• Creating the cover of Carpe Chaos Ignition

    Joe Slucher here to talk about how I created of the cover of the first Carpe Chaos comic collection, Carpe Chaos Ignition. Actually I’ll just be talking about creating the bottom half of it in this post.

    After showing a cover sketch that related to each comic, Jason chose to go with the following sketch for the bottom half of the image.

    This scene was based on the battle between the Gloryshark and Dreadstone Turikasuul clans in the first chapter of Rising Up, illustrated by Daniel Allen. The specific panel is below:

    Throughout this I’ll be referencing some Photoshop CS3 tools and the names may be different for CS5. I knew I’d probably end up playing with the rainy background a lot so one of the first things I did was setting up my image so that I could work on the characters and background on different layers. So I duplicated my sketch layer and titled the top layer “characters“. Then I used the lasso tool and Quick Mask Mode to select the characters. Then I went to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Then I was able to paint on the background layer below it without fear of interfering with the characters.

    Click to enlarge.

    At the beginning I set my brush to color mode, quickly laid down some rough colors, and then switched right back to normal mode. For the most part I use the default Airbrush Pen Opacity Flow brush and a real media brush that imitates chalk. I use a digital tablet, so I always just go into the brush controls and turn the minimum diameter way up under shape dynamics and turn on other dynamics so that my pen pressure determines the opacity.

    I was concerned about making it clear that the rain is affecting the characters without being able to show clingy wet clothes. So after looking at some photos, I noticed that in a heavy rain there’s kind of a scattering of little highlights just off the edge of forms where the rain hits surfaces and bursts. For this effect you can use a round brush and turn on scattering and adjust your count or you can download any of a thousand brush sets that have splattery brushes. Here's what I ended up with:

    If you look at the image below, you can see where I began to add a hint of texture in some spots. But I was mainly trying to sort out the lighting:

    Click to enlarge.

    I was mostly thinking about where the backlighting would be creating rim light and how that hit the form and whether the strong backlighting would wash out the figures or add some blue to them. I also added a third layer to put some of the rain between the character and the viewer. Here I was also dabbling with having the red Turikasuul reflecting onto his opponent’s arm spikes. From looking at Turikasuul illustrations by other artists, I also thought I needed to change the angle and design of the teeth.

    Feeling confident that the forms were reading well, I begin detailing and adding final elements such as the blood spatter and thumb:

    Click to enlarge.
    Click to enlarge.
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    As you can see from the detail shots, these are not super tightly done. I've learned that the success of an illustration is based more on how believable the lighting and forms are, rather than the details. I knew this illustration would be printed only about 7 inches wide, so spending a lot of time making a tooth look real when seen two inches big on my monitor would have been a waste of time. I used the Add Noise filter on the background and then added a motion filter blur. The wrinkles around the mouths were done by creating a new layer filled with black, lowering the fill to 0% and turning the bevel and emboss layer style on. If you try this, be warned your image won’t look any different until you start to use the eraser tool on this layer.

    Click to enlarge.

    Jason directed me to make the blood color more yellow to more closely match the design of the Turikasuul species, so I made that change and felt that perhaps making the forehead veins and gums more yellow would help sell that this is in fact blood.

    Click to enlarge.

    Here’s how the final image turned out. The yellow veins were nixed and we decided to flip the image horizontally. I also decided to try to make their skin look more like it was glistening wet. For that effect I created a new layer above my other layers, filled it with black and set the layer blending mode to color dodge. Then I painted the highlights with a speckly brush.

    In conclusion, developing images like this is much less intimidating once you learn the tricks behind it. Any artist could practice with these same techniques and outdo me without too much extra effort.

    Anyway, if you like my work, make sure to follow the Carpe Chaos website as you may be seeing more of me around here :-)

    -Joe

  • Creating the pages of Jailing Fortune

    Hi everyone. I'm Anthony Cournoyer, and so far I illustrated Moments of Elation, Hard Lessons, Filter Dregs, Jailing Fortune, and the version of Rurban Sprawl that's on Graphic.ly. I'm from Quebec and I'm not the best in English, so I had Jason edit this blog post for me. I'm also not the best in writing, so I will make this very to-the-point. What is it, you ask? I'm going to show you how I made page 23 of Jailing Fortune: Chapter 1.

    I am a digital artist and I do everything myself, like layout, penciling, inking, coloring, and so on. But I divide the steps in my mind, and I divided this blog post according to the same steps I follow.

    The Rough Step

    Nothing much to say here. The only things I try to capture when doing the roughs are the expressions of the characters, some of the gestures, and the general layout.

    Click for larger version.
    Click for larger version

    The Pencils Step

    What I define as "pencils" are not really like what you would see in most of the comics industry. My pencils are more like polished roughs... where the ideas become clearer in some places, and completely changed in others. They are mostly blueprints that I follow when I draw the inks.

    Click for larger version.
    Click for larger version

    The Ink Step

    Because I work 100% digitally, I do not treat inks like a traditional inker does. I do not have to worry about messing things up, and I have the advantage of establishing characters, foregrounds, etc. on different layers. I start outlining with a very thin brush, almost as if I were penciling (for real this time). And then I add weight (thickness) to the lines that need it. The results end up looking crisp despite my sketchy start. But this would be harder to pull off without solid model sheets, which we are lucky to have. I can easily fill in the gaps in details left by my rough pencils by looking at the model sheets. And I originally drew the model sheets I was using, so I was already familiar with my pals the Porgs and Kaeans.

    Click for larger version.
    Click for larger version

    Note that I don't ink much of the background, especially with something this organic and deep. I can use colored shapes to get the setting across, which you will see later.

    Notes about inking

    As you can see, I closed the outline for each layered asset. And I did so outside the frame. This helps me out with selection, and applying flat colors quickly. To hide the stuff outside the frames without compromising the benefits of having them, I use masks. The following picture shows how I do this in Photoshop.

    Click for larger version.
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    The Flat Coloring Step

    This I apply the flat colors. I think this part is boring.

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    Click for larger version

    More Flat Coloring and Background Work

    Now it's time to start filling the horizon. For this page, I copied background elements from earlier pages to paste here and there. In the final stages I adjust the background elements to look less repetitive if needed.

    Click for larger version.
    Click for larger version

    The Shading Step

    We went with a "cell-shading" style for this comic. It was originally a question of work pace... but I frankly think it fits the comic. It's mostly a character development story, so immersing the characters in a realistic style was not necessary to begin with... Unlike Moments of Elation where the mood dictates the story. Plus, everyone loves cell shading.

    Click for larger version.
    Click for larger version

    I also want to point out that I used a somewhat different methodology for the first panel of page 22 (the page before this one). Basically panels like the first panel on page 22 serve as guide for the rest of the same scene. They are generally subjected to a bit more trial and error until something satisfying sparks. A bit like conceptual art, but the style remains specific.

    Finishing Touches

    Just some finishing. Pieca's face pattern, filling the eyes with colors... This page is not the best example to show this step though. Other pages take a lot more finishing and would look more different from the step before.

    Click for larger version.
    Click for larger version

    I saved most of these images as I created the page, which is why the Kaean character has all six of his eyes here even though he should only have 5. That was eventually fixed in the finishing stage also.

    I hope this gives some insight into my process.

    -Anthony

  • Experimenting with Project Wonderful

    So we have a decent-size archive now. Not counting covers, credits pages, ads, and so on, we have at this moment 114 pages of glorious Carpe Chaos comics just sitting there and waiting for you and all of your friends. Is it enough to "hook" anyone? I think so, and I also really hope so. That's why I've gone and started advertising on Project Wonderful, the premier Internet ad network for advertisers without much money. Would you like to know how it went? Really? Great! Please keep reading then!

    Project Wonderful doesn't charge advertisers for "clicks" or "impressions", just the time your ad spends in different ad boxes on various sites. It's like advertising on the side of a bus in that you are paying for the time your ad spends in that space. It also means that, to get the most out of the money you spend, your ad needs to be good enough to be clicked by a reasonable percentage of viewers. I've heard that a click-through percentage above 0.3% was considered satisfactory, so I made a series of ads and ran very short, cheap campaigns to see how they performed.

    My first run was to determine which banner sizes did the best. I made these mildly ugly ads and looked at, more than click percentage, which ones got the most clicks for the money:

    Half Banner (234x60 pixels)

    Banner (468x60 pixels)

    Rectangle (300x250 pixels)

    Leaderboard (728x90 pixels)

    Skyscraper (160x600 pixels)

    Despite most of these being pretty awful, I learned that

    • the skyscraper ads were the most cost efficient, and
    • one of the half banners did just as well.

    I accidentally created a nice-looking half banner ad for Moments of Elation; even though the click percentage was an abysmal 0.03% those spots were so cheap that it worked out to about six cents per click! I felt accomplished. I ran a larger campaign with that half banner ad and set out to make some actual, clickable skyscraper ads. Here's what I came up with, in order from most-clicked to least-clicked:


    I'm no graphic designer by any means, so I leaned on the great artwork in our comics and let the ads "speak for themselves". My goal was to spark enough curiosity to get the viewer to click the ad (even the hover-over text simply said "Advertisement"). The best-performing ad was the Kaean marine. I learned that:

    • An alien in a strength suit with a gun standing over the skeletal remains of another species of alien under an ominous-looking sky is darn interesting to a significant number of Internet-goers that frequent the sites in the Project Wonderful ad network.

    Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation. The bounce rate from people clicking the Kaean marine was also pretty low, so I think it turned out enticing enough to get people to open up our comics after visiting our site. With a 0.4% click rate and what works out to a 3 cent per-click rate, I came up with a really good ad! And then I discovered DeviantArt sells ad space by the click for 4 cents each, meaning poor ads don't cost any more to run (they just work slower). >:-O.

    I'm still glad I did it though, because this method of trial and error with Project Wonderful turned out to be an inexpensive, useful way to test the performance of ads I might want to use on other sites and ad networks that charge by the number of times they are displayed. Jason Brubaker over at reMIND recently began offering advertising with pricing based on number of impressions, so after testing the following ads:

    I learned that art from the third, fourth, and fifth ones would most likely do the best. I then added our logo because I was able to consider the ad placement on his site and I wanted to make it super clear that the banners are advertisements, are not part of the reMIND site, and SHOULD BE CLICKED (Project Wonderful ads by contrast are usually clearly labeled).

    I added the last one from Jonny Klein's verison of Rurban Sprawl for fun because although I didn't test it in Project Wonderful I think it'll do okay. I'll be able to study the click-tracking that reMIND provides to see whether I'm right!

    -Jason

  • Webcomics I've been looking at

    You might consider Carpe Chaos a fairly traditional scifi series, and I wouldn't disagree with you. While we certainly push some of the normal conventions, I'd consider our comic something of a "modern state of the art" rather than a weird experimental webcomic. The freedom of being independent looses the restraints that often hold artists back, but at the same time we want to create comics that we can share with other people. Because of that, we try to keep familiar elements of narrative as the driving forces behind our comics. When we try out an unusual element, for example a heavily artifacted art style, we make sure to include traditional elements of our form in other parts of the story; in this example we used familiar camera angles and straightforward layouts and dialog. As one of the people who's responsible for making sure Carpe Chaos is accessible and approachable by people other than the authors, I read a lot of other comics to find out what works and what doesn't. 

    Yes, that means I read webcomics as "part of my job here" at Carpe Chaos. :) And some of them I even enjoy! Here are 6 of the good ones.

    • Nathan Sorry

      Let me start off by saying I hate Richard C. Barrett. This dude writes an amazing story, pairs it with pretty respectable art, draws me in... and then is only finished with 60-some pages. To make it worse, the current page has a mysterious character on the verge of revealing her identity, taking off her shirt, AND being run over by a 747 crashing through the bedroom window. WTF Richard, I can't handle this kind of cliffhanger! I love how this story juxtaposes Nathan/James' grim realism and detachment (which feels much more like a contemporary 2010 perspective on 9/11) with the shallow "God's blessed it", "oh the world's so horrible, what will I do", "yay America!" sentiment that was so common at the time. It feels like Nathan is the only one who's really dealing with the situation, despite the irony that he's dealing with it by fleeing from it entirely. The way Barrett twists symbolism into the story through flashbacks is really striking. Concluding the Nathan's flight flashback with James pondering the endless potential of a blank canvas is masterfully rich with meaning, while still maintaining a sense of believability that breathes life into the characters. And hilarious! Where'd you get that TV, Kara? I loled. :)
      You only live once... maybe twice... so in one of your two lives, read Nathan Sorry.

    • Sarah Zero

      Sarah Zero promised me that she would rock my world. And she did. If you struggle through the slightly disjointed narrative, you'll find a surprising amount of character development in the minimal amount of beautifully set text in Sarah Zero. Sarah's a bit preachy (even the other characters agree), but if you listen to what she has to say, she's right. As some kind of Scott Pilgrim Action Hero/Rock Star meets Advice Guru, Sarah Zero blows your mind with new intersections of images and words. The author's skill as a graphic designer and typophile ring true, and the piercing commentary on the digilife cuts deep. 

    • The Battle of Dovecote Crest

      I'm pretty shallow when it comes to comics. If your art isn't good, I'm not gonna hang around regardless of your story. Something about the soft colors and playful faces of Dovecote Crest drew me in, but the light hearted story has kept me laughing and become my favorite part. It's a little reminiscent of a chick-flick, but vibrant personalities and humor keep the story afloat in what could have been a sea of sappiness. And every 3rd page is a battle from America's bloodiest war, so there's something for everyone. The two existing story-arcs are long enough, but still discrete enough, that the wait for more pages isn't unbearable.

    • FREAKANGELS

      Jason already talked about this geyser of liquid awesome. Warren Ellis is my new role-model. I'm going to become an alcoholic so I can be JUST LIKE HIM!

    • The Phoenix Requiem

      I don't know why I keep reading Phoenix Requiem, nothing happens in the first 10 pages... or the second 10 pages...  230 pages later I still can't put it down. Why can't I stop reading this comic? You probably shouldn't start either, lest you join me in this sisyphean tale. It's probably like why I read half of Pride and Prejudice. Why did I do that? Phoenix Requiem feels like a period costume piece, and it would be better if it had zombies. Of course, I'm probably gonna finish Phoenix Re-- HOLD UP! Ok, the zombies show up on page 246. This comic has my highest rating.

    • Earthsong

      I dunno why I've been into girly comics lately, but despite the all female cast's deep interest in relationships and the emo-vampire love interest, there's still plenty of draw for the bearded mountain-man in all of us. Every woman in Earthsong has a soldier's will and most have a soldier's weapon too; the all-life-depends-on-it stakes of the storyline keep your anxious heart thudding even in the slowest and most peaceful moments in Haven. The aesthetics of the comic blow your mind into new proportions and do a stellar (pun intended) job of portraying divine and awe inspiring characters. If C.S. Lewis drew a comic, Earthsong would make him wish he stuck to writing novels.

    -Eric

  • A Comic Is Born, Part 3: Preserving the Perception of Perfection

    Last month I told you about our art creation process. This month I'm going to tell you about the steps we take to make sure our art makes it to our readers in all its glory: what I've come to call "The Image Mastering Process". It may seem like a relatively straightforward process (you're just saving some jpegs and posting them on the web right?), but there's a lot that can go wrong, and getting everything right is a bit of a technical science. 

    As evidence of that, even after dozens of hours of research and 6 months of doing this, I still have to rely on a few superstitions and occasionally find a new way of doing it wrong. ;) So if you see any ways I can improve this process, please jump in on the comments section. If you do your own comic and you've never considered whether your readers are seeing your art the way you intended then look sharp, cause you might find something you've been doing wrong!

    File Versioning

    The first step in making sure your audience sees what you want them to see is making sure you don't lose all your work!

    When you work on a project by yourself, its a good idea to keep backups of your files in case you screw them up. When you work on a project with 2 artists, a creative director, an editor, a printer, and some other miscellaneous staff, you're pretty much bound to end up with SOMEONE screwing up your files. Face it, there will be deleting, mangling, destroying, and formatting hundreds of hours of work. You've got to find a way to deal with it.

    For all our notes about the Carpe Chaos universe, we've found a great solution with MediaWiki, although I'm starting to wish we wrote story scripts in Google Wave and we might be headed in that direction in the future.

    For 80+ MB Photoshop documents however, we can't use a html based system like MediaWiki. Instead we drew from our software development experience and decided to use SVN to keep our files safe. SVN keeps track of all the changes that each of our creators make to all our files. Each version is stored, and creators can leave a little note about what they did. If anybody does something we regret, we can revert the files to an older version. SVN also allows us to lock files, so only one person can work on them at once, this prevents two people from making changes that overwrite each other's work.

    SVN has its drawbacks. It's really intended for software code and doesn't deal that well with image files. Some corporations use software like Sharepoint or Alfresco, and if I were to start over from scratch, I'd put a lot more research into those. As it stands, SVN does the job, and switching would probably be more effort than it was worth.

    Cleanup

    Once our completed files are secure in SVN, I do a little basic cleanup. I check to make sure the fonts are vectors (more on that later), there are no stray marks in the gutters or word balloons, and all of our two-page spreads line up. I have Photoshop set to warn me of any color profile errors (more on that later as well).

    This is also the stage where I get to use Photoshop's most Scifi-like tools: the Heal Tool and Content-Aware Fill. I've got a computer science degree and I've been watching Scifi for years, and I always thought that stuff was Hollywood fakin' it. But through some amazing super-powers, Photoshop delivers.

    I'm still not convinced that Adobe hasn't discovered some kind of witchcraft to power Content-Aware Fill:

    Fonts

    Typography is an area where its easy to assume that it can't be that hard, but the reality is a lot more complicated. Fonts aren't just a collection of pictures of letters. Good fonts also contain information other important information like:

    Kerning (how far apart letters should be from each other)

    Ligatures (when two letters can connect together)

    and Hinting (subtle changes in the shape of the font at different sizes).

    If you use a crappy font, like Comic Sans, which has horrible kerning, its gonna look glaringly bad next to your art. But there are also ways that you can screw up a fairly well designed front like Ronaldson Bold or Nyala. Font hinting and anti-aliasing handle how letters are drawn at very small sizes. 

    Here are some of the typographical pits I've fallen into.

    Never Rasterize Text

    If I showed you this page in a new tab and asked you if anything was wrong with it, what would you say? Nothing? Now open this page and switch between tabs to compare them. Pay particular attention to the capital O in the second bubble. Something's wrong isn't there? It's because I resized that text after I rasterized it. The difference is very subtle, but now that I've pointed it out, you realize the first one is harder to read and less crisp. Worth avoiding, eh?

    When you rasterize text, it strips out all the features of the font that make it flexible at different sizes. If you resize the text after this, it's gonna look blurry and ugly. This goes for flattening text into images as well, since flattening is inherently a rasterization process. 

    Never Stretch Text

    Typographers put a lot of work into optimizing the readability of their fonts, and when you stretch them or make them taller, you throw a wrench in that. Much like rasterization, you rob yourself of the typographer's expert optimizations. Stretching might work when the fonts are huge (like the title on a cover), but never do it to any kind of dialog or narration text. If you're ever using the Move tool to resize dialog in Photoshop, ur doin' it wrong. Change the font size instead.

    Faux Anything is Faux Pas

    If your font doesn't have Bold, Italics, or SmallCaps support, you might be tempted to use the Faux Bold, Faux Italics, or Faux Small Caps options in Photoshop:

    But these features are actually just an easier way to stretch or distort your fonts (see above). You should try to avoid it. You might slip a few by in a squeeze, but when a graphic designer or typophile looks at your text, they'll recognize it, and immediately think you to be unprofessional. Truth be told, just because your average reader can't articulate that it looks bad, doesn't mean that Faux Text doesn't decrease their subjective opinion of your work as a whole.

    Omenitions Of Next Time

    Next time we'll talk about this topic a bit more, touching on Color Profiles, Compression Formats, and Resolution. In the mean time I want to leave you with another one of my theories of design, in case you're still not convinced that these details are important.

    When we look at a design or piece of artwork with obvious flaws, we can pick them out and articulate "This design looks bad because of this and this." Everybody can see the obvious mistakes, and we need to fix those. But there are other mistakes, things that are just beyond our ability to articulate, but not beyond our ability to perceive that also influence our opinion of the work. Here, I'll show you what I mean.

    Consider Samuel L. Jackson's acting. If you don't recognize the name, here's what he looks like:

    Now wait a minute. There's something wrong with that picture. Look again. Weird. It's like his face shines too much.... THAT'S NOT SAMUEL L. JACKSON!! THAT'S A WAX FIGURE!!

    When you investigate, and really think about it, you can see what's wrong with that picture, but if I hadn't said something, you probably wouldn't have thought to figure out what was wrong, and you would have just had a weird feeling about it, "Something's not right...", and went about your business. 

    The best art pushes one step past this "weird feeling". At that point, it's gone so far that even our subconscious mind can't notice it:

    You'd think he'd paint something more interesting if he was going to invest that much time.

    That's a painting by the way. ;)

    Of course, if you let it, your perfectionism will drive you insane and deadlock you into never getting anything done. There are much more forgiving mediums than wax figures and photorealism. If you want to be a productive artist, you need to stop once you've gone one step past what people expect. Roberto Bernardi, who painted the soup cans above, calls this picture a "work in progress". Clearly, he still thinks it has flaws. If you let it, your perfectionism will drive you to your grave.

    So one step past perception, but no more.

    -Eric

  • Patrick Rothfuss, Worldbuilders, and Heifer International

    Just a quick announcement: we sent a copy of Carpe Chaos: Ignition to fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss so he could give it away to one lucky participant in his charity donation drive. All donations to "Team Heifer" are matched by Worldbuilders, and the money goes to help pay for cows for poor families that need them. For every $10 you donate, you get a chance to win our book or any of the others from the pool. If you're interested, head over to his blog and throw down a few bucks!

    -Jason

  • Webcomics I've been reading

    You might consider Carpe Chaos a weird comic series, and if you do I won't disagree with you. The absence of humans, lack of superheroes, strange-looking aliens, unrelated stories, monthly updates... We're not your typical webcomic, and I'm one of the weird guys responsible for the ways we break the mold. While I love comics as an art form I find I dislike most comics, so I spend a lot of time making sure I would want to read Carpe Chaos comics even if I were a stranger to the project.

    However, there are plenty of comics I enjoy! I'm really particular about which comics I like, and when I find one that hits a sweet spot I'm the kind of person that will spend the next couple of hours going through the archives and catching up. It's pretty much all or nothing for me, and it's because I like my favorites so much that I wanted to share some of them in a blog post. It's my soapbox and I'll shout if I want to!

    • Elspeth

      It's not often I find a comic with elves and orcs that takes itself seriously and holds my interest. It's also rare to find a single comics creator a talent for both writing and illustrating. Elspeth is surprisingly emotional, with a compelling hero character and an environment that feels real. This comic's strength is its relationships, which are deeply and authentically human. It may sound cliché to say it's about "a half-orc trader with a heart of gold" but it is, and it's very well-done. Rather than a boisterous hero seeking adventure or a reluctant hero pulled into adventure through circumstance, the eponymous hero's compassion for others in need drives her adventures and I can't help but care about how she ends up.

    • Amya

      It's funny, it's exciting, it's suspenseful, it's dynamically drawn, it's lively. Amya features a foolhardy adventurer on the run from... something, and a cute, mute girl along for the ride. At first I thought it would be a boring sort of rich-girl-turns-commoner-and-falls-in-love-with-a-peasant story, and it is that in a lot of ways, but it's not boring. There's a lot more to this comic beneath the familiar framework and it really feels like it's going somewhere.

    • Furious Comics

      Another graphic-novel-style webcomic that tells a series of unrelated, full-color short stories drawn by different artists in different styles! We're not the only one! But Furious Comics are confined to a single (however broad) genre: horror. If you like short horror stories you'll get a kick out of these, I promise. The way the stories unfold is satisfying, and the dialog is especially well-written. From story to story the author captures the voices of each group of characters wonderfully, which makes it all the more satisfying when he tears them apart!

    • FREAKANGELS

      This comic is very popular and the reason is because it's very good. Very good. When I first discovered this comic, man, I lost sleep because I stayed up late reading it all. It was glorious. They put out 6 pages (nearly) every Friday but there is a downside: the pace of the comic is such that for all of the great artwork in each update I am sometimes frustrated by the slow progression of the story. The story feels drawn-out from week to week but that's only because it's so damn gripping. The unexpected plot turns are actually unexpected, the frame compositions are wonderfully enticing, the dialog is witty, the personalities of the characters ring true, the supernatural elements aren't distractingly silly... The post-apocalyptic setting is not a recent innovation but FreakAngels paints it as beautifully as I've seen. It was only when I thought about the characters' significant "powers" that I realized I had suspended my disbelief and plunged into the FREAKANGELS world effortlessly, and for me that's a rare occurrence.

    • Pirates of Mars

      This comic hasn't been around for long but it's energetic and silly and if you like pirates in spaceships that look and act like they're from the 1800s, this will thoroughly entertain you. There's also a rude robot pirate. My favorite thing about this comic is its attitude.

    • Kerry and the Shadow Puppets

      When I discovered Kerry and the Shadow Puppets it grabbed me so tightly that I purposely read only a few at a time to savor it for as long as possible. The other reason I took them slowly was because they required my full attention and a fair amount of mental energy to enjoy. The humor comes from the characters' constant musings: they generally take their lines of reasoning too far and thus manifest the absurdity that I find hilarious. The characters are all completely comfortable discussing anything at length, however sensitive the topic, while at the same time they act personally insecure and ready to indulge any of various phobias. When I read this comic I feel like I've been inserted directly into the droll minds of the characters, and the creator, and I occasionally walk away with a new perspective on something as a result of the clever, almost abstract banter.

    • Nedroid

      I'm not sure how to explain why I love Nedroid. It appeals very directly to my sense of humor. It's wacky in just the right way for me.

    • Erfworld

      Anyone familiar with Giant in the Playground is probably already aware of Erfworld. I've never played Dungeons & Dragons or any other RPG sans computer, but the humor isn't lost on me and the artwork is really clean. I stomach the cuteness of Erfworld to get to the good stuff: a tactical genius exploiting the rules of the world around him to win oddly constrained fantasy battles. The problems that come up are interesting, and the solutions to those problems are actually genius—I can't predict what will happen next, and that keeps me coming back.

    • Penny Arcade

      This is the first webcomic I got into, years and years ago. The biting, sarcastic humor of the comics and eloquent accompanying blog articles have influenced my writing style and expanded my vocabulary (I don't think I would have encountered apothecary anywhere else, as an example). I don't have time to play many video games these days, but I catch a few of the best through reading Penny Arcade. If you're a gamer you probably already know that these guys give it to you straight, and since I began reading PA regularly I've found I don't need to make time for the fluff on the major game review sites.

    • reMIND

      reMIND is interesting. It starts with its focus on a girl that runs a lighthouse by herself, but then it switches to "the cat with the human teeth" as I've come to call him, which turns out to be the true protagonist. The story is pretty unusual, and parts of it strike me as a folk tale or kids story with the talking animals and the more classic hero challenging his wicked king. Anyway I'm hooked, but the comic isn't the only attraction here. The creator also runs a blog, and his twice weekly blog posts make his whole project incredibly transparent. He's not shy about going back to earlier pages and improving what he's already published to his site, and the whole experience is about taking a journey with the creator as he develops his graphic novel and learns along the way.


    -Jason

  • A Comic Is Born, Part 2: Drawing The Art

    Last month I told you about how we write scripts as a team and promised to explain our storyboarding process next. So lets dig in!

    Once a story has been finalized into a complete script, we begin the concept phase. One of our artists, Anthony or Daniel, is chosen based on their availability and who we think will fit the story best. Then another person is assigned to be the Storyboard Director. Usually this is Jason. The Storyboard Director's job is to examine all the Artist's work and ensure several things:

    • The art is consistant with the story beind told in the script
    • The art is consistant with the universe as a whole, not contradicting previously published comics or our internal knowledgebase
    • The layout is easy to read
    • The layout causes the comic to flow well
    • All the dialog in the storyboard is consistant with the script

    Having this second set of eyes has been really helpful even though they don't belong to a talented artist.

    As the Creative Director, I oversee the process and chime in with a lot to say about how this story impacts the entire Carpe Chaos universe, and how the story should be told to improve the quality of our work as a whole.

    Once the team is assembled, we create a new thread on our internal forums (which run e107) and start drawing!

    The first thing we draw is a style test, where we explore the art style we want to use for the story. The amount of effort that goes into this style varies by comic. Sometimes we go with the artist's first impression:

    But other times, like for Strength In Numbers, we know it'll take a bit of work to perfect, so we ask for several styles at once:


    Click for high resolution image.
    Some style tests from Strength In Numbers

    And even then, sometimes we have to keep iterating:


    Click for high resolution image.
    More style tests from Strength In Numbers

    And if we still haven't worked it out, we get frustrated and post pictures of Winnie the Pooh:


    Click for high resolution image.
    Winnie the Pooh

    We do this in part because Winnie comforts our rage and frustration, but also as stylistic commentary, guiding the artist closer to what the Writer and Storyboard Director have in mind, which generate even MORE iterations:


    Click for high resolution image.
    Even more style tests from Strength In Numbers

    Just as we're settling into something we like, we do a few quick color tweaks to perfect the look, often applying the same tweaks to some of our source artwork, to see if it captures the feel we wanted:


    Click for high resolution image.
    Dark colors source art test for Strength In Numbers

    At this point, you might think we're crazy for the number of iterations we make. Truth is, we've actually streamlined this process a lot, and we've found that doing lots of quick iterations allows us to generate really high quality art fairly quickly. And the number of iterations it takes us to get what we want has actually decreased significantly since we started this project in 2006. Believe it or not, it took over 200 variations before we settled on just the right coloring for the Xotron.

    Once we know what the story itself will look like, we work on what the characters will look like. All major characters get concepted. Again, we concentrate on quick iterations. Generating lots of similar ideas, we take our favorite elements from various designs and combine them together into new designs until we've got one we like.


    Click for high resolution image.
    Clan character iterations from Glider Rescue

    The Storyboard Director and I provide feedback on the direction we want the iterations to go. Sometimes I use my "1337" Photoshop skills to make some of the changes myself; here's the time I wanted one of our Porg characters to have spots with 3 different colors, and wanted them to be streaked:

    Or if you've seen a number of shops in your day, you can tell then too.

    Sometimes we take the time to compile all our character designs into a character sheet:


    Click for high resolution image.
    The characters from Glider Rescue

    If a story has an important non-character element, like the sea creature in Hard Lessons, we also concept that:


    Click for high resolution image.
    First try for the sea creature from Hard Lessons

    And we iterate:


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    Another possible image for the sea creature from Hard Lessons

    and provide feedback:


    Click for high resolution image.
    Feedback for the sea creature from Hard Lessons

    And post YouTube videos of what we want, like this one, showing how  sea life has an amazing ability to expand and contract:

    To drive the point home, skip to the middle of this one and see how much it can shrink. Where does it's body go? What was it filled with that it can disappear? I DON'T KNOW!

    All because I really wanted our creature to expand and contract a LOT, since it was so important to the metaphor put forward in Hard Lessons.

    We keep iterating:

    Another variation on the sea creature from Hard Lessons

    And Feedbacking:


    Click for high resolution image.
    More feedback for the sea creature from Hard Lessons

    And posting more sources:


    Click for high resolution image.
    Source art bagpipes for the sea creature from Hard Lessons


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    Source art sea cucumber for the sea creature from Hard Lessons


    Source art sea cucumber for the sea creature from Hard Lessons

    Iterate and iterate:


    Click for high resolution image.
    Another iteration for the sea creature from Hard Lessons

    Feedback after feedback, now I want the spikes to lay down when it's relaxed, like this:


    Until it's perfect: 

    This urchin has achieved perfection.

    At this point you're sick of looking at pictures of sea urchins, but I really want to drive home the point that our sucess comes from Failing Faster™. Like Shakespearean monkeys  we generate far more BAD ideas than good ones. We find success only by iterating quickly through many failures before we learn enough to create a rare success. 

    Once we've done all that groundwork in the concept phase, we're ready to start our storyboards. We also call these "roughs" because they're really rough mock-ups of what the final pages are going to look like. This is sort of like the "pencils" stage of traditional comics art except less precise.

    It's really important to have the dialog bubbles on the roughs, so we can see how the dialog is going to be spaced, and so we can see how much text is on the page. This saves us from running into giant walls of text like the mess we started with on page 7 of Hard Lessons:

    Our first revision of page 7 from Hard Lessons

    Blah, blah, blah. If I'm the creator and I'm not willing to read all that, the certainly my readers aren't going to want to read it either. We tried rewriting that conversation to be a bit shorter, but that still wasn't enough, so we decided that we needed to add an extra page and move some of the dialog there. We also felt like this section's visuals weren't interesting enough, so Anthony suggested that we add a star-map in the background to illustrate what the character is talking about:

    A new version of page 7 feels much less claustrophobic

    We decided that if we shuffled the bubbles a little bit more it wouldn't be like reading an essay, so we started on the next stage: linework.

    As you can see, some of the textures don't have linework, so those might be drawn at the same time as the linework. In traditional comics artists refer to this stage as "inks", but since our comic is 100% digital, and our linework doesn't correspond exactly to the roughs the way inks correspond to pencils, we prefer not to use the term "inks".

    At the linework stage, we need to check more closely for the nuances of layout, like eyelines and dialog bubble flow. The bubble placement on this page caused the lines to be read in the wrong order:

     

    Your eye follows characters line of sight naturally

    To fix this, we moved bubbles 6 and 7 down, and raised 5 up and moved it left so it was above 6 and 7.

    Occasionally the visuals prompt the writer to make new changes in the script:

    This dialog fits much better, don't you think?

    :P

    Seriously though, a surprisingly large amount of our dialog changes to fit the visuals, and sometimes stories like Rising Up get entire scenes rewritten based on how the art plays out.

    An important part of our feedback process has been showing each other respect, and keeping everyone's morale up. I've seen too many businesses ruined by petty in-fighting and rude managers. To keep this from happening, I try to make sure my feedback includes the maximum number of lolcats and other internet memes. 

    When Anthony posted this:

    Who's that hiding back there?

    I could have said something about how that head popping up looks pretty silly, which might have hurt his morale. Instead, I posted this:

    Oh, that Turi just upgraded my ram is all

    The results always seem to be positive:

    Good results, AND high morale!

    Most the time the process has picked up a lot of speed by the time we start coloring. All the details have been worked out in earlier stages, and it's up to the artist to layer on the awesome:

    We published this page of Hard Lessons, but later found some things that needed correction. I challenge you to find the difference between this and the current version.

     

    Once all the pages have been colored, we put on the final touch: figuring out where our logo will go on the cover. This idea for the Worst Case Scenario cover convinced us that a shadow in the moonlight, cast by some invisible feature of the window, was what we wanted to go with:

    Our logo has appeared on every cover of our stories, have you seen them all?

    But we felt like it was a little too obvious, so we went with something slightly more obscure:

    Would you have seen it if I didn't point it out?

     

    At this point every page has the Storyboard Director's...

    Seal Of Approval-- it's a seal... get it?

    Most of the creative process for a comic is now complete, but there are still quite a few technical hurdles these pages need to clear. Next month I'll talk more about our typesetting, image exporting, and cleanup process.

    -Eric

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This blog records the adventures we have making Carpe Chaos!

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