Saturday, 1 April 2017

Guessed Drawing 2017

Since 2015, I’ve done written ‘April Fools’ guest updates for other serial authors. (Jim Zoetewey with “Legion of Nothing”, J.A. Waters with “SyncPoint”, and this year, Unice5656 with “Fantasia”.) This year, 2017, I extended that to guesting for a comic. Why? To stretch myself.

I’d dropped by a few #WebComicChat last year, going so far as to monitor the group on Facebook. Then I got wrapped back up in my serials. But on March 5th, Sarah Driffill proposed an April Fools exchange, where you make a page for the person who comments above you, signup deadline March 20th. At the time, I didn’t want to commit until my calendar was effectively “clear”, but I made a note to check back the weekend of the 18th.

On the 18th, I was pretty confident in my ability to get through my serial reading and update within a week, so I looked for the thread. And someone had just signed up earlier that day. So I took it to be a sign, and signed up myself - which meant I was writing for Rulo Potamo’s “M9 Girls!”. And since I’ve blogged about the creative process for my guest serials, why not do the same for the drawing?


"I Hope You Dance", Lee Ann Womack

As always, there are spoilers below for my entry, and to a lesser extent, “M9 Girls!” itself, because I go in depth as to how I approached the final product. Go read it first, if you haven’t yet.


BACKLOGS


My initial feeling was that a webcomic would read faster than a serial (fewer words) but take longer to produce the guest update (I draw slower than I write). I checked in initially to get a sense of “M9 Girls!” after the sign up, then resumed my serial work. I returned to it on Friday the 24th, opening a file for storing information.

The first thing I (belatedly) realized was that it was Mexican in origin, with an English version, which is awesome, though alas I don’t speak Spanish. The second thing was that it really was right up my alley, more of a science/magical girls fusion than the latter. The third thing I spotted was that they’d done a number of prior crossovers - including one with Cesium Comics! I read that one. Small world.


I jotted down key information about the four protagonists, peeked at supplemental sites (TV Tropes), then finally started into the archive. My first thought, after the first arc (Tangents) was that there was a friend character (Golden) who might be useable. (She was in the Cesium Comics crossover too.) Maybe she gets a random power which super deforms the universe and I try to draw in that style? (Avoids trying to mimic a certain style.)

By the time I got into the fifth arc (Allegiances) I realized that Golden was less a “Naru” (from Sailor Moon) type of character, and more a “Green Ranger” (from Power Rangers) type of character. So I rejected the initial idea. Around the same time, I stumbled into the first crossover with “Groovy, Kinda”, stated as possibly canon (in some timeline) when Rulo mentioned that Anahi “cannot read Stephanie’s robotic emotions”. (I read all the comments when I go through backlogs for this sort of thing.)

In the crossover, there was some question of Clau making a dimension portal. I got to thinking, if she can dimensional portal (or at least be blamed for it), maybe a time portal? (As my inner voice goes noooo, not more time travel, you overdo that!) I decided to detour and look at other crossovers for more thoughts. There were two done “serial style”, with “Ruby Nation” and “Princess Chroma”. The latter involved Any’s time bubble being shifted to the past. So maybe Any makes the portal? Leading to Clau talking temporal movies with herself, Pato claiming it’s a hologram generator? (I can’t escape time travel.)

Back to the on-site archive. The other thing I’d realized by then about “M9 Girls!” is it’s had a few different artists. So I felt a little less pressure, given how my regular style is pretty different. In fact, there were previous April Fools posts, and at one point a sequence of guest artists. By the end of arc six (Revelations) I was considering a three panel spread, all of them looking at a time portal. As I caught up completely, I realized things had shifted a bit dark, and I should probably go for broke - maximize silliness.


BRAINSTORMING


I’d gotten through all that researching by about mid-day Sunday. I emailed Rulo to update him on when he’d expect something (I figured Wednesday), and my very first random attempt was the following, tracking all characters in each panel:
PANEL 1: KARLA: What is that? ; ANY2: A time portal I created! ; CLAU *thinks*: Phew, not my fault. (Any motions for stop; Pato deadpan)
PANEL 2: ANY2: I bring a message from your past. ; ANY: My PAST? That’s nonsense. ; KARLA: It must be a dimensional rift. (eyes Clau) ; CLAU *thinks*: Ack! My fault? (Pato deadpan)
PANEL 3: ANY2 (turning): Oops, my bad. Simon, I thought we fixed this? ; CLAU *thinks*: Phew, not my fault. ; PATO: Girls, this is obviously a gag. (Any rolls eyes; Karla confused)

Keeping the characters mostly in a row would mean not having to worry about legs, or possibly even hands, which meant a bit less worry about relative heights and, well, hands. (I suck at hands.) I grabbed onto particular elements of their hairstyles to help for differentiation, which is probably no surprise given how hairstyles are central to my math characters.

It was about this time on Sunday when I noticed a message from Charlie Wise, from “Groovy, Kinda”. He was messaging me on FB about the writing for my comic. (I’d been so caught up in M9 that I’d forgotten someone would be writing for me.) We ended up chatting a bit about comic history and the like that evening, leaving me feeling even more at ease overall.


First sketches
Here’s what my first sketches looked like on that Sunday, along with an extremely rough thumbnail drawing. After a bit of thought, I decided to pull Karla out into her own, separated first panel, to shake things up a bit. Also, it meant I could have 4 background colours to match the 4 girls. Why use Karla? Well, she started my dialogue, plus she’s my favourite.

(Sidebar: I know, for me that’s weird, right? A time girl who wears blue isn’t my favourite? Maybe it’s that, unlike my Carrie, Any is also an empath and a bit of a romantic... and I’m not sure I’d want Any in my mind. Plus Karla’s so nice to everyone, even Golden; she’s a bit like Laurie, but less innocent? I don’t know. Whatever, could be the pink. ANYway.)

On Monday, I got back into my written serial swap, with final proofreading and sending things off. That afternoon I did some new sketches of the M9 Girls, going beyond heads and playing with the eyes. I also worked out the dimensions I would probably need. I roughed everything out on a single sheet of paper, like usual - I’m all hand-drawn. Then I decided, no, screw it, I’m not as familiar with this group of characters, I need more space to play around with. Instead of 1 page = 1 comic, as usual, I was going to do 1 page = 1 panel.

On Tuesday, I drew the panel order (Any2, Any, Clau, Karla, Pato) and set up borders in an online template file. I scanned the art in to check size reduction. As I started tossing in word bubbles, I realized something - Karla’s and Clau’s bubbles were going to have to criss-cross in the middle panel. Not good. My thumbnail process has been getting progressively lazier this year, and here was the result.

Well, I could swap the order of the two of them. In the first panels (already drawn by that point), the bodies were separated enough that a cut/paste was easy enough.

With that first panel, I’d also realized that Karla was going to have to look LEFT... off the sheet, to be consistent with the second panel. (I tried her looking right, it looked wrong.) And I couldn’t reverse everybody, Pato needed the last laugh in Panel 4. The direction was sub-optimal (the human eye tends to follow, drifting off page), so I decided I really didn’t want Any2 turning her head in the last panel the same way (to address Simon or anyone else “behind her”). So, I switched it to address Clau directly, which let me portray a silly Clau-freakout instead.

I snipped up the first panel, finally drew the last one, and then re-drew the middle one.  Clau was a bit too tall, so I made like she was jumping backwards. The now “unused” second panel was handy for relative locations in drawing the rest there - in fact, you can see it below, in this interim trial version. (I often scan in to adjust word balloons this way before inking.) I had also looked up the inverted question mark, and upon learning that in comics it could denote unspoken uncertainty when paired, I gave it to Karla.


Interim pencil sketching



THE ENTRY


Each panel had taken between 30 to 60 minutes to draw (not much longer than average, really - the larger space may have helped). On Tuesday night I added a bit more detail (like lines on Karla’s outfit), inked over the pencils, erased them, and rescanned everything (as you do). In theory, the hard part was done.

On Wednesday, it was time to deal with colouring by computer. (One of these days, I might learn shading, but for now my style remains solid fill.) I started by whiting out the text bubbles and eyes/mouths, because the pages are always greyscale after scanning. Then I flattened, like normal. (I did keep the text floating, in case Rulo wanted a Spanish version.)

Eye colours, I already had from my story, as well as a portal effect (from the box function days). Skin tone... I felt like it should be darker than my usual “default white”, but not “brown skin” like Sine, so I played around a bit until I got something I liked. (I made them all the same, I didn’t want to differentiate the girls to that extent.) For the hair colours and costumes, I’d saved a couple of “M9 Girls!” files for references, thus went back to them, and eyedropper grabbed what I thought was a “nice enough pixel” to use for the whole hair/outfit.

The gauzy parts of Clau’s and Pato’s outfits had me play with opacity a bit. The backgrounds were easy enough (pink, blue, white, purple), though I went for something of an “off white/yellow” in the middle one, since the regular background and text bubbles were already white. I wondered about including my usual little copyright, and finally settled for having the date in the corner. I then flatted a jpg version, and pasted over crossbar I’s. That whole process? About three hours. Longer than usual, but I have this bad tendency to zoom in and fix errant pixels.

At that point, I set everything aside for a couple more hours, to write this. Wondering if it would trigger an “oh shoot, I was going to...” moment. (I swear, one of these days, I’ll stop forgetting to draw coefficient watches on my own characters.) But nope. And unlike serial writing, where I keep messing with the wording, that’s not really possible here. I fixed a curious text spacing issue, lamented the curve of Karla’s face in panel one that would have to be good enough, and... done.


Almost. Charlie had sent me my comic earlier that morning (it’s AWESOME and AMAZING), prompting me to ask him if he had a title in mind. So after a bit of thought, I pre-emptively sent Rulo “Time Out”, as a possible title. And that’s how it all came together, by 1pm on Wednesday the 29th.


CONCLUSION


I definitely stretched myself, having never drawn a strip for anyone else. I count myself lucky to have ended up with Rulo, as my own comic happens to be primarily female characters with particular hairstyles, and the artists for “M9 Girls!” have varied art styles that didn’t intimidate me too much. It was also a really fun read. And on the other side, Charlie Wise even asked about adding me to his links (prompting me to make some of my own updates on my site). I’m hoping to maintain my ties with the FB group here, I need to stop dropping off the map.

Insecurities and doubts? Not to the same extent as the writing, curiously enough. Possibly because of how I fancy myself a writer more than an artist, so I have less at stake... if people hate it, I bury my head back in the sand and move on (possibly putting the comic on another hiatus to focus on writing). It’s almost scarier to think this might be wildly successful, meaning I’ll need to work harder at it. ;) Time will tell. If I hear from more than two people, that’ll be a step up from the last few years.

Thanks for reading about my comic drawing process! Comment below if anything interesting jumped out at you (I try to reply to all comments), and/or find me on the internet here:


-Any ~Qs, the webcomic about personified math functions, currently dealing with a derivative virus. It also had an April Fool post today. Updates Mondays, or whenever I feel like it.

-Time & Tied, the serial where a teenage girl has a time travel destiny that affects both her and her friends. On RoyalRoadL, it’s posting daily, finishing end of August (if I keep up with edits). On my site, it’s posting weekly, finishing end of May.

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