Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stuff of Life and T-Minus Make GNR's "Teen Core 100" List

Graphic Novel Reporter -- which recently named Far Arden and The Vietnam War: A Graphic History to its list of core graphic novels for adults -- has come out with a similar list for teens, and two more Big Time Attic books made the grade!

The Stuff of Life, the Mark Schultz-penned intro to genetics, and T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, Jim Ottaviani's history of the US/Soviet space race, have been named as "Teen Core 100" graphic novels. This is not a "best-of" list, but rather a guide to individuals and institutions who are interested in growing their graphic novel libraries. More info on

Also exciting to see Minnesota's own Tyler Page on the same list with his Nothing Better series.

Thanks, GNR!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Far Arden Mentioned on Comics Reporter

A day after the Habs said goodbye to the Stanley Cup, and two days after Jack said goodbye to the Black Smoke Monster (I haven't actually seen the finale yet), Tom Spurgeon lists some of his favorite goodbyes in comics, and I'm flattered that Far Arden is among them:

Read the "goodbye" list here.

Thanks to Tim for the heads-up!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lutefisk Sushi Mini-Comic Production Notes

Having run across several tweets and fupdates of people working on their Lutefisk Sushi comics this weekend, I thought I'd not only finish my comic, but document the process. The June 15 deadline is sneaking up fast, so if this post inspires even one local cartoonist to put ink to paper, then I'll feel like it was worth it.

First, a quick reminder:
LUTEFISK SUSHI is a nearly yearly art event where cartoonists from all over Minnesota create an original mini-comic and print up 150 copies. Those comics are then packaged into sushi boxes, while original art from the comics are hung in Altered Esthetics Gallery, and everyone parties and has a good time. This year's box (created by featured artist DANNO KLONOWSKI) will have a 3D theme, but that does not mean your comic has to be in 3D! Your comic can be any size or subject matter you want, as long as it fits in the sushi box and is printed up by June 15. SUBMISSION INFO HERE.


What you will find below will probably seem unnecessarily exhaustive, but I thought it might be interesting to someone who's never made a mini-comic before, or to people from the future wondering what this "tactile media" fad was all about.


There's no reliable "how-to" for coming up with ideas. Mostly you just have to be ready for them. This particular story was inspired by thinking about what would happen if some neophile walked into a coffee shoppe with a portable typewriter and started clacking away. From there I added a few characters, some sexual tension, and one poop joke.


Above is a page of notes I jotted down during SpringCon. I started with the story but then moved into notes on how the mini would look, and how it would need to be produced. For ease of printing I really wanted to have everything fit on one sheet of paper, so I settled on a 12-page story with six pages per side of the printed sheet.

I also wanted to do a bleed on the cover, which meant adding a 1/2" bleed border around each side of the sheet. From there I subtracted a 3/8" margin around each of the panels, and arrived at my final art size per page. It's all about working backwards. On the right you can see a map of how each page would fall on the final double-sided letter size print sheet. Again, that bizarre-looking order is obtained by working backwards.


This step is the most fun for me, in that it's the most challenging and yet rife with the most creative possibilities. I'll go through several versions of a script in my head before heading to the keyboard, and then I'll tweak it several times again. This is especially true for a short comic that has very real spatial limitations -- whatever this story is that I want to tell, I HAVE to tell it in 24 panels. Suddenly scenes or lines that I thought were important are cast to the side in favor of a lean, tight narrative. That's one of the highlights of printing a physical comic -- you have these limitations that force you to focus on your message. Yes, webcomics have limitless space and possibilities, and that can lead to some cool things, but if you're not careful it can also lead to a kind of laziness.


The worst thing you can do (in this context, at least) is spend hours and hours creating your beautiful artwork only to find that your margins or proportions are all screwed up. Making an AT-SIZE DUMMY is a good way to prevent that. Here, I took the mathematical calculations from my page of notes and measured and cut a sample book out accordingly. Fortunately everything worked out (I'm pretty good at fractions when I concentrate) but if there was a calculation error this is where you catch it and correct it.


You know how big your art will be when printed, but how big do you want to draw it? I recommend 150-200% if you want a cleaner look. Drawing at-size or even smaller than at-size will give your book and nice gritty feel. If you draw larger than 200% be aware that your thin lines may disappear when you shrink your art back down to print size. For this comic I chose 200% (mostly because the math is easy).

STEP 6: ART PREP part two: TOOLS

Some cartoonists know exactly which tools they'll use for every project. If that's you, then congratulations. You won. Personally, I need to play around with both paper and drawing utensils before each project to see what works. For this book, for instance, I wanted to go with a rough brush line, so I ended up using a pentel pocket brush pen on Strathmore 70 lb drawing paper. This paper has a good tooth that catches the fat part of the pentel in a fun way -- the only thing I had to be careful of is that pentel brush pen ink dries very slowly on this paper. This means drawing with caution so I don't smudge a lot. The micron #01 (above) is for background details, while the micron 08 and 1 are for lettering. I use a hard pencil (the red one) for light pencilling and the mechanical one (which is pretty soft and dark) for tighter lines.


You're on your own for this one.


Remember how I drew these images at 200%? That means I can scan the art in at 600 dpi bitmap, and then change the image size (without resampling) to 1200 dpi and suddenly my art is at the correct print size and at 1200 dpi. It's like magic.


I change the mode to gray and then drop a sheet of dots on top of the art. Then multiply the layer. Then hit the quick mask button (see image) and then hit apple-i to invert it. What you're left with is a dot pattern layer that is completely hidden. To start shading, draw directly in the layer mask. If you mess up, just hit "x" to change your brush to white, which will act as an eraser. This seems complicated, but the beauty is you're left with a mask that can be applied over anything. For instance, if you suddenly want the comic to be in color, you can swap out the dot pattern for a color and your mask will stay the same.

This actually happened to me during this book -- the dot pattern I chose was too dark when I printed it so I swapped each page out with a slightly lighter dot pattern and it only took a matter of minutes. No need to redraw or realign anything.


Whether you're using InDesign or glue and a ruler, this is the stage when you place the final art on the page in the way that it's going to be printed, as sketched out in step 2. Above is my InDesign layout with all the linked photoshop pages. When I'm done I export as a high resolution pdf. Next I'll print out both sheets and hold them up to a light source to see if they're printing out correctly. Sure enough, while my computer measurements were on target, my printer printed one side too close to the edge. To fix this I went back to the computer artwork and just moved the art on the page enough to offset this error. After another round of printing everything seemed cool.


Before printing out hundreds of copies of this book, I wanted to do one last check to make sure the book was correct, so I printed out another dummy, this time using the art that I would soon be feeding through the photocopier. This stage allowed me to check mechanical things like pagination and margins, as well as aesthetics like checking for dirt and art errors. Indeed, at this stage I discovered that I had forgotten to ink a detail on the first page. It was a small detail -- just a loose piece of paper laying on the ground -- but it was an element that tied in with the narrative so I went back into the computer files and put it back in, and printed everything out one more time.


The most stressful and most expensive part. First, I made "photo-quality" printouts of the front and back of the final comic sheet. To add to the stress it was pouring rain out, so I bundled these two little sheets of paper in some plastic, and ran to the UPS Store. I did a few test sheets to figure out how to print a double-sided sheet, and held these sheets up to the light to make sure they matched up. Then... I hit the green button and let the big machine do all the work.


For a lot of mini-comics, the first page of their book will be the cover, so this step does not apply. However, I wanted to add a second color to this story, so I printed up a cover -- using the same specs as the interior -- and took it to the OfficeMax print center, where I had the cover printed on 60 lb red cardstock.


Your book will only be as good as your tools, so if you're going to make a lot of minis I recommend investing in a good home office paper trimmer. Xacto and Swingline make a good product for around $50, like this one. The one I've got has a moveable edge so I can butt each sheet up against it instead of having to line up each page against a ruler.


Again, invest in good tools if possible. Unless you're making tiny mini-comics, your office stapler won't do. Try something like this guy for $30.

That's it! I hope this play-by-play hasn't been too boring. If you have a question write it down in the comment section and we'll get you squared away. Also, I'd love to hear how your process differs from this one!


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Far Arden Makes the Grade at Graphic Novel Reporter

Graphic Novel Reporter has created a list of "core" graphic novels that people should consider when building their personal or institutional libraries, and I'm extremely flattered to find Far Arden among its ranks. GNR writes:

This is not a best-of list or a list denoting the most worthy accomplishments in graphic novels (although everything on each list is an accomplishment in some way, shape, or form). Instead, it's a list to help retailers, librarians, educators, and all those who are seeking to start a graphic collection to get a sense of the essential books to acquire. This is where to begin for those who want to make a small step (a core list of 10 books), a medium step (an additional 25 books), or a larger one (100 more).

Some of my absolute favorites are also on that list (David Boring, Jimmy Corrigan, Epileptic, Alan's War, Essex County, etc...) so it's obviously exciting to be listed amidst such good company.

You can read an interview I did with Graphic Novel Reporter's John Hogan a year ago here.

Thanks GNR!

Speaking of Far Arden, I've retooled the website where the entire graphic novel is still free to read online. You can check it out at or read more about the book -- including reviews and interviews -- at its new main page:

Monday, May 10, 2010

New Floors!

Our landlord has stripped the aging, cracked lino off the hallway floors to uncover some gorgeous hardwood. Here's the wood BEFORE sanding...

... and AFTER!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Dino Spread Saturday

Spending a quiet, snowy May Saturday working on a big project I've been putting off for months. This is (or soon will be) a big 2-page spread of dinosauria for our upcoming graphic novel, Evolution: A History of Life on Earth.

I've been dreading this page just because it seemed so daunting -- 95 unique species will be represented* -- but now that I've started I don't want to stop. Even with 8+ hours of the NPR fund drive in the background it's turning out to be a pretty fun day.

Here's the whole page, for scale. The sheet is 19x24" and I'll probably push the inks to the edge just so I have more flexibility when cropping the picture later.

Whereas the rest of the book is being inked with Pentel Pocket Brush Pens on thin copy paper, I'm going back to my roots with this drawing: good ol' Windsor Newton Series 7 #1 with india ink on bristol. I haven't done a dip brush in a while and it feels great. The brush itself seems thin beyond belief, and the old anxieties about knocking over the water cup or letting the bristles dry out are coming back, but it's worth it for the thin, non-feathery lines that the brush delivers.

That's all I'm going to show for now. But trust me, we'll be posting much much more about Evolution once we get closer to the publication date.

* It's not too late -- if you have a favorite dinosaur that you want to see in the spread, let me know in the comments section!