Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Meet Bernard Chrome, Man of Many Failings

Johnny seems to be missing in action so excuse the slight delay in putting up new comics. I am in the middle of making the needed material for another Process post so that's coming soon as well. Also, excuse the lettering, I really don't enjoy it so it might be a bit difficult to make out here and there! Give me my Johnny back!

Bernard Chrome here (Γεράσιμος Τσίγκος in Greek) is a character I had created for a the series of sadistic strips you see above. I considered the strip work I had to do for the paper in some ways more difficult to do than the full-pagers, which goes to show that I'm not much of a strip artist. I haven't uploaded any of them to the blog so far because well... on one hand I wanted to save something for the print edition, on the other, I kinda like the format of the single-pages without the strip breaks which were mandatory to the paper anyway. I kinda like those four though so here they are.

The most defining characteristic of Bernard Chrome is that he is completely without any sympathy from his creator. This isn't a lovable loser who tries and fails but oh well, life is the true lesson, and all that. I detest Bernard Chrome both in his physique and his aspirations and wish the worst for him.

From the four, the Chlorine incident is my favourite. That I didn't have him yelping in pain in the last panel, but instead opted for the horrifying silent scream is a nice touch if I say so myself!

The last one is really kind of an anti-climax, I know, but this string bending fear has been a deeply-rooted one for me so I had to illustrate it at least once in my life and who better to use as a lab rat than the worm itself, Bernard.

Oh, by the way, the grotesque muscle-man in the header of Asides Bsides? That's Bernard's eventual fate. Can you spot any other page protagonists?


Monday, September 22, 2008

Europe After the Rain

I am really fond of this one. I think it works on a lot of levels. I don't look at it and think I could have done it better, even 2 years later. I guess in some ways the whole run up to now was worth it even if it was training for this sort of comic. Now what's left is for people to leave me comments about how this is much worse than say, the rice pudding comic and throw me into existentialist despair.

This comic came out without much in the way of birth pains. I remember I made this in Wales while on vacation and I was at the time quite depressed. The situation was however tolerable because a lot of dear friends were about. In fact one of them, Petter, was the one that penciled a panel of this comic (I'll let you guess which) and I received much feedback while making it by quite a few more friends (as we are given to travel in big, multicultural packs). On one hand it was a weird experience for me to have to explain what the comic I am making is about while making it over and over (since most of the comics you see here were made in a state of flux. I didn't 'run them' by anyone, really) on the other hand it helped me appreciate the feedback loop and how it fuels creativity. Look at it now I feel a certainty of intent in this one, which is good.

I am happy with the second panel. The expressions work well I think, and the parallel hatching was a good idea to shade faces. A lot of the time in the past I used to crosshatch a lot and make sleek, almost oily, Neal Adamsesque shading on flesh. It turns out I grew gradually sick of that sort of oily, perfect muscle, I found how it is fitting only for superheroes and supermodels, both equally dehumanizing subtextual guises. I should have looked at masters such as Moebius sooner and seen how the geometry of the body is so subtly accentuated by parallel hatching, relative to the lightsource or - if a wearisome effect is desired - at a 90 degree angle to it.

On the fifth panel, the board on the burning barrel reads in misspelled Greek "here was work # 21".

For you, the lovers of comic theory: Look at the last panel, how it is borderless, how its darkness spreads on the margins of the frames above. How it foreshadows an end and how in lacking borders your brain interprets it as stretching to forever, how it just feels longer than the other panels. Pay attention to how, as western readers, you approach the panel from your left, and as you're coming to terms with the starkness of this field, as you are trying to look upon the whole of this city, the whole of the mausoleum, your eyes fall upon the last ladder, inviting you to exercise your own singular freedom.

The issue of determinism is one a lot of the future comics of this blog will touch upon not only because poor Helm was sad when he was making these comics, but also because I survived them, my sadness, and my life. The fundamental issue of Freewill cannot be examined by my comics in a way that is novel since I never had that sort of brilliance, but perhaps they will serve to shock with intimacy - as comics are want to do - the reader into appreciating the question of it fully. At first it seems as such a non-issue, but its ramifications run deep in how we define (and counter-define) ourselves as citizens, consumers and humans. It is one of the few philosophical issues that still excite me and which I find vital to communicate and I do believe this, amongst a few comics to come attempts a useful commentary on it.

The next update will probably be another PROCESS post, where I will explain how I work completely digitally as of late, what with this expensive Cintiq my father bought for me. I hope that finds my readership in agreement. Speaking of you guys, I want to thank you for both reading my work and most importantly for your comments below the entries. As I was discussing with HS in private a few days ago, some of the comment threads give us hope because they are in our common view, the ideal comments: undeterred by the deeply ingrained cynicism of the internet as a communicational medium, human and candid. They make the blog worth existing. I don't mean this as some sort of fluff complement, they really do, this whole exercise is one of essential communication, not about showing off. I am trying to validate the existence of old work, which I never felt arrived at its destination. By posting your thoughts and engaging in dialog with me and between yourselves you are helping me believe in the merit of my own work. I sincerely thank you.

- Helm


Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I made Johnny attempt this with computer fonts but it didn't work so I went ahead and did the English lettering by hand. Two years after this was made, I am not glad to revisit it, which I suppose was the initial reason I tried to get Johnny to do it.

I don't have anything to say about this, besides perhaps to restate my amazement that such a page could somehow find its way into the 'funny comics' part of a major Greek newspaper. At the time I suppose I had half a mind to quitting and I guess this was my way of pushing it? This is perhaps an important page to note for when we reach the end of the material and you see on what page I was finally let go. An interesting contrast for sure.

In private conversation all through my time with the paper a recurring topic of discussion with Mike was "who reads us anyway, and do they understand us?". I am fascinated perhaps, by what an impression such a page would made in a thoroughly 'untrained' audience, but it's more probable that they looked at it once and skipped it because it didn't immediately make some sort of sense.

This was by far the fastest comic page I have ever drawn for this job (something like 4 hours all things considered) and also by far the hardest.



Sunday, September 14, 2008

Escape from Mortal Coil

I like this one lots. I made it at Mike's house. It also stars a futurist grittier Mike. At the time we were both working for the paper and Mike was gracious enough to let me sleep over from time to time in his apartment in downtown Athens. As I was starting to feel a bit morose for various reasons, it was good to not be left alone for weeks at a time. Plus, it was a creative atmosphere, working along with a friend, critiquing each other and such. I have very fond memories of that time -- thank you Mike! So this comic came out good.

Besides the slight case of cantdrawomenitis, I am very pleased with the characterization of Helen here. There's not really much to say about the formal considerations of the strip. I went with skewed panels to try my hand at how Manga arists structure their pages, and it's cute enough, but not something I'm going to do lots. Perhaps it's worth noting that I did away with any sound-effects for a few reasons. This is a comic where the outer world is about to fall sharply in dissonance with the inner world. Or to put it in better terms fantasy is about to clash with experience.

I believe the death of a loved one is as tragic as it is most of all because an outside world intrudes on the plans and concepts we had laid out in our inner world, and reconciliation - as Slavoj Žižek would say - between fantasy and experience cannot be a head-on collision, the wound is too great. Our modern lives are so comfortable, we're left to our fantasies most of the time, we are not disturbed. When we are, it has to be a sideways glance into the wound, through mythos and art and song, to soften the blow of the disparity. Almost everything else unfortunate in our life's story, we cushion with these devices, we give it meaning and some consequence in the ongoing 'plot'. Death as a far-away concept is very often dressed up with romance and existentialism in art, but the personal death, that of someone very close resists any attempt to be chipped away with our tools, it will not be sculpted into a statue of beauty and quiet acceptance.

Enough about that. I am also very pleased with the sixth panel. That point of view is tricky and it sorta worked without much effort and redrawing so when I look at it I remember feeling good about myself and that I had probably leveled up a little as a draftsman if I can pull off difficult shots like that without much preparation. Of course I was wrong, it was just a fluke. Still can't draw women.

On other news, Scotch devised a little javascript for me, and you can see the fruits of his labour in action here, and there. Ack! My privacy!!



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Royal Ballet School

Most of the people reading this blog lead comfortable lives, I certainly do. Just by having a private computer and an internet connection, a certain economic stability seems presupposed. Urban city life is an easy, streamlined one. But it is also dehumanizing. You can do most of the things you need without leaving your home. A relatively painless dayjob can be secured and one can find themselves supporting their existence indefinitely. The job might wound their pride and they might not be fulfilling any other essential instinct but that of survival, but it seems safe, and safe is difficult to stray away from, although it doesn't feel great, it feels, okay... It seems that early life is channeled and controlled and goals appear to be set without your consent (those of academic accomplishment and whatnot) and once all this runs its course you are left there in the middle of your young life, around 20, 25 without any definite goals set by others and you have to decide what you are willing to risk for a more essential life. There is no more 'leveling up' to do on the course set by some elder constant rule-set, you have to change genres, it's no longer an RPG, it is an adventure.

Self-actualization in the midst of ease of sustenance is elusive. We want a lot of things but our willpower isn't enough to go after them. A lot of the time we are left with unrequited dreams lingering in the back of our heads for many years. There is a specific point in life when if you haven't gone after a particular dream, it appears almost farcical that you ever had it, taunting you with its impossibility. Inching towards that point, we feel a peculiar combination of shame and pride in still indulging ourselves in its fantasy. There is no deeper concept or anything more fanciful to this comic than an illustration of this.

Oh, also, last panel: that is my room. Also, a few panels above, that is my kitchen (and cat). You have metaphysically visited my house now. You were good guests.



Monday, September 8, 2008


I kinda forgot about this one! It was published between Conan the Librarian and Tooth Prince. I guess I must have skipped it because it didn't really need Johnny's help for translation so I went right ahead and bugged him about Tooth Prince.

It's also a comic I don't have much to say about. The Gnawites are characters that were invented more or less in a game I played with a good friend of mine, Sven Ruthner. He's known as "Ptoing" on the internet (yes, I know, awesome sound effect name!) and we've had a long friendship on the basis of a mutual admiration of pixel art. We are both administrators in Pixelation which is where you want to go if you want to upgrade your pixel skills, and we collaborate on various things all the time. For instance he's coloring the cover for the Asides Bsides book! You could do worse than marvel at his wonderful artistry here and there!

So, the characters come from this little collaboration between us where one would draw an 64x64 tile on a big checkerboard and then the other would draw an adjacent one and so on. This:

(click for real size) is when we gave up. You can clearly see the evolution of the Gnawite there (the first one drawn is the one biting on his arm I think, and the one I used as definite reference is the one launching itself out of the cave). I really liked them so I featured them in the comic you see above a few months later. They represent the base ID instinctual drives, they're like mischievous children without any sort of parent-inflicted morality, so the strips show how they interact with the world. Mostly by being bastards, but look! Towards the end! How nice they are to the sad Yus Bird (heartbroken at the time). The challenge was to give them a bigger emotional range than is suggested at the collaboration above. It turns out their faces are made well to convey emotion. If you notice (this is the only point of pride for me technically on this page) the two Gnawites are distinguishable at all times from the shapes of their faces and facial features!

I'll explain what the hell the Yus Bird is on some later entry. A concise description is that it's a bird and it says 'Yus' only and that'll have to do for now.

I enjoy this comic for how it loops to where it started, giving off the sense that this sort of carefree life loops indefinitely, the Gnawites never grow up, there is no future and past, there is only a long now and the now is full of happy.



Saturday, September 6, 2008

Love Is More Than A Three Letter Word

What you see here can summarily be described as a guilt trip comic. After last weeks existentialist one I felt kinda bad for deviating so abruptly from the program so I made this one. It's one of the very last attempts I were to make at keeping it proper and probably for the better for the well was running well dry.

Not to say that I hate this, I think it's a pretty good comic and it touches on things that most introvert internet denizens can empathize with. I wouldn't exactly call it a comic based on personal experience (though I do love rice pudding, especially with cinnamon on top, so very, very much) but there's been so much of that theme around me it's hard to not feel as if I've not lived it anyway. For the record I've had two relationships that started out on the internet thus far, one was completely disastrous (though illuminating in various ways) and the other the most significant relationship I've had yet, so I can't preach either condemnation or support of internet dating. It seems to me the odds are pretty much the same as in real life for it to work out well. It's also I guess interesting to note that when this comic was made more than two years ago, I was in the middle of the first internet relationship (which were to go south really, really fast, if it hadn't already, can't readily remember) and now that I write this I am well in the second relationship that is going wonderfully. Spirals of progress towards a predetermined direction!

Speaking of rice pudding, you must understand it has a hilarious name in Greek. 'Ρυζόγαλο'. It's really not the type of word you'd want to say when trying to hit on somebody but the actual line "hey baby, what do you say I buy you some rice pudding?" is one from real life, uttered in all seriousness by some... rural Don Juan.It's been an inside joke ever since a girl friend told us how it happened to her so that's where half of this comic comes from.

The other half is Sarantis Vahaviolos. All Greek names probably sound the same to you savage foreigners but this is again a hilarious name, phonetically. Let me make up a reasonable similar one in English to get the effect... hmm... "Eugene Bottum", perhaps. Something like that. The first name is something that makes you think of some really old man and the second suggests a layabout, a sluggard, a waste of time of a man. There's a story behind this name: A close friend of mine used to go on-line in a time far more virgin to internet trolling (that is, about 12 years ago?) and frequent romantic interest chat-rooms. He would pretend to be Sarantis Vahaviolos (for extra hilarity) of the proud lineage of the Barnetts (highly respected British family, supposedly) who would completely earnestly search for true romance on the cold, harsh internets. A lot of hilarious chat logs came out of that and the name-persona was liberally adopted by our circle of internet friends whenever we wanted to describe someone who would do anything to get a woman to love him.

Little did we know that apparently Sarantis Vahaviolos (or to be precise, someone with a similar name) was a real person that met an interesting end. One day my father came to me with a press clipping that has since then adorned my bedroom wall. It's in Greek so trust me if I don't take it down and scan it, it's real. It reads:

"Greek-American soldier lost his life in Iraq. 21 year-old Steve Vahaviolos from New York. The soldier was stationed in Iraq six weeks ago and killed along with three officers when the tank in which they were in fell off a canal in the area of Al Abar."

So uh, I guess, that's the true end of Sarantis, or Steve, whichever you prefer.

On the implementation level this comic is somewhat of a mess mainly due to how I could not then -and I still cannot with great confidence- draw women. I tend to default to the same model when I do it just because I find it difficult to get them down (I find a solid strike to the back of the neck helps). Besides that it works pretty well I feel, some pretty 'true' panels (like the girl in bathroom one. I love drawing bathrooms!). That one is a bit of commentary to teenage boy mentality where women are these pretty magical butterfly fairies that never fart or swear or do anything bad which I've always found funny and touching.

The comic is littered with 'cool guys' being 'cool', and I am pretty sure you can sense the disdain on the ink. I have an almost pathologic disgust for the 'stud uniform' and what annoys me even further is how effective it is.

The panel where he meets Maria for the first time is easy on the shading. Take that as emotional elation. I still like that panel, probably the best on this page. As far as the ending goes, I can only say: bad random. Well okay, if pressed I can make the case of how this whole 'American dream' twist towards the end desperately needed an absurdist upset because it's sickening but that would be after-the-fact rationalizing, really. I just found it funny! Rice pudding! The most benign thing in the world! The panel where he takes out the dark-haired woman annoys me to look at, mainly because she's is modeled after an actual person I was once acquainted with. Also this is the panel where I first started to regret giving my characters 'cartoon four fingers' because that pointing hand looks really grotesque! By this time I've also mostly regretted how I had decided to stylize ears too at the beginning, but oh well!

If you haven't, you should really give rice pudding a try. It's wonderful. And completely safe.



Monday, September 1, 2008


Click click click for huge privacy-shattering version!

This is where the magic happens!

I am easily the most ghetto comic artist I've met in Greece. I don't even have a proper drawing table. That's right, I draw hunched over a pad I place on my lap, sitting in that torn chair. It's a hilarious story, I'm sure I'm going to laugh my way to the hospital for back surgery when I'm 45.

Pay no attention to knives, they'll be explained later on. Let's treat this like a mid-90's FMV adventure game and just click on that toolbox hotspot right now.

(if you actually clicked there for real, I applaud your instincts!)

This is all the comic artist needs in my humble opinion. Let's see, we have an antique chess piece cardboard box that belonged to cartoonist dad for Karma boost. Rubber erasers (4). Mechanical plotting pencil and extra bits. Whiteout for erasing bad inking judgment. If you cannot see it, it never happened. Itty bitty nosed Faber Castel pigment markers. These are pretty much my sole tool when I do traditional comic work. Yes, every curvy, variable-width line in all the comics I've posted so far had been faked with a .01 pigment marker. That's just how my brain works. Or worked, as it were, since then I've bought the beauty next to it, a wonderful little Pentel Indian ink brush which serves me well. Also pictured are replacement inks for it since I go quite heavy duty on them. Last but not least, a screwdriver. Men are not men if they do not have tools, and I am a man, hence I have tools.

I will cover the digital end of making comics much later on. I am nowadays pretty much all digital. All of me, I live in cyberspace and I am made out of (50) bright Greek polygons and/or wireframe depending on the processing power of your 8-bit computer.

How I work is this. First I do nothing for a few days and wait for an idea to come. Surely, it does, usually when I am half-asleep or in the shower. The idea can be really simple, usually one line. Let's go with the very first comic, Babis. The idea was 'man is outmoded by creepy pursuers, they go after his uncle inexplicably instead'. Then without touching a paper yet, I try to exhaust in my mind the bits of interest that could be the dressing for this central idea. If I don't have about 4 or 5 of them, the idea then is thrown in the 'perhaps a three panel strip instead' pile and I wait around more for a better idea to come.

Oh wait, let's instead go with spaceman since I happen to have his doodles scanned already.

So when I think the idea is worth it, I brainstorm the jokes and make a little thumbnail of the page and divide it into strips/panels and try to work on the rhythm. This is pretty much how one looks like:

As you can see sometimes the panels don't end up even so some restructuring has to go on. Also pictured are doodles of the head of the protagonist. I was struggling with a coherent style at the beginning of making these as you can see.

Then comes the most important step I've found in making a humorous comic page: I tape this to the wall next to the computer and I just wait a few days. I look at it and the more I look at it the more I realize where the errors in pacing are. People might think I'm lazing around not doing my job in these couple of days but I am, I really am (lazy)!

After the minor corrections I pencil the page on a big A3 board on cheap printer paper (I never found use for glossy, expensive paper. I like seeing the grain in my inking, personally). Again, this gets taped to the wall and stared at for a day. The pencilling takes anything from 4 hours to 8 hours, depends how much work there is to it and how many errors and therefore backtracking, are included.

After a day, and probably rapidly approaching the end of the week's deadline, the inking starts. I don't have any examples of penciled but not inked work from that era for a very simple (ghetto) reason: I don't use a lightbox. I ink right on the pencils, and then I erase the pencils. Madness, heresy! Don't you even love your own work, Helm? I hear the cries. I do, but I'm not obsessive about it. I don't care to leave penciled pages since I never really planned to showcase the stages or sell them or anything. I believe the 'pencil page, then inked on lightbox' is mostly the result of the industry process of American Superhero comics where the two people are different. As an indie creator I don't see the reason to get a boner over my own pencils, so erased they are once inked over. I do have a lot of pencil only pages from when I started inking digitally, but nowadays I do even the pencils on the computer so there's not even much of that left. I will post a few examples later on in the blog's life anyway.

So, the inking. It's pretty much the least interesting creatively and most zen part of the process. I know what textures and effects I want to achieve most of the time so there's not much of me sitting around stumped going on. If I were a professional in America in the mid-80's I guess they'd hire me as an inker most of all, as I believe it to be easy and mechanical a process. It just takes a long time. About 6-8 hours depending on content. Most times I spread the inking out to two 4 hour segments over two days. The reason is simple: after about 4 hours of artistic work I find my brain turns to mush and I no longer am able to make sound artistic calls. As I said in inking not a lot are included, but then you go and try to improv ink a face you had left vague in the penciling stage and... the result really illustrates what I mean with 'brain mush'. Reach for the whiteout. Erase. If you can't see it, it never happened.

So optimally this whole process is done about a day before deadline. I then do the lettering, which I find boring and unrewarding work since most of the time the comment I get is either "why don't you use a computer to do the lettering? Sometimes I can't make out what you're saying" or "why do you use lowercase and not just ALL UPPERCASE LIKE I AM USED TO FROM READING COMICS WHEN I WAS 8 YEARS OLD. I FAIL TO SEE HOW THIS LOOKS LIKE THE CHARACTER IS SHOUTING ALL THE TIME". *sigh* I guess it's also underwhelming for me because I make a lot of spelling errors (even with spellchecker and whatnot) and it's very amateurish to see these go to print. Blame my editor for not uh, bothering to read my pages! Anyway, all spelling errors to these have been fixed for the greek paperback edition.

I then scan and digitally fix whatever I messed up in the inking stage. This is usually relatively painless and amped by the nearing-competition excitement. I then at last turn the page from grayscale to an one-bit bitmap. I do this by running Levels on the page and settling the left sensor to 136 and the right one to 138. Nice and clean, no grays left. I preview the page with auto-AntiAlias by photoshop at 33% zoom and if it all seems okay, I send it to the e-mail address of the editor. No need for personal contact, I don't even have to leave my home. Paper comes out, nobody reads my comics, repeat from the top!

So that's it! Do comment and tell me if you'd like to see more behind the scenes stuff on the blog later on (like how it is to draw completely digital on Cintiq and how it is to use a black cat under the table as a heater for my legs (pictured in the first one, if you pay close attention)!