Wednesday, October 28, 2009

that's interesting

A lot of the world around me is aggressively trying to assimilate me. Often people discuss whether the world is made up by evil-willed people that desire the worst for them. I've been giving this some thought and as far as I can tell that's a intellectually bankrupt simplification. Some people might desire bad things, there's also a lot of ambivalence by parties that do not know if they have any use for me yet and certainly there's those that desire good for me. But the overwhelming sense I get is that once I enter someone's consciousness, once I'm part of their external world, they need to find also an internal space for me and to explain me away and to put me in a use that complements their belief system. That use might lead to my good or bad, but it's on their terms. This leads to their feeling of safety. When I'm no longer an unaccountable quality, there's a function I serve and my actions make sense. People converge to like-minded groups for support and they oppose other-minded groups for want of a dialectic purpose, hand in hand one is beating and the other is caressing.

I've got my own support group of like-minded people around me, certainly. It seems that when I'm discussing with them and I don't pepper my replies with occasional variations of agreement, I am betraying the underlying spirit of our relationship, sometimes. Also, I feel there is a silent encouragement to disagree if only that this might lead, through clarification, to eventual agreement. Making sense of the world and being useful. The problem is that as I grow older I'm second-guessing my impulses to agree or disagree with stuff simply because I'm realizing more and more how little I actually understand what I'm being told in the first place.

For the last couple of years I've been catching myself shying away from idle agreement as means to encourage a conversation, instead I find myself saying "that's interesting" a lot instead. It's also vaguely encouraging ("you're not boring me, please go on") and regrettably a bit clinical and patronising, but I haven't found something better yet. I gave some thought to why I'm doing that and I've come to realize that I don't want the conversation to be ruled by that binary of approval and disapproval. In fact, what was once flattering is now worrying: I get supicious when my conversation partner seems to rush to agreements with what I'm saying. It makes me think that they're not really understanding, they're just hearing vaguely similar thoughts to their own played back to them, and they're essentially agreeing with themselves through a sock puppet. How can I agree with a superficial thought someone is presenting when it comes with a complex web of interconnectioned ideas that they haven't yet even touched upon? Two people agreeing doesn't mean they understand what either of them is saying, or for that matter what they themselves are saying and it certainly doesn't make what they're agreeing on any more of an enduring truth. It reinforces personal bonds and normalcy but it also dulls the spirit and it makes a thinker complacent.

Nor are people who rush to disagree with me any better. It's actually pretty sad, when I present an opinion (towards which my faith is most often limited) and somebody rushes to tell me that they disagree with me and that's that. As if their disagreement is some sort of major event. The implication is that since I'm upsetting their safety with my contrarian view, I should apologize and make amends.

So basically I don't want people I talk with to either agree or disagree with me. I want to exchange views and experiences and for words to lead to other words until we've gathered enough and we can take that with us and tend on it and whatever is useful can find a fluid place in our personal lexicon, one that doesn't deal with certainties and categorizations and cliches. Furthermore, I don't want to be pacified and put to a use. It is, I think, a matter of survival. I have to claim this ambiguous space where various qualifiers people stick on me do not overshadow my fundamental unpredictability, my humanity. It must be a shock to be alive, a constant barrage of strikes. A violence that cannot be rationalized and put to use.

I'm not doing a great job of it, but I'm going to try more to converse in a way that encourages honesty and risk. So I write it down here and I can remember the next time someone says something blindingly infuriating to me and I rush with my "I disagree and here's why"s or someone says something fascinatingly close to a thought I once had and I rush to congratulate them for being like me.


Monday, October 26, 2009

ZX Page 20: These points make up a path.

I finished page 24 last night, I'm officially more than halfway done. Making this comic has become part of my everyday routine and though I don't feel oppressed, I need to keep reminding my brain to get into creative mode when I sit to draw, not work mode.

Another interesting thing about having the comic on my mind a lot is that I find my awareness of how to draw and convey things is improving, not so much due to practice but because of constantly replaying 24 pages worth of artistic choices in my head all day long. I see simple, deceptively simple solutions to a lot of errors I've made in these pages and I kinda look forward to when I'm done with the other 20 and I can go back and retouch, get everything up to my current vision. The end result will be something to be proud of, I hope, condensed vision and also hopefully, a degree of pathos.

When this is done I'll have to think about what more I can do with this blog. I'm torn between strangely disparate options. Either I let the blog mostly rest and update very sporadically with whatever minor (or major?) comic-related pieces I do in the future, or I take the opposite approach and update every single day with creative results on all the fields I maintain an interest in: comics, music, pixel art, videogames, philosophy & science. I wonder which of the two approaches I'll find myself committing to, because I am an extreme person and the middle road of 'post once a week with whatever, meh' will not work for me.

I want to engage in dialogue about a wider scope of items than I am currently, with this blog. As I am in the middle of making a long comic, I don't have time to worry about this too much yet, but when it's done, I'll have to tackle this and hopefully you readers will help me make it into something with a wider focus but not diluted essence. The reason I'm thinking about this is because I do a lot of posting on various forums and blogs about a lot of things, and I put a lot of myself into them. I'd rather have all my thoughts collected here because - besides the obvious benefit of condensed retrospection - I enjoy, how to put it? I'd prefer not being a guest at someone else's house, when it comes to exclaiming opinions in the lengths I usually do. I am an explainer by nature, brevity eludes me, I find facetious one-liners to belong with internet crowds completely outside of my scope and I feel the need to build into even the simplest point I'm trying to make, a number of failsafes and preemptions towards what I feel are easy ways to be construed. So I often write and write and write and I break comment limits on other blogs and I always get this uneasy feeling that this is actually an *abuse* of their comment space, that this is not what is supposed to be going on there, that it's not actually promoting a dialogue to post a novel in the comments, even if I can't help myself but write it every time.

So I want to pull all my writing somehow in a single place, so I am not a guest, so there is no abuse of a function and so I do not feel unwelcome. I don't know how well the diverse amount of stuff I'm into would cohere on the same blog but hey, there'll always be 'sorting by tag' if you've got absolutely no interest in pixel art, or video games, or heavy metal, or biodeterminism or whatever. However I hold this hope that in the end if someone is interested in my comics, they're not just 'interested in my comics'.

Anyway, I'll remember to return to this issue the months from now it will take to finish the comic (I am aiming for March the latest for absolutely everything to be finished and printed).

This is I think, blog post number 98. The blog has been up and running for 13 months. I forgot about the one year flip, so let's pretend hitting blog post 100 is more important. 100 posts in 400 days, 1 post per 4 days average, many comics, myriad thoughts, countless words. Keep reading...



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flashback is Back!!

A year ago I recorded a full playthrough of the old game Flashback, of which I'm fond of to this day. I had initially uploaded the videos to the host Vimeo but sadly they changed their policy a few months ago and deleted all derivative game related media. My friend Sylpher had a copy of the videos so they were salvaged and have now been uploaded to a new host, Viddler, which is decidedly more lax in its policy with videogame-related media (also has a neat full-screen mode). You can go see the whole playthrough over here.

Also, once the comic is finished I might work the above quick pencil drawing into a digital painting. I'm not much for fan-art and shit like that, but I love Flashback very much.

If I ever do another detailed playthrough, it'll probably be for another mega drive game, Shinobi 3.

Also hey, new header for the blog! In a ZX time a man-machine's gotta do what a man-machine's gotta do.

New pages every Monday, random stuff in between, as usual.



Monday, October 19, 2009

ZX Page 19: Interlude

A layer of ordered grain on top of an ink layer, and then addition and detraction of grain on a different layer on top with an airbrush. This one prints a lot darker than I see it on the screen, I suspect a gamma issue. Hopefully when I do the final prints for the book I'll be able to screen-correct.

Oh, things will be going a bit sideways.



Sunday, October 18, 2009

An Examination of Black &White

Below the jump is a spontaneous examination of the properties of black and white comics in contrast to 'comics with implied color' and of course a wonderful excuse to look at the work of José Antonio Muñoz

As a preface I must tell you I am no academic. In fact the subject at hand is the one that proved to me I could never be an academic. I was studying in a Greek school for comics and animation and I was on my third year and I had to write a paper on the attributes of black and white comics, the visual strength of the language, so on. The things I'll very briefly touch on on the below text. As you can see, I'm doing it now, for my own pleasure, but at the time I couldn't find it in me to sit down and write the text 'because the school said I had to'. So I quit that school on the final stretch. I'm not saying this with any pride, just to explain how the below impressions are reflexive and not validated by the academic heavy-lifting of say, writing a 10,000 word piece on it, with 5 pages of awesome footnotes at the end.

In fact, of all the reasons to write something like this, what it took is a comment on the wonderful gaming-and-more Rock, Paper, Shotgun website, about the new comic of Emma Vicelli, which you can read the opening of here. In the commentspace below, the user Dorian Cornelius Jasper said the following:

It’s a shame she’s hid her prettier line art among screentones. It’s always difficult to resist the urge to use tones as for general shading, especially when compared to the alternative of hatching–always a frightening prospect.

Though I find black and white comics, manga-influenced or not, do benefit from playing up their black-and-whiteness and saving the grays for special occasions. Or for scene-setting.

(Come to think of it, a certain Mr. the McKelvie was pretty good at screentones and stark blackywhiteness, both at the same time. Saw it in a comic, I did.)

To which I replied below:

"I do agree over-reliance to comic tone isn’t the greatest idea for a comic not made by a studio. The initial reason comic tone was so widely adopted by the Japanese industry is for fast production reasons. The head honcho would do some vague pencils, hand the page over to the inkers, then over to the comic tone dudes. This is how big Japanese manga studios do 20 pages of comics a week. The reason it’s handy is because the head honcho artist can just write “use screen tone here” inside a hastily covered shape and he knows how, more or less, the end result will look.

Of course 20% inks and 80% comic tone is the aesthetic manga readers have grown used to nowadays, so when it’s used by lone artists, it’s for this reason, that they simply find it aesthetically pleasing on its own. I sometimes do also, sadly not in the case of this – otherwise beautiful and interesting – webcomic.

I strongly agree with you black and white comics should play up their black and white-ness. Ideally (this is what I try to do for my own comics) a good black and white page would NOT benefit from color work. As in, if someone went in and colored it, he’d have problems with the ambiguity of texture and space that the black and white comic used to its own advantage."

And then I proceeded to link to images of José Muñoz, one of my favourite and most accomplished black and white comic artists.

Let's go over this from the top though, for the readers here not intimately familiar with this comic tone business and its artistic implications. Let's look at a few samples:

Here, every filled surface the viewer notes, the grayscale forms and the textures, are all comic tone. They're not real grays, they're made up of small, ordered black artifacts of various permutations (though usually halftone round) that when printed at fine enough resolution (usually 300 or 600 dots per inch) they look like variations of grey or even pre-made textural elements. These tones are cut in the desired shape from a transparent layer and placed in the desired location on the inked art.

Manga artists often go in on the applied tone and rub out areas, effectively moulding highlights on the forms (can be noted above on the bathing suit and the hair). For the purposes of explanation let's think of the above page before it was comic-toned. As I do not have an original, let's just pretend with Photoshop Levels,

(also mentally remove the deep etch jacket patterns)

As you can see, comic tone takes up a significantly large amount of the explanatory and volumetric duties of the illustrations. Without it sometimes it's difficult to tell what something is supposed to be, since the inking supplied is usually just an outline. The inkers employed are fully informed of what the comic-tone artist is going to do next. I submit that the initial premise and introduction of comic tone to the Japanese industry is a technical innovation to help printed comics appear closer to the colored ideal. As it has been often noted, color comics sell more than monochromatic comics, and monochromatic comics sell more that purely black and white comics. It must have something to do with the reptilian brain, if it's bright and shiny, pick it up, if it's black and white, let it lie (and to take it a step further, if it's using the full lightness spectrum, like comic tone lets you do reliably, then it's more interesting to look at than just black and white).

The innovation of comic tone was that it could make work printed out of a purely black and white printer look as if it supported shades of gray. It's a very telling thing also that when celebrated manga artists start a new book in a series, they often debut the first four or five pages of it in full color, as a buyer incentive. This isn't to say that these artists are only doing black and white for speed and because that's how their industry is set, a lot of them seem exceptionally well informed of the properties of clear black and white work. It does say a lot about buyer habits and assumptions when it comes to comics, though.

Of course the aesthetic qualities of comic tone grew into their own even in a deadline-restricted environment as the manga world, as artists experimented with their deployment. Personally I'd rather read a comic with heavy-duty comic tone today than heavy-duty photoshop coloring. There's something pleasing about the carved shapes of the tone and then the rubbed out highlights, and it's something I often do for my own work as well.

However it must be underlined that comic tone often rests in the uneasy between-space of the black and white, impressionist comic art world and the full-color illustrative comics world. When too much explanatory burden is placed on tones, instead of the primary tools of the black and white comics artist (namely, the white of their paper and the black of their ink) then it tends to look like... a color comic someone ran through a grayscale filter. A good test is this: squint your eyes: if you're looking at a gray middle blur of a page, there might be the case that too much comic tone has been used.

Instead, purely black and white comics fully embrace their status as such; Forms are often implied with smart applications of the gestalt principle and the quality of the surfaces, the active texture of the implied geometry is often left in an Ideal plane, for the reader to conjure and apply as they read. This aspect of black and white comics makes the more interactive than fully colored, illustrative ones, I submit. Friend and fellow artist Graham Lackey once said to me "often I think all the surfaces in black and white comics would be made out of a ceramic white substance" which I find very helpful sometimes when I work and I catch myself being obbsessed with conveying a realistic surface "don't bother," says Lackeyghost inside my head "it's all made out of egg shells anyway".

As I said in the initial comment that sparked this whole post, I submit that the black and white comics that arrive to an almost impressionist paradigm through usage of their fundamental building blocks can more easily recognized by a simple test: Would coloring them offer clarification of the forms? Would it increase visual interest or punctuate their design? Most often than not, it's not the case. A startling example is V for Vendetta, by David Lloyd and Alan Moore. It was initially made in black and white, and masterfully so:

and then for the collected book edition they went in and colored it, awfully:

But since we can, let's look at some of José Muñoz's work from his long-running series Alack Sinner for more examples of black and white done amazingly right:

This is early Alack Sinner, highly descriptive volumes, closed forms, could be colored with no increase or decrease in quality.

This is a bit later. The lines are fatter and more expressive. Broken forms leave more to the imagination. Realism slowly drops from the priorities of the artist. A plant is just a collection of abstract geometry, and a parking lot is a white, contrasting, empty form.

Here black and white no longer just dictate outlines and shapes, they also merge with the informational duties others assign to comic tone or cross-hatching or chiaroscuro: the suggest light, compositional focus and direction, flow and emotive cue. What is snow, what is skin, what is cloth, what is brick, they're all one thing, and the other is shadow, darkness.

Sides of books no longer need be explicitly mentioned, the artist trusts the viewer more, more is left to the imagination, yet strangely the scene seems still effectively set and unambiguous.

I could go on and on, but I'll stop here because I have to work on my own comic. Page 23 is going to be finished tonight, and page 19 will be posted tomorrow, as usual. Thanks for reading.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Server switch, don't worry

All blog content should be up in the next 24 hours. Nothing below the jump.No, seriously.

Monday, October 12, 2009

ZX page 18: The Fissure of Consciousness

This page is kinda pressed for space, it could have been two pages and breathed a bit more but then the pace would lag somewhat. That's the sort of thing you'd save yourself from if you were to plan your comic much more ahead than when you sit to pencil it, but in the end I think the damage is minimal.

The panel with boxy car next to boxy kiosk and curiously unshaded ZX appeals to me. Other parts of this page, not as much.

Last row leftmost two panels, check out cloud of despondency behind Mary, then it dissipates somewhat. The connection is momentarily lost. Stephan, delivered in his safe environment after all that emotion, is rendered in the simpler forms of a child.


Monday, October 5, 2009

ZX Page 17: Hotspots

It's been a while since I made this page, but the main thing I remember about it is how much effort the middle scene took. One of those that I put a lot of work on systematically for 3 days and it never seems to progress before startlingly, you're done. Towards the end you can see my mind stopped making sane artistic choices, therefore that ladder (and ball) that are completely out of scale. Something to fix in the final pass. Or perhaps not, you know? Perhaps it's fine for the sanity loss to show in the art in the end.

Some friends I showed the page to, told me they had impulsive flikr mouse-hover-over-hotspot syndrome manifest, although I wasn't thinking of that when I made the page, but rather, adventure games (again) and their hotspots. Though their primary purpose is to just guide the eyes of the viewer to the path that the eyes of the protagonists took, from point of interest to point of interest, they also serve a secondary function that will be clearer in the next 10 pages or so.

The sequence of the bottom row panels works pretty well and I'm happy for that since after the sanity loss in the middle, mind doesn't want to pull the weight for the final panels since it's thing 'ALMOST THERE, GO GO GO!'.

  1. Bottom left panel, a small classical sculpture joke, Stephan is leaning on a tree stump for support. Yes I find that sort of thing funny.
  2. Middle bottom panel, 'what's she looking at?' motivates the viewpoint shift. This is a subtle trick to make the reader momentarily fill in Stephan's shoes. In the previous panel he's looking at her looking up, so he fulfills his curiosity - and the readers' - by looking at that direction as well. We are Stephan, then, for a second. I mention this explicitly because I generally am not a great fan of storytelling that rests primarily on vicarious connection to the protagonists, I'm more interested in a concept Bertolt Brecht called 'alienation'. If you've been wondering why you've been having trouble connecting with Stephan, it is because I'm not letting you.
  3. Last panel is a pretty startling render change, for an equally forceful mood change. The new moon lends strength, and we, the readers, are kissed, our hand is held, our chests warm with borrowed embers. Who can stand in the way of desire?

- Helm


Saturday, October 3, 2009


Negotiate the terms of surrender! Free-agent cat is here for your food!

Well this cat has been visiting my friend Nick a lot lately. It's really brave when it the glass door is closed:

But when you open it to pet it it just runs for the hills. When it was smaller it did a hilarious free jump from the edge of the balcony, in perfect freefall form, spread-eagled. Cats are terrific.

Its ears are very pointy, I say it's a vulcan cat treaty cat diplomat, here to negotiate a pact of solidarity with earth cats.

Tomorrow Greeks go to vote, or not vote. Perhaps we'll talk a bit about this later, but perhaps not.