• WonderCon was totally the best!

    WonderCon was great! But all of us caught a "con-cold" and I am only now well enough to tell you all about the show!

    Anthony puts the finishing touches on a live sketch. I think he over-posed for the photo :-P
    Anthony puts the finishing touches on a live sketch. I think he over-posed for the photo :-P
    Eric wearing a Pieca-fez.
    Pieca Porg Papercraft, as a hat.

    Somehow this show was even better than APE! We met even more interested folks, and for the first time people had heard of us before meeting us in person! Our fans exist in the real world too! Amazing! Thanks to everyone that supported us by buying our stuff... especially the four of you that bought our super-long posters! I hope they look good when you hang them up!

    We tried a few new things for this show. Anthony crossed the whole of North America to attend, and we were able to offer his live sketches of Kaeans, Porgs, Turikasuul, and Xotron, which was great! We got new banners and hung them up behind our table; they are blown-up versions of some of our Project Wonderful ads. Don't they look cool! The other thing we did was bring loads of Pieca papercrafts! They were really popular, so we'll definitely have more for Comic Con San Diego!

    Between our concept art, posters, and more than 200 pages of comics, I think we're finally getting to the point where people can easily tell there's a huge universe behind our stories. Which is awesome, because we've been building the project for so long, and we're finally able to expose enough of it to be able to share its richness with the public. The level of enthusiasm of some of you guys, man, it's really encouraging. Thanks so much for sharing your excitement with us!

    Things were so busy at the table that I didn't get to see much of the rest of the show, but I definitely want to say thanks to the people that stopped by! Tiny Kitten Teeth and Plotless Comics were awesome neighbors, and Big Dog Ink, Curio & Co., Diablo Productions, Pang The Wandering Monk, and Fixit Magazine were all so kind and helpful. It was also our first show as part of The Antidote Trust, which was great because we got to meet more of the group in person!

    To everyone that got a Pieca Porg Papercraft model, either at WonderCon or through donating at least a dollar through the website, we put together a guide with pictures because some people said the instructions weren't very easy to follow. Just go to carpechaos.com/pieca to check it out.

    Friday morning, getting ready for the show!
    Anthony draws a fresh Chuck for every show.


    P.S. I uploaded more WonderCon photos into an album on our facebook page... click here to view them.

  • Pieca Porg Papercraft assembly instructions—now with pictures!

    If you were lucky enough to get a Pieca Papercraft from us at a convention, or if you printed one out after donating, we've put together a pictorial guide to assist you in putting together your papercraft. Hopefully it will prevent the creation of more abominations like the one I made:

    1. Cut out all the pieces:

    All Pieca's pieces laid out.

    2. Cut along all the dotted lines:

    3. Crease or fold along all the solid lines:

    4. Fold together the tentacles, it might help to tape the ends:

    Folding together the tentacles

    5. Fold together the claw arms:

    6. Fold down and tape all the flaps in the tail and front sections, be careful not to tape over the orange and blue slots, or if you do, clear them with a knife:

    7. Tape the front and tail sections together:


    8. Fold the tabs on the back section and tape together the internal tabs:

    9. Tape all the outer tabs of the back piece and attach the back section to the front and tail section from the inside of the tail section using the tabs:

    10. Insert the tentacles at the blue dotted lines:

    11. Slide together the two slits on the claw arms piece and the claw hands piece:

    12. Insert the claw arms at the orange dotted lines:


    Now that you're finished go read the comic Pieca stars in!



  • My comic review checklist, Part 2: Words

    Time for part 2 of what I learned about making comics since starting Carpe Chaos! Part one is here in case you want to start from the beginning of our process. Last time I focused on the layout and flow of a comic, which are the first things we figure out. From there the artists spend time detailing and typesetting each panel, which means it's time to focus on getting the words right. Next time I'll talk about what we look for when finishing the artwork on each page, but this post is all about the words. The dialog! The narration! The text! The language! And just as before, you can click an image to see how that particular example turned out in the final version.

    Jason's Words Checklist

    • Are conversations harder to follow because related dialog exchanges and reactions are not on the same page (or adjacent pages)?

    • The first word-related thing I look for when making a new comic is the words' flow, making sure the layout is good and that the speech balloons and narration boxes are naturally read in the right order. There's a lot of feel to this process; I can't say precisely how or why I decide whether a comic's pages are too condensed, or too expanded, or just fine as they are. So far Carpe Chaos comics have tended to be slow-paced, with simple conversations spanning many pages. I think this is because I like to savor every moment, I want to make sure each moment-to-moment transition is clear, and I'm aware that the more words are on a given page, the less likely people are to read them. But we're always trying different things :-).

      A good example of a comic that started out too dense would be Moments of Elation. The layout Anthony originally proposed was 5 pages (as you can see below), because the story is a short poem. But it ended up becoming 11 pages! Because the story is about the natural beauty of the Kaean's home ring and spiritual reflection, we chose to have the comic slowly show off the rich imagery of the Kaeans' native environment, and of the poem, in the hope of inducing the same contemplative awe in the minds of our readers.

    • Are the lines all in the right order? Do they match the script? Are any words mixed up or copied and pasted from the script incorrectly?

    • After the layout is decided, we check out how the pages look with the actual words in place. This is the start of typesetting, which means we need to make sure there aren't any typos or copy-and-paste errors, and that all of the lines are in the right places, and in the right order. It's easy to accidentally paste the wrong thing, or to lose a character of text somewhere, so I take the time to compare each line with how it was originally written in the script to make sure no accidents get into the final version.

    • Do the lines still work now that they're positioned in the comic? Do they still feel right? Do they ring true?

    • Imagining how things will look on a page when writing a text-only script can be difficult, and when confronted with an actual layout some things that seemed like a good idea come across as awkward or just don't read the way they were intended. I've heard other authors and editors refer to this process as "tightening up the dialog" but for me it's just a matter of making sure the comic communicates what I want it to communicate as clearly and as believably and as smoothly as possible. Most of the time the changes we make are for clarity, conciseness, and the pursuit of natural-sounding speech (even though we view all Carpe Chaos dialog as the best possible English translation of the original alien languages).

    • Does the punctuation work well? Is it smooth to process while accurately inducing the desired pace?

    • Not much to say about this one. Too many commas are bad because they slow things down. Too few can also be bad. It's important to think about how the punctuation affects how the words are processed by the readers, because they affect everything from the pace of reading to the perceived personality of the speaking characters.

    • Do the facial expressions, poses, movements, and actions of the characters work with the script properly?

    • It's like, how good is the acting? The art and the words need to work together in comics, and even the most subtle facial expression or gesture can cause confusion or give the wrong impression of what's happening in a scene. Faces are the worst because humans are wired to pick up on the slightest little thing, and it takes considerable artistic ability to even be able to reliably draw nuanced facial expressions, never mind use them effectively. And it's harder still with Carpe Chaos characters, because many of them lack eyes and noses! When we work on the scripts we do our best to describe the emotions and facial expressions of the speakers, but our ideas don't always turn out as we hope and new "stage direction" is occasionally called for.

    • Does each emphasized word have the right emphasis (bold, italic, larger font size, smaller font size, allcaps, or a combination of these)? Should emphasis be added or removed to better convey speaking inflection and timing?

    • I hate it when comics style TEXT to aimlessly emphasize every other word. When I try to read a comic that has dialog like that, my head hurts. We use text effects like bolding, italicizing, and capitalizing just like punctuation: to emphasize and add inflection to dialog in ways that enhance, not confound, their interpretation. In the example below the italics aren't needed to resolve any ambiguity, but hopefully this change worked with the rolling eyes to show this character's boredom and disengagement with the topic of conversation.

    • Are any speech balloons wrapped unevenly or too tightly around their text?

    • Speech balloon borders that get too close to the words they contain make for an uncomfortable reading experience, and when the borders are uneven (unless the comic has a rougher style, like Jailing Fortune) it makes the whole comic look sloppily typeset. We also make smaller versions of our comics (640x720 pages on the website and 320x480 mini-pages for mobile), so a balloon that has enough space at 960x1080 might still feel cramped when scaled down.

    • Is the right font used? Are the speech balloon tails the right shape? Does each speech balloon tail point in the right direction and clearly identify the speaker?

    • Pretty self-explanatory... A speech balloon pointing in the direction of a group of people when only one is speaking the line can be very frustrating for a reader! My example here is more of a stylistic choice, but it has the added benefit of making it harder to interpret the tree in the foreground as the speaker :-).

    Two down, one to go! The last part of my checklist will cover the things I look for when finalizing the visual artwork.


  • Guest comic for reMIND

    We (Anthony Cournoyer and myself) made a guest comic for Jason Brubaker of reMIND!

    Click the image for the full-size version
    Our guest comic for reMIND

    You can click here to see it on his site. He said it actually made him laugh out loud, which I think means we did a good job on it! reMIND's a great graphic novel too (as I recommended previously) so if you haven't read it, now would be a good time to catch up on the archives before it comes back from its break in a couple of months!


  • Webcomics I've been reading, Part 2

    I still read webcomics, and just like before I have some recommendations to share. I promise these can keep you company while you wait for the latest Carpe Chaos chapter to finish.

    • Supermassive Black Hole A*

      I wasn't sure about the simple art style in Supermassive Black Hole A* at first, but then I tried reading it by flipping through the images quickly, absorbing the action and mood of each image and moving onto the next without lingering on any one image for too long. And I discovered: as a fast-paced sci-fi action-thriller, it's pretty darn good! The style is unusual; you don't get much detail in any particular panel and you never see two panels side-by-side (so it's a little like a slide-show). But comics are as much about the reader-imagined transitions between panels as the artwork in the panels themselves, and (at least for me) this comic provokes wonderfully engrossing movement and action. It's also sort of like a book in that, because the art is so limited, my mind fills in the visual details as I read through it. The presentation makes for a unique experience, and the story's compelling, too. Definitely worth a look.

    • Wayfarer's Moon

      I like Wayfarer's Moon, which surprised me because I usually don't like fantasy comics. The two main characters have a dynamic that reminds me of Xena and Gabrielle from the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, only fully clothed. The story is still getting going, but the comic does a good job of making me want to learn more about Iri, the dark-haired mage-warrior-archer-person.

    • Meaty Yogurt

      I love this comic's personality. The art style, the typesetting, the characters, and the storylines all work together perfectly. I don't know whether Meaty Yogurt could be better at being what it is than it already is, if that makes sense. And what is it? It's a comic that follows a snarky young woman that's dissatisfied with her life as she searches for something more.

    • The Wormworld Saga

      Another comic that updates in chapters, like Carpe Chaos! I feel an immediate kinship. But this comic is even more beautiful than ours! The creator uses a digital painting style that is warm and rich and inviting and colorful... just perfect for his kid's story about a young boy on his summer vacation. And I love the way it's laid out: it's done in the "infinite canvas" style that involves absolutely no page turning. You just scroll to the end of the chapter, and the layout alone determines the pacing and significance of the different moments in the story. With the way it's painted, the way it's styled, and the way it's presented... I immediately found myself lost in The Wormworld Saga. But be warned: it might be a year until the next chapter is finished.

    • Ratfist

      It seems like every other webcomic has already blogged about Ratfist. I'm not familiar with any of the previous work of Doug TenNapel (the creator) so I can say it's thoroughly entertaining without any incumbent bias. Simply put it's a light-hearted superhero romp that updates 5 times a week. It's silly and everything is exaggerated, but the throw-realism-to-the-wind humor appeals to me in ways I didn't expect. The creator made Earthworm Jim, which I've at least heard of before, and with Ratfist he's found a new use for his considerable worm-drawing skills in the protagonist's disembodied, mind-controlled, extra-large rat tail accessory. That's nothing if not original!

    • Octopus Pie

      Octopus Pie has been around for a while, it's got a large following, it's successful enough to make a living for the creator, and the reason for these things is that it's very good. It's about Eve, a young Chinese-American grocer, and the different cliques she navigates as she tries to live her life in New York City. Part of its appeal is how authentic the characters feel, from the crazy muffin-making hippie roommate to the well-meaning-but-drug-dealing love interest. It's equal parts humor and drama, and the creator isn't afraid to experiment with less traditional ideas like characters talking into adjacent panels and animation.


  • Conventions!

    We'll be at WonderCon in San Francisco (April 1-3), and we'll be at Comic-Con in San Diego (July 21-24). If you're going, we really hope you'll stop by our table and meet us! I also created a new page to help keep our convention trips straight. Click here to view it, and it's also in the menu up above.


  • My comic review checklist, Part 1: Flow

    As the guy in charge of working with our artists as we develop the comics from the scripts, I've learned a lot about the process. My chief goal is to make our comics as easy to follow as possible—I hate reading confusing comics, and likewise I would hate for our comics to accidentally confuse our readers. To that end I've built a sort of a checklist that I use to remember what to look for when the artists submit their pages. Some are important for helping the reader move through a comic comfortably, like easily understanding in what order panels and speech balloons should be read, while others ensure a more analytical reader can piece together the finer details of our stories. Keeping the little things consistent is especially important because when our stories are taken together they form the Carpe Chaos universe and we want the Porgs, Kaeans, Turikasuul, and Xotron to feel as real as possible!

    I went through my notes and pulled the best examples I could find to illustrate the sorts of things I pay attention to. The list turned out to be pretty long, so I broke it up into three blog posts. This one is about what I do first: make sure the comics flow well from panel to panel, page to page, and spread to spread. It's important for us to get all this stuff figured out before moving to the finer details, because otherwise we end up going back and changing things and wasting time in the process. I made each image below link to that page in the finished comic, so if you want to see how an example turned out when it was finished, just click the picture.

    Jason's Flow Checklist

    • Do my eyes follow good lines when the comic is read, without too much zigzagging? Is the panel order at all confusing?

    • I've found that people who read comics on a regular basis don't often pay attention to how they mentally process each page. They take in each page as naturally as if they were reading a book. But reading comics can be confusing because for a novice because it's not immediately obvious in what order the panels should be read. For stories like Rising Up, the panels are arranged into rows and you can read them from left to right as you would words on a page without any problems. But stories like Jailing Fortune require a more nuanced approach. When do you read to the right? When do you read down? When do you start over again at the next panel on the left?

      So making each comic easy to follow is important for several reasons. Good layouts make it more comfortable for experienced readers who get annoyed when their reading rhythm is broken, and they help new readers who might be intimidated or put off by complex panel arrangements. There are a lot of subtleties in guiding a reader through a page in the proper order (and sometimes the order doesn't matter or is left ambiguous on purpose), but my approach is simply to read through the rough layouts and try to sense where something could be confusing.

      In the example below, Anthony Cournoyer's first layout design for this page of Filter Dregs confused me. It wasn't obvious whether the center panel should be read second or third, and because the page needed to show a linear sequence of moments it made the whole thing confusing. I explained my confusion by drawing the "right" way to read it in pink, and the more natural but wrong way to read it in dark red. Anthony agreed and after a few revisions we got a layout that was both mildly interesting and (I hope) completely clear.

    • Does the panel layout look pleasing and nice? Does anything seem off aesthetically?

    • This one is pretty subjective, and one of the privileges I enjoy as editor :-). If something looks off, I can request that it be changed. This is in the checklist mostly to remind myself to take a step back and look at the pages for anything that bugs me or triggers my OCD. It's like a comfort-check for me.

      I didn't like how the speech balloon in Worst Case Scenario had panels on top of it, so I asked the artist (Daniel Allen) to rearrange his layers.

    • Does the action make sense as it is shown? Can I follow it clearly from panel to panel?

    • In other words, is the action consistent from panel to panel? Can I tell what is happening?

      In the first example (Daniel's Rurban Sprawl), I thought the Porg character Helmut looked as though he had materialized with his segway as if he had spawned in a video game. Too sudden! By adding his tentacle, it became clear that he was pushing the segway out from his house or garage.

      In the second example, Anthony's Jailing Fortune layout was just too confusing. It was hard to figure out in what order the panels should be read, but more than that it was hard to follow the action after I figured out the panel order.

    • Is the correct order of the speech balloons obvious, or is the order confusingly ambiguous?

    • Like the panel order, I always check to make sure the speech balloons are arranged in way that makes their order easy to figure out. We fixed the problem on this page of Anthony's Filter Dregs by lowering the second and third balloons, and connecting them with a tail.

    • Does the pacing feel right?

    • Making comics is, at the core, the art of creating time with space. The way the panels are laid out, the way the panels are divided, the way the characters are spaced, the way the speech balloons are positioned, really everything everything affects the pace at which a story is interpreted and experienced. Different people can experience the same layout in different ways but certain rules always apply, and then there are the finer details beyond those. For example, more panels means time moves slower. Fewer panels means time moves faster. Larger panels cause me to pause, while I move through many smaller panels more quickly. The more words on a page, the longer it takes to get through it. And so on.

      I pay the most attention to how the dialog comes across. I want to make sure the beats in conversations are communicated well, because I think about the tempo and emphasis when I work on the scripts and I don't want to lose those considerations when the comic is drawn. I wrote the bulk of Hard Lessons, and in the example below I asked Anthony to divide the panels because I wanted a pause between when the younger Turikasuul finished his lame argument and when the general reacted to it. I wanted to give the general's muttering its own beat or tick or moment in time; I wanted to give her "face-palm moment" more weight.

    • Do the panels that begin and end pages carry appropriate weight? Would rearranging the page divisions improve readability or "set the stage" better?

    • We present our comics in digital books two pages at a time, so I think about how the stories will be presented when they're live on the site (and printed in books). Page divisions, either between two pages of the same spread or more importantly between page turnings, affect how the story is physically framed and what can be seen side-by-side. It's generally a bad idea to split a sequence of moment-to-moment or action-to-action panels across multiple pages, because they are read quickly and sometimes need to be next to one another to be clear. There's also page density to consider: sometimes not enough happens on a page, and sometimes a page is too cramped.

      When we started on Door to Door (and when we thought it would only be a few pages long), Joe Slucher's initial layout put the number of actual comic pages at four. Because it's a solemn, somber story, and because the setting changes several times, doing everything in only four pages felt too quick. While it took longer to finish because we added another page, the five-page sequence felt like it was paced much better and each page felt like an even fifth of the story.

    • Is it easy to become disoriented between panels due to camera angle changes? Is the 180° rule broken in ways that create confusion? Is a general orientation maintained throughout a scene, and if not, is that okay?

    • The 180°rule is more of a guideline, but it says that if you rotate the camera (point of view) around a scene too much and the characters and objects swap places as a result of the changes, the comic (or motion picture for that matter) can become confusing. The way you can make sure not to do anything too confusing is to draw an imaginary line through the middle point of a scene, and then draw all of the panels in that scene from the same side of that line, never moving the camera (point of view) across it. Of course you can break this rule without running into problems, but you have to pay attention to make sure you aren't going to confuse the reader's sense of left and right.

      On the first page of Moments of Elation, I wasn't sure that everything was in the same position because the camera moved so much. Anthony drew a diagram to show he hadn't broken the 180° rule, which you can see below, and that about convinced me. This story was a little special because it takes place in a zero-g environment and the camera was moving along all 3 axes, and the sense of disorientation was not entirely a bad thing. We wanted the first page to convey a sense of zero-g, which is inherently disorienting :-).

    The second part of my checklist has to do with words, speech balloon layout, and typesetting. So look forward to that ;-)


  • Made some cool buttons

    I was messing around in Photoshop again, this time creating some 125x125 jpgs for some more Project Wonderful ads. These were the best 10:

    They look so cool all lined up like that, so I decided to share. I think #4 is my favorite. I stuck them all into a test campaign in Project Wonderful, so I'll see which one is gets the most clicks! If you want to see the others I made, click here. And if you want to take one and use it as a button on your site, feel free :-)


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