begun posting my "Adventures of Old Time-Traveling Brian" comics as a lark; it was so liberating to conceive, write, pencil, ink and post a short story in a single day that I yearned to bring some of that same energy to my long-form comics.

Consequently, for V2.0 I switched up my process so that I now work in small batches of pages, seeing them through essentially to completion. I have an outline for the entire story--I know where it's going and how to get there--but the actual dialog and action for individual pages is written spontaneously. I write, pencil, ink, post. Since I'm a couple of months ahead of deadline, I have time to reflect and revise. Also, because "The Last Mechanical Monster" is a webcomic, I still have some freedom to go back and change past pages to accommodate new ideas.

This process wouldn't work for everyone but it's good for me.

Now I'm off to the art supply store.

* * *

Blogging may be sparse as I pound through a busy summer.

June 26-28 I'll be at a Comics & Medicine Conference in Baltimore. I'm doing a five-minute "lightning" talk, teaching a 90-minute workshop, and moderating one panel. I'm very much looking forward to reconnecting with friends I've made in London, Chicago, Toronto, Riverside and elsewhere, and meeting new ones as well.

July 24-25 I'll be at Comic-Con International in San Diego. I won't be moored to a table or booth. If anyone really wants to find me, I'd suggest leaving a note at the Abrams booth, where I'll be sure to check in from time to time, or hunting me down at the Eisner Awards Friday night. If you want to catch me in a good mood, find me before the Best Webcomic Award is announced. I've also volunteered to do one hour of commission drawing to support the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, but don't know for sure if or when that'll happen.

I'm leaving Comic-Con very early Saturday, July 26, to get back to the Bay Area in time for Splashdown, the USS Hornet's celebration of the 45th Anniversary of Apollo 11. My six long-time readers know that my daughter Laura is on the Hornet Museum's staff, and I'm actually scheduled to give a talk on the big hangar deck's main stage. Details and themes to come, but think "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?" An hour after I speak, Buzz Aldrin will stand at the same podium to blah blah Second Man on the Moon blah blah blah. I only hope my screaming groupies don't distract from his remarks.

I put a lot of time and effort into preparing for these things, then even more time and effort into looking like I didn't prepare for them. If you've ever seen me give a talk and thought I stunk, I assure you it wasn't for lack of time and effort.

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