Monday, September 10, 2018

A Word About Personal Style

Many artists talk about their personal style. The "look" of their art. And often, in the beginning, artists ask how to develop a personal style.

But I don't think it works that way.

One of my favorite artists with a clear and identifiable style is Bruce Timm. But what exactly is the Bruce Timm style?

Some people would say it’s minimalist and angular. Others might go for the term “art deco” as a more appropriate description. Bruce Timm, a self taught artist, with no formal art schooling, lists two of his influences as Jack Kirby and Harvey Kurtzman.

It’s not surprising. There’s definite Kurtzman in Timm’s work.

No matter how one would like to describe Timm’s style, he takes his cues from artists before his time, as they took cues from artists before their time. Then he makes his art his own. Timm isn't Kirby or Kurtzman. He's something else. Something new.

***

I used Bruce Timm as an example because he's one of three artists who inspired me.  The other two, being Dan Jurgens and Darwyn Cooke.

My style isn't Timm, nor is it Jurgens, or Cooke.  It's something else.

I like that.

Good artists steal from the past and make it their own.  They never quite become the artists they admired, instead they build upon style, until their version becomes something unique.  Their...  For lack of a better word...  Personal style.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Paper Cups

Here's the challenge...

Take a small paper cup, and cut it in half. Now what you should have is an even smaller paper cup.  Fill it with water.  Now do the same thing with another paper cup.

After that, have someone place one cup on the palm of each hand. Hold the cups out.  It's not too hard to keep them steady when you're standing still.

But try banging out some snappy kicks, and you'll find that not spilling any of the water starts to become a little difficult.

The Teaser-Trailer for Lipstick Dojo is going to feature some fantastic martial arts control.  And if you attempt the paper cup challenge, you'll understand why.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Formatting Your Comic

There are so many books dedicated to drawing, but there is far less information about the tools of the trade, what to draw your comic on, or how to format your comic for printing.  

Because it's such an important part of the process, let's jump right in and find out how it's done!

1.  Drawing, Inking, and Coloring

Pencils:  Number 2 pencils are still the industry standard for drawing.  Some artists prefer mechanical pencils, but it's a personal choice.  Both options are professional.  Charcoal pencils are NOT used for comic book drawing

Erasers:  Most artists like to use gum erasers, but classic pink block erasers work just fine, too. 

Inking:  Inking can be accomplished classically with a quill-pen and (black india) ink.  Today, most artists opt for pens and markers, which take away the risk of ink spills.  Faber-Castell and Micron both offer pens and markers for inking comic book art, in a variety of sizes, from fine-tip, to thick-brush-tip.  With all pens and markers, you're looking for black archival ink.  

Coloring:  Coloring can be accomplished with alcohol-based artist markers.  They come in a variety of colors, with fine and thick tip ends.  (Note:  Today, scanning inked drawings and coloring them digitally is more common.)

Where to buy:  All of these supplies are affordable, and can be purchased at art supply stores, craft stores like JoAnn's Fabrics, Michaels, and Hobby Lobby, and online through dickblick.com.   

2.  Paper

Comic books are drawn on Bristol Board.  Just like your drawing supplies, Bristol Board can be purchased at art supply stores, craft stores like JoAnn's Fabrics, Michaels, and Hobby Lobby, and online through dickblick.com.

Bristol Board comes in a variety of shapes, and paper-thicknesses, but the comic industry standard is 11x17"

Strathmore is a leading seller of Bristol Board, and offers industry standard 11x17" Bristol Board in a variety of weights and finishes.  All of their paper is high quality, and will allow you to produce professional comic books.

3.  Comic Book Formatting Rules.

I find people often describe the formatting of a comic page in needlessly complex detail.

Let's see if we can't simplify!

1.  When comics are printed, some of the art is cut off, so it's vital to keep all important art, panels, and dialog within a boarder that we know won't be cut off after printing.  That boarder is called the live-area.

2.  Outside the Live area is the trim-line.  This is the line that marks where the comic page is cut when printed.

3.  Outside the trim-line is the bleed line.  This is the line that all art you want to see extend to the edge of the page is drawn to.

Now, how do we measure these lines?

Imagine your 11x17" sheet of Bristol Board as a single page.  Measure 1 inch on either side, and 1.5 inches on the top and bottom.  Then draw a box.  That's your live-area.  How you lay out the panels within the live-area is up to you.

The trim-line is 5/8 of an inch on the sides, and 1 inch on the top and bottom.

The Bleed Line is 1/4 of an inch out from the trim-line.

If you don't want to measure, most Bristol Board makers, including Strathmore, sell Bristol Boards with pre-drawn boarders for artists, that takes away the need to draw them by scratch.

4.  Comic Strip Formatting Rules.

For those interested in creating a daily comic strip, I am also providing the formatting specifics for a standard strip:

Just like comic books, comic strips use the same drawing supplies, and are drawn on Bristol Board.

The full rectangular size for a single daily strip is 13x4”.  Most artists block out either three or four panels within that rectangle.  No matter how many panels you choose, there is a ¼” gutter in between each panel.  In print, the strip is reduced to 6” x 1.84” 

To avoid measuring out panels day after day, create a stenciled template.  Draw the sized boxes in the center of a single 11x17” page of Bristol Board, and cut them out.  Then, when you're ready to draw your next strip, layer your stencil over your paper to easily draw your boxes.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Writing With Boarders

There’s an advantage to writing a book over a comic. You don’t have to space out each plot point and line of dialog panel by panel.

Comic book writing requires the author to break up their story so that it flows naturally and creates a sense of movement between frames. Even for something as simple as a dinner conversation, with very little action, spacing out the dialog between panels must be taken into consideration.

If it were a movie script, the scene would be written as one long sequence, filmed from a variety of angles, and edited together to tell the story in the most effective way possible.

In a comic, there’s only so much dialog that fits into each little box. For formatting purposes alone, dialog must be evenly spaced, but creatively, dialog must also be presented in a way that naturally progresses the story from panel to panel, and page to page.

Let’s take the following scene, which we can imagine as a four panel comic strip:

*** 

A busy Italian restaurant. Chip Ember sits across from Tessa Faux. They are in the middle of a conversation.

Chip: This chicken parmesan tastes a little funky.
Tessa: Really? That’s disappointing. The waiter seemed to be talking it up.
Chip: Yeah, probably because it’s getting old, and the restaurant needs to sell it off.
Tessa: Probably...

*** 

For this scene, it’s rather simple. We could easily put each line of dialog in it’s own panel and focus on one person talking, frame by frame. Okay, but it doesn’t exactly establish that Chip and Tessa are at a restaurant. Remember, the direction won’t be included in the final strip. We need to show that visually.

So what if we open up with a two-shot?

Maybe it’s better to have the first panel show Chip and Tessa sitting at their table, in the middle of the restaurant, along with the first two lines of dialog. Then a second panel with just Chip and his line, and a third panel with just Tessa and her line. I like that, but now I’m one panel short, and I need to fill a four panel strip.

So, let’s start over. I’ll go with the two shot for the first frame, but only with the first line of dialog. Then, the second line in panel two, with a close shot on Tessa, the third line in panel three with a close shot on Chip, and the fourth line in panel four with a close shot on Tessa again.

Okay, good… But let’s take a look at the spacing. With the lines broken up panel by panel, each line will feel like they are spoken with the same breaks of time between sentences. Person speaks… Break. Second person speaks… Break. It’s not natural and doesn’t get the timing across that I’ve imagined.

Take a look:

***

Chip: This chicken parmesan tastes a little funky.

Pause

Tessa: Really? That’s disappointing. The waiter seemed to be talking it up.

Pause

Chip: Yeah, probably because it’s getting old and the restaurant needs to sell it off.

Pause

Tessa: Probably…

***

We need to have the first two lines of dialog in the same box to keep the conversation flowing more naturally. Then with the next line in the next panel, we mentally add a pause, which fits with what the characters are saying. Then, with the final line, we get another pause. That also works.

Take a look:

*** 

Chip: This chicken parmesan tastes a little funky.
Tessa: Really? That’s disappointing. The waiter seemed to be talking it up.

Pause

Chip: Yeah, probably because it’s getting old and the restaurant needs to sell it off.

Pause

Tessa: Probably…

*** 

So…

How do we get these natural pauses with four panels?  By adding an extra line of dialog.  We'll start by having Chip say: “Hmm…”

Then in panel two, we'll have the long two shot, fully establishing the scene with both lines of dialog, followed by the two single shots in the remaining panels.

It works!

But there’s more. What’s happening in the scene? The first panel can be simple enough. An exterior. No characters.

For the second panel, Chip should be looking at the chicken, mulling over the taste. In a non-moving comic, that’s not easy to show, so it might be better if Chip has his fork in the meat, and his head is pointed down, directly towards the dish. Since Tessa is in the frame, too, we’ll need her to look as though Chip has completed his sentence.

She should be looking at him, while saying her line.

Now in the third frame, Chip will be looking up. His focus should be on Tessa, but it’s a close shot, so we’ll be seeing Chip more head on, with possibly Tessa’s shoulder towards the reader.

Then, in the final panel, since it’s only one line, maybe Tessa should be holding a cup of water, as though she is going to take a sip, progressing the movement.

Let's see it in script format:

*** 

Panel 1:
Description:  Restaurant Exterior, a medium shot from across the street.

Dialog:

Chip: Hmm...

Panel 2:
Description:  Inside the restaurant.  Chip sits across from Tessa, at a table near the side wall.

Dialog:

Chip: This chicken parmesan tastes a little funky.
Tessa: Really? That’s disappointing. The waiter seemed to be talking it up.

Panel 3:
Description:  A close shot on Chip.

Dialog:

Chip: Yeah, probably because it’s getting old and the restaurant needs to sell it off.

Panel 4:
Description:  A close shot on Tessa.

Dialog:

Tessa: Probably…

*** 

And there we have it!  The complete script for our four panel comic strip. It gets far more difficult with movement. But we’ll talk about that some other time.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Is There a Superhero-Movie Bubble? Part III

If my predictions are accurate, and I think that they are, a collapsing superhero-movie bubble won't sit well with true comic and sci-fi fans.

So, I thought I'd wrap up this three part series with a few of the positives, and talk a little bit about why a bursting superhero bubble could ultimately elevate everything for the better.

It might surprise you, but I'm actually looking forward to it.

Here's why...

First things first, the superhero genre has endured since the late 1930's, and it will continue to endure.

Even with the bubble popping.

When superheroes retreat back into the comics, I predict a chance for real creative growth.  It's when the genre is at it's lowest that creative freedom is at it's highest.  The best stories have yet to be written. 

Right now, comics are used more as a marketing tool for superhero films.  They exist, for the most part, only to promote the massive movies that are being released in their name.  With the end of the Superhero-Movie-Bubble, plots can be bolder.  There is the possibility for new ideas, fewer stories by committee, and a general creative rejuvenation.

One of the things that comic & sci-fi fans have always loved about the comics are their insider, niche market.  Secret knowledge and that sort of thing...  I remember, so many years ago, my local comic shop had a sign on the front door...  describing comics as a trash medium.

It wasn't mean to be derogatory.  It was a  reflection of public opinion.  That comics and superheroes in general, were part of a misunderstood subculture.  Today, the whole world knows just how powerful this fiction is.

The secret is out.

When superheroes retreat back to the comics, the secret will build again.  Creativity will flourish, and eventually, when the time is right, they'll return to the silver screen, stronger than ever before, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Is There a Superhero-Movie Bubble? Part II

Pinpointing the start of the superhero-movie explosion can be tricky, but I think a good place to mark it would be with the release of Bryant Singer's X-Men film in 2000, followed closely by Sam Raimi's Spider-Man in 2002.

Schumacher killed superhero movies with Batman and Robin three years earlier, and it gave time for audiences to take a breath, and for creators to try something new.

It was a bold idea...

What if comic book fans were right?  What if these films were written seriously?  What it they were made with both kids and adults in mind?

X-Men proved that superhero movies could be more than kid-fare adventure, and Spider-Man proved that a hero, in a bright skintight costume could be cool, if properly written.  For so long, superhero movies tried to distance themselves from their source material, swapping bright colored costumes for black leather.  If they wore spandex, it was campy, if they wore leather, it was a serious reimagining.

X-Men got it right with story, but missed the mark on the visual style.  Spider-Man took it a step further.  A serious comic-inspired story along with the bright colors of the page.

It worked, and the modern Superhero-Movie kicked off with a bang!

Between 2002-2008, a boom of superhero movies were produced by both Marvel and DC, as well as a few notable hits with third party companies.  Some were good, and some were great.  Standouts include:  X2, Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight.

Then, in 2008, Iron-Man was released, and it was a game-changer.  Many people think the modern Superhero-Movie movement happened here.  But the concept of the serious superhero movie had already been established.

The shared universe was the next natural evolution...  Something that had existed in comics since the 1940's was applied to the screen, and it was a huge success.  Since Iron-Man, the MCU has dominated the superhero box office, and there's no end in sight!  This concept is so powerful that it has been copied, with varying levels of success, by multiple production companies, and today, anyone who's anyone wants a cinematic universe to call their own.

Times are good!

So...  With the history lesson over...  Why the bubble?  We got what we wanted.  Serious movies.  Characters that look like their comic book counterparts.  A shared universe.  What could possibly be the problem?

As shocking as it sounds, it's the shared universe itself that will be the death of the modern Superhero-Movie movement.

If Marvel gave us the template for what a shared universe should look like on film, then they'll also be showing us what it looks like when it collapses.

I think the bubble gets poked with it's first hole upon the release of Avengers 4.

After that, we're looking at multiple actors retiring from the franchise.  New characters will replace old characters as leading figures, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Marvel plays with continuity, re-writing the MCU for the next generation.  When that happens, a majority of fans won't like it, and they'll walk away.

This is the point where you might think that I'm wrong.  You'll say that Marvel has a plan post-Avengers 4.  New characters will replace the old that we'll like better.  Spider-Man for example...  This whole merger with Fox will give Marvel access to X-Men.  They'll have MCU movies ready for the next decade and beyond!

Sure...  But let's go back and look at the source material these characters lived in before leaping to the screen.  There's a problem with that thinking.

It isn't just about replacing old characters with new.  A problem, by the way, the comics don't have.  If we look at comic books, continuity wiping events happen fairly regularly.  And they happen when the story get so inflated, so mired down in it's own continuity, that telling a fresh, never-before-seen story is near impossible.  Wiping continuity allows writers the chance to re-tell hero origins, to re-write the rules, and to begin all over again.

When this is done, two things happen.  Fans of the previous continuity become alienated.  Then they stop reading.  New fans replace the old fans, but it doesn't happen fast enough.  And then, it's only a matter of time before the new continuity is wiped again, or blended with the old continuity, or in some other way rewritten.  The problem only gets worse.  And I think this is a reason, year after year, comic sales continue to sink.  There is no trust that the story is important.  And new writers regularly rewrite what old writers have written because they want to put their own spin on the character.

In the world of comics, this pattern is commonplace.  It isn't good, and the numbers sink year after year, but it's a slow falloff, and comics can weather failed reboots better than film.  They're far less expensive to produce, and creative mistakes are forgiven in time with a proper course correct.  Fans of the genre know how it works.  They don't like it, but they get it.  In film, audiences won't.  And there will be no forgiveness.  The cost of a bad movie is also much higher than the cost of a bad comic.

The ugly truth about a shared universe is that it's not the bloated continuity that becomes the problem.  It's that the story never ends.  It continues, year after year, with new stories beginning just as old stories are ending.  The bloated continuity is simply a symptom of the lack of a conclusion.  The story must continue, so it gets more and more warped until the new is a pale reflection of the old.  Without resolution, no matter how expertly crafted a story might be, audiences will eventually walk away.  Add to this the problem of replacing cast members (which as  I said isn't even a problem in the comics) and the shared film-universe is doomed.  

We want closure, as a reader, and as a viewer.  Disney has no plans to wrap up the MCU.  No final movie.  So it's only a matter of time before audiences get bored.  Before they realize that the next new villain isn't anymore interesting than the last new villain.  Before they realize that what came before can't be topped.  That, to use an old expression, they've seen it all before.  

Ironically, the end of the MCU will be the result of a lack of end of the MCU.

The bubble won't pop with a single fantastically bad superhero movie.  Not like it did with Batman and Robin in 1997.  But it will deflate, slowly, and as more and more lackluster movies will produce more and more lackluster box office returns.

Then, to use another old expression, it will end not with a bang, but with a whimper...

So, what happens then?

Comic book superheroes will retreat back into the comics.  Like they continue to be, comics will remain a niche market, but the best possible place for superheroes to endure.  The DC and Marvel heroes will thrive on the page.  New creators will continue to write old characters, and if we're lucky, every few years there will be a really inventive story or two worth checking out.  The problems of continuity and reboots will still plague comics.  To endure, this will have to be fixed.  But it's an old problem, and falloff is slow enough that there's still time to fix it.  For now, old fans will stop reading,  less new fans start, and the cycle continues.

On film, the Superhero-Movie boom will be part of history.  Comic & sci-fi entertainment will change.  The superhero, as a concept, will be considered out of touch.  Younger generations won't be as captivated by Marvel or DC.  It'll be something new.  New characters, new stories, and maybe most importantly, new creators.  Effectively, a new sub-genre will be created.

I know what that sub-genre will look like.  What it is going to be.  But if I told you, I'd be giving away too much...  

Monday, July 30, 2018

Is There a Superhero-Movie Bubble? Part I

It's August, 2018, and as I write this, The MCU has raked in close to seven billion dollars.  I rounded up...  Slightly...

That's the benchmark.

The MCU is the superhero-film-franchise to end all superhero film franchises.  For reference, the DCEU is in second place with 1.5 billion.  I rounded down...  Slightly...

The general consensus (and I don't necessarily agree) is that the DCEU is a failure.  Compared to Marvel, it has made substantially less.  But let us be clear.  1.5 billion dollars is not a failure, and all of the DCEU movies made a profit.

So in this age of big budget and big box office superhero action, why does the idea of a bursting "superhero-movie-bubble" get thrown around so frequently?

Is a superhero-movie-bubble even real?  And if it is, do we really expect it to pop?  I'll begin by answering those two questions.  Then I'll tell you why I'm right.

Regarding question one:  Yes, there is a superhero-movie-bubble.  Regarding question two:  Yes, it will burst.  Sooner, I think, rather than later.

But, why?

To answer this question, we need to examine the history.

Superhero films have been produced since nearly the dawn of cinema itself.  The Mark of Zorro, a silent film, was released in 1920.  If we consider Superman the first modern superhero, we can consider the 1940's Kirk Alyn Superman-Film-Serial the first modern superhero movie.

Throughout the decades that followed, countless superhero films were released.  They existed, very much, as adaptations of their source material.  Not extensions, and not exactly embracing their comic book roots, but not ignoring them entirely, either.

A few of these movies stand out as classics.  Batman 66' with Adam West, Richard Donner's Superman with Christopher Reeve, Tim Burton's Batman with Michael Keaton, and Blade with Wesley Snipes.

Despite these few that were good, there were so many more that were bad, and public perception of superhero movies on film was that they were made for kids.  For decades, fans of the comics longed to see the same nuanced storytelling presented in the comics presented on screen.

Then, In 1997, Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin killed the genre with a childish and pandering film that almost screamed to the viewer, we don't like these movies!

It was official.  The superhero movie was dead!

Surprisingly, we may have to look back on that film and thank Mr. Schumacher.  By killing the genre, in the spectacular way that he did, he paved the way for the superhero-movie boom that would take place three years later...