Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Character Sketch: Chef in Color

And here is the chef in color. I still can't tell you about the top secret project, but I can tell you he was colored in Corel Painter X, one of my favorite programs. I used the Digital Watercolor brush, and I think he turned out really well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Character Sketch: Chef

Ah, ze cookin'. She is a marvelous 'ting.

I do love to cook, so it was only a matter of time before I designed a chef. This is for a top secret project, so I can't tell you what he's for, but I can share this funny little guy in the floppy hat.

I drew him with a crow quill pen and india ink in my sketchpad, then scanned him in with a Canoscan, which is still my favorite scanner. The project required a black & white image or else I would have colored him. Maybe I'll still color him and post him again later.

Enjoy!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wandering Koala Saves Christmas


Each year I create a Christmas card with an original poem and illustration. Normally I select the title of a Christmas carol. This year I decided to try something different. I had this idea for a story (as I explained in my previous post) and as I was drawing the story, I decided it would make a great Christmas card. It worked out well, because I had so many different things to say and this mini-comic gave me the room to say it all.

You can read the entire story free at WanderingKoala.com

Enjoy! And be sure to drop me a line and let me know what you thought of it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas is coming, and it's nothing to be scared of

Why, yes, I am working on a new Christmas story.

I guess the idea for it came from a few places. First, my brother had commented how half the Christmas specials involved Santa being kidnapped so Christmas would have to be cancelled. He pointed out Santa's need for better security. Then I was watching Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas around Thanksgiving, and I realized so many shows' titles ended in "saves Christmas".

That got me thinking about what saving Christmas really means. It isn't about rescuing Santa from the villain of the week. We don't need Santa for Christmas--it'll go on just fine without him.

No, the real enemy of Christmas are those who would remove Christ from it and from your life and mine. Now, they know a direct assault would never work, so they attack from the side using something good as their weapon--respect. They claim we should respect those that don't believe in Christ by not mentioning him at this time. Respect is a good thing, but that doesn't mean it can't be used for something bad, and this is an excellent example of putting something good to a not-so-good use.

The truth is we should respect others' beliefs, and they should respect ours in return. It's a two-way street. Respecting their beliefs does NOT mean we should hide our beliefs. That isn't respect--it's ignorance.

This is Christmas, not "the holidays". The only reason the season exists is because of Christ, not Santa, gift giving, family gatherings, or anything else. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging it. It does not force your beliefs down another's throat, nor does it in any way attack another's beliefs. Those are lies spread by those who don't like what Christ taught, because it directly conflicts with bad behaviors they are engaged in and don't want to give up.

So don't be afraid or ashamed to say "Merry Christmas" this year; you will offend almost no one. And if someone says "Happy Holidays" to you instead, don't get upset--that isn't what Jesus would do and really isn't saving Christmas.

As for format, I recently reread a Spirit Christmas story by Will Eisner. I've always been impressed how he was able to fit more story into seven pages than most people these days do into a full 20-page comic book. It's a testament to his great storytelling. I wanted to try and do something like that. His stories were also in the newspaper so a wide audience could enjoy them, not just comic book fans. So I'm going to post my story for free around the Internet so all can enjoy.

Saving Christmas isn't about rescuing Santa, but putting Christ back into it. And that's what my story is about. Wandering Koala Saves Christmas should be out in a week or so. If you like it, be sure to share it with your friends and family. And don't be afraid to let me know what you thought of it--I'm always open to comments.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Caveman Conspiracy

I feel like I've been working on this forever, although it's only been a few months. I wanted to find the perfect form for telling stories. I noticed some times of scenes and sequences worked better as text, some worked better as images, and some worked better with a combination of both. Traditional prose, novels, short stories, and novellas are perfect for the first type of scenes, and comic books are perfect for the second and third type. But what about stories with all three? Almost every story has them. I also wondered what the images should look like--should they be black and white line art, should they have tones, should they have color?

So I set out to create a form that was flexible enough to handle all three. And I did it with a story I've been kicking around in my head for a while--a murder mystery, scientific conspiracy thriller that makes you question what you think you know. I also tried a new style for the art work. I used a Zig Calligraphy pen to ink the drawings (I love how it traces form) and a free set of textures I found online for anyone to use. It made rendering them so fast and led to my "raw umber" style I've used in a couple of illustrations.

Publishing this also presented an interesting challenge because of the unique layout. So I decided to publish it as a series of images. This meant the file size was too big for one book, so I split it into two and made the first part free. I posted it online for all to read and enjoy and, hopefully, entice to buy part two.

Was I successful? You'll have to tell me. Will I continue writing stories in this format? We'll see.

Go to http://www.wanderingkoala.com/s_caveman.php and check it out! And then go buy a copy of part two.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Raw Umber: World War I and Veterans Day

It's funny. In grade school whenever a holiday came around we would spend time discussing it, its origins, how to celebrate it, and many times read a book or listen to a story.

But we never did for Veterans Day.

Never.

In fact, I don't think I really even had heard of Veterans Day or knew what it was until I worked at an evil bank in Arizona. It was one of those "banking holidays" we got off for but no one else did.

I was curious; why is there a Veterans Day and a Memorial Day? What was the difference? Why do we have both? I love Memorial Day, so why didn't I celebrate Veterans Day?

I learned Veterans Day was established for World War I, once called the Great War but now is largely a forgotten war because of the second World War. Being a fan of Silent Films and Pulp Fiction, I've recently been learning a lot about World War I, because that was the Great War constantly referred to in both. I've also recently realized who the Red Baron Snoopy is always chasing in Peanuts is. The movie Flyboys is one of the few modern movies about that era. It's a great flick to catch if you get the chance.

So I've decided to celebrate Veterans Day, and I'm starting with this illustration in my new Raw Umber style (previously called Burnt Umber) named after a beautiful color I use for yellow in my watercolors. I drew it with a 2B Staedlter pencil, then inked it with a Pigma Brush Pen and Zip Writer felt-tipped marker. I scanned it with a Canoscan Lide and digitally toned it in Adobe Photoshop CS. Then a layer of tinting and wallah! The masterpiece is finished and online for all to enjoy. It is the second illustration in this style, and I am very pleased with it.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Raw Umber: An Evening by Gaslight

I like to make birthday cards, Christmas cards, Mother's Day cards, and more. This year I made one based on a Victorian theme. The arch is from the gaslight road in Yokohama, Japan, a place I just got back from.

I'm always trying new things, experimenting with different styles. This is my latest attempt at trying something new. The background objects were drawn with a Zig Writer felt-tipped pen while the characters were inked with a crowquil pen and india ink. The colors and textures were done in Adobe Photoshop using a set of textures I found online for anyone to use.

I really like the way this turned out. The color, the texture, the line quality, the composition--it's everything I could hope it to be. I plan to do several more illustrations in this style. Be sure to comment with your thoughts.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Words and Pictures make a Story

I love words put together well. I love pictures that effortlessly tell a story. And I especially love the skilled combination of the two. It's something I strive for but don't always achieve.

Currently I'm working on a project that is part illustrated storybook and part graphic novel. It's my latest attempt to create the perfect genre for telling the stories I want to tell. Illustrated novels have too many words and too few pictures that aren't essential to telling the story. Graphic novels are basically just long comic books (come on guys, did you learn nothing from Will Eisner's Contract With God?) and have too many pictures--the reader can't savor each one. I want the pictures to be an essential part of the story that progress the story. I also understand the power of words and telling and don't want to loose that.

So with Caveman Conspiracy I'm writing little more than a radio drama script and using the pictures to progress the action and show the emotion.

Will it work? You'll have to pick up a copy and let me know.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Character Sketch: Archeology Professor

One of my favorite things about writing stories is creating new characters and new worlds. In my latest I needed an archeology professor, so I created Professor Kissinger. She's not a very nice lady, as you can see from the picture.

The name came from one of my many debate coaches in high school. Originally I was going to make her skinny and angular, but after looking thru a lot of images of women, I decided to go the other direction. I love the frog-like look of her face. The way her eyes slant down and her mouth puckers tightly with the checks and mouth wide remind me of Chuck Jones' version of the grinch. And I think she is very distinct.

I drew her with a Staedtler 2B pencil, inked her with a Zig calligraphy pen, and colored her in Corel Painter X, still the best version of the software.

So what is the name of the project she's from? I'll give you a hint: it's a new format I'm experimenting with, a hybrid of a graphic novel and an illustrated novel.

I'll give you another hint: it's called The Caveman Conspiracy. I hope to have it out in a month or so. I've finished several pages of it, but have many more to go.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Character Sketches: A Boxer Contemplating

So I've been sketching again, and this time I did something I hadn't done before. It's funny, I hate boxing, and I hate watching it, but I do enjoy movies about it and art about it. I'm not sure why.

This was drawn with a Staedtler 2B pencil, inked with a Zig calligraphy pen, and colored in Corel Painter X. I was really pleased with how it turned out. The words are because I'm testing out a font and a style for my next graphic novel which should be out in a month or so.

Let me know what you think!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Power Trip (a Wandering Koala tale)

René thinks he’s hit the jackpot!

After six months of no luck following college, he finds the perfect job with excellent benefits at The Power Company doing what he graduated in.

But a newly hired manager has a mysterious agenda. Employees disappear with no warning, and René is caught in a massive explosion that leaves the city of 8 million without power during a record-breaking heat wave. Riots rage and fires burn as the city plunges into chaos, and René finds himself framed for sabotage.

Only the intervention of a silent wanderer can save him and the rest of the city from a deadly power trip.

Now available in Paperback and all eBook formats!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Brief History of Power - The first version of the prologue

So my new novel is out. I wrote three prologues for it. In a previous post I shared the second version. Here is the first. The picture is from the novel. (As if you couldn't figure that out.) Enjoy!

A Brief History of Power

Man has always needed to work and perform other tasks and that has always required power. That power has come in many forms, and each had its advantages and disadvantages, but each allowed him to accomplish what he needed to do.

Pre-industrialization

From the beginning of recorded history, the world has relied on manpower and horsepower (or some other beast of burden) to plow fields, transport people and products, and more. It didn’t take long before man harnessed the power of wind and water to help with these labors such as using windmills and waterwheels to grind grain or push a ship with a sail.
But these forms of energy had severe limitations. People and animals can work only so hard until they need rest, and the only way to quickly add more power is to add more people or animals. To utilize waterpower, you must be next to a river, and there are only so many sites good for that. Wind is even worse because of its low capacity and inconsistency—you never know when it will blow or if it’ll blow hard enough—leaving many a crew stuck at sea. Sailing vessels today have other means of propulsion because of this with the sail used more for fun than as the principle drive.
In addition to the severe limitations, all of these forms carried serious disadvantages. People and animals require a lot of inputs such as food and medical attention, and they produce not so good outputs (you know what I’m talking about). These problems are best described by the great horse manure crisis.
In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, several large cities faced a critical problem: the larger they grew, the more horses they needed to function, and more horses meant more manure. (A typical horse can produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day.) In addition, these horses had to be fed and stabled taking up land and food so it couldn’t be used for people. Houses were built with a second story entrance because the piles in the streets were so high. Air quality suffered. Flies swarmed attracted to the waste. When the waste dried up, it became airborne and got into everything. (Stephen Davies, The Great Horse-Manure Crisis of 1894, THE FREEMAN | IDEAS ON LIBERTY, September 2004, Vol. 54/Issue 7)
Then a wonderful new liquid was discovered in Texas that solved all these problems, but we’ll get to that later.

Industrialization

Industrialization brought steam power and machinery to augment and eventually replace the grunt work of people and animals. Men were no longer at the mercy of the wind as sails were replaced by the superior steam engine that could run whenever the occupants needed it to. Machinery made people more efficient at tasks such as producing clothing and other good at an exponential rate until the people were eventually phased out. Of course, steam still had its limitations—horses could outrun it leading to several great train robberies.
Steam engines were traditionally fueled by coal. Coal was (and still is) cheap and plentiful making it an attractive power source. But like anything attractive, this rose had its thorns. Mining it has caused severe health problems and death (many people argue that the industry and jobs is provided were worth it).
Coal also emits pollution into the air negatively affecting air quality and covering buildings and plants in soot. The story of the peppered moths is a good illustration of this.
Originally most peppered moths were light and blended in with the light-colored trees and lichens on the trees. The high levels of pollution caused many of the lichen to die out and blackened the trees with soot, making the moths easy to spot by predators, which nearly wiped them out. At the same time, the dark-colored moths flourished because of their ability to hide on the darkened trees. Eventually technology brought cleaner air and the light-colored peppered moths have made a comeback. (Ken Miller, The Peppered Moth - An Update, August 1999)
Whale oil was also a popular source of fuel, but the demand grew so great the whale population found itself reaching critically low numbers until a new source of energy came into use, the same one that solved the horse manure crisis: Texas gold!

The Twentieth Century

In the twentieth century petroleum was discovered in Texas and quickly replaced steam and horses as the principal form of transportation and whale oil for light. This was a huge boon, because the streets were no longer littered with manure and air no longer fouled by its stench. The food supply was no longer in danger of being devoured by the energy supply. And whales were no longer threatened with extinction. Like coal, oil was (and still is) cheap and plentiful with many of the same disadvantages. (If the cheap part makes you stop and say ‘Now wait a minute, oil isn’t cheap’ realize the supply is artificially manipulated by cartels such as OPEC and traded as a commodity, both practices artificially raising the price well above the price a free market would produce).
The atom was split in the 1940s, opening up a new and virtually unlimited source of power. Unfortunately, the world was introduced to this advance via two bombs and research has been hampered ever since by fear. Today atomic power is used to boil water to spin a turbine in both stationary sources (nuclear power plants) and mobile sources (atomic submarines) an incredibly inefficient method. If we could harness the power of the atom directly, electricity might very well become too cheap to meter.
Nuclear power is one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of power currently available, but it also has a downside: it generates a small amount of radioactive waste. The waste can be reprocessed with around 90% being reused leaving little to be stored, but because reprocessing is also the process used to create weapons the US banned it in 1976. Now all spent fuel must be stored, but no one wants to store it.
Solar power has always been the main source of power on this planet, but until the twentieth century only plants could utilize it directly with humans and animals having to tap it indirectly thru digestion. But solar panels were developed which allow us to convert the sun’s rays into electricity. Currently they are inefficient, expensive, and only economically feasible for powering pocket calculators and signs at the side of the road. And like every other source of energy, they do produce pollution—heat pollution. But some day—decades, maybe even a century in the future—solar could become a viable source of energy. It’s kept the Earth running so far.
Wind and water also saw resurgence as dams were built all over the country providing the cheapest source of electricity in existence. (Google likes to build their data centers in areas using hydroelectric power to take advantage of the low rates.)
The two main disadvantages of hydroelectric are 1) there are only a finite number of sites good for building dams and most of them have been taken, and 2) the dam permanently alters the river’s ecosystem.
Man has also tried harnessing the wind to generate electricity. Because windmills require no inputs they should, in theory, provide very cheap electricity with no waste, but transporting parts, constructing wind farms, and maintaining them is very expensive and only feasible because of large government subsidies and tax breaks. They also create severe environmental problems—each part requires its own big rig to haul it in, they attract birds and their associated waste, they chop up birds, and they destroy the view for miles around hurting everyone. Windmills are also very inefficient and rely on the unreliable wind, which can’t be turned on when needed. All of this makes wind a political fad and not a viable, long-term solution.
Food as a source of fuel also saw a renaissance in the form of biofuels which claim to be cheaper to make and produce less pollution, but they have caused food prices to rise and studies cast doubt on the pollution claims.

Energy Crisis

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about an energy crisis recently, but that is nothing new and nothing unique to our time. In the 1970s the country was in a panic with the same worries we face today, but, again, it wasn’t new for then either.
An energy crisis stems not from having too little power—the world has the ability to produce more energy than it could possibly use: nuclear power is virtually unlimited, enough oil exists in the Earth’s crust to last us centuries at our current levels of use with reckless abandon, and hydroelectric power continues to be a cheap and high capacity producer.
No, the problem stems from certain parties being unwilling to use what we already have (kind of like a spoiled child who wants a new toy even though their bedroom is filled with toys). They demand we only use sources of energy that are unlimited, renewable, nonpolluting, and cheap: in a word, a unicorn—a mythical creature that has never existed and never will exist. From the days of manpower and horsepower to today, energy has always had a cost (money, labor, land) and produced negative by-products (pollution and death), and it always will. Even the sun causes skin cancer.
Power has a price, and if we want to turn on our lights, watch the latest movie, listen to our favorite music, surf the Internet, or text our friends, we have to be willing to pay that price. While we should seek to minimize the unavoidable pollution and death, society will have to accept and live with a certain level of both. It is unavoidable.
The only other option is to live in a dark cave and walk everywhere in bare feet while eating raw vegetables, because lighting a fire will cause pollution and possible death.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A New Coat of Paint -- And Then Some

I'm in the process of publishing a new novel, Power Trip (a Wandering Koala tale), and as part of the marketing I needed to add a page to my website devoted to the Wandering Koala Saga.

But then I said to myself, "Self, this is an Ok website, but Ok isn't going to sell books in this highly competitive world we live in." So I decided to redesign the whole thing and step it up a notch.

At first I thought I'd just give it a facelift--you know, a new coat of paint. But then I realized that it needed more than just an exterior overhaul, it needed a lot of improvement in content and marketing.

So a one day job turned into a one week job. Here are just a few things I improved:

1) Links to ALL resellers of my work, not just the big ones. (So now Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, Tower, eCampus, and CreateSpace are listed.)

2) On site samples and links to free comic book issues.

3) Better images for preview purposes.

4) More complete and exciting Mythology section.

5) More interesting Who is He? section.

6) Reviews

7) And of course a kickin' new look!

If you haven't had a chance to see the new site, what are you waiting for?

Click here to See the New Site!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Energy Crisis and Other Buzzwords

I haven't posted much lately, because I've been busy finishing up my latest novel, Power Trip (a Wandering Koala tale). I've written two separate prologues for it--one is a history and this one is about seeing thru the rhetoric--and I'm contemplating a third that focuses more on the science. Here is the second version. Let me know what you think. And the picture is an illustration from the novel.

“And that’s the point of public relations slogans like ‘Support Our Troops’ is that they don't mean anything ... that's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is gonna be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: do you support our policy? And that's the one you're not allowed to talk about.” ~ Noam Chomsky, American linguist

People love buzzwords. Buzzwords are words that elicit an immediate emotional response so you feel instead of think. Examples include “unconstitutional” and “un-American” in politics, “ROI” and “Web 2.0” in business, “cutting edge” and “remastered” in entertainment, and “renewable” and “sustainable” in energy. Numerous policies have been set based on these last two and have had a significant effect on several industries. But what do they really mean? Are people using them correctly?

Renewability and Sustainability

With regards to energy, renewability simply means the source of power will replenish itself so there will be more to use later. According to current theories, fossil fuels were formed from plants, which store solar energy, were then buried in the Earth and transformed over millions of years. When they’re gone, they’re gone (at least for the next several million years). Calling them non-renewable (which they are) creates the assumption in people’s minds that we’re going to run out of them really quickly, which is a misconception. There are enough known fossil fuels in the Earth’s crust to last the world at its current rate of usage for the next several centuries. In this case, the buzzword is purposely used to mislead and distract from the real issue: certain parties want to switch the power and funding from current energy producers to different energy producers.

Sustainability is a very similar concept. It means usage equals replenishment so we won’t run out. (It’s ironic that a government that pushes for and funds sustainable energy doesn’t apply the same principle to sustainable spending and balance the budget.) The arguments for it are nearly the same as for renewability.

When people say these words, another concept, pollution-free, is implied and you are supposed to assume that, but it’s rarely stated, because no source of energy has ever been pollution free, not even the so-called “green” energy, nor will it ever be. No source of power is 100% efficient, and therefore every one will produce some waste.

Horse power (and other beasts of burden). A typical horse can produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day. The waste attracts flies, and when it dries up, it becomes airborne. In the nineteenth century, houses were built with a second story entrance because the piles in the streets were so high.

Wind. Each part of a windmill requires its own big rig to haul it in, which creates a sizeable amount of pollution. More big equipment must be brought in for constant maintenance, further adding to the negative environmental impact. Wind farms also attract birds and their associated waste and regularly chop up the birds. But worst of all, they destroy the vista for miles around, hurting everyone.

Water. Hydroelectric power has the unfortunate effect of permanently altering a river’s ecosystem.

Solar. Solar panels produce heat pollution.

Fossil Fuels (petroleum, coal, natural gas) and Biofuels (ethanol). Fossil fuels and biofuels produce air pollution, which negatively impacts the health of people, especially the sick and elderly.

Nuclear. Nuclear power produces radioactive waste, which could be reprocessed with around 90% being reused, leaving little to be stored. Because reprocessing is also the process used to create weapons, the US banned it in 1976. This single act created more nuclear waste than quadrupling the number of stations would have.

Technology has greatly reduced the negative products resulting from energy production, and will continue to reduce them further in the future.

Both renewability and sustainability are important, but there’s one word that is just as important, if not more so, that needs to be included with them: capacity.

Capacity

People require certain levels of power and any source that can’t supply the required levels is not going to be a viable option, no matter how much its supporters want it to be.

Two of the most popular sources of “renewable” and “sustainable” energy are wind and solar. It doesn’t appear that we will run out of either in the next several thousand years. But do they have the capacity to meet current and future needs?

Wind. The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center located in Texas is the world’s largest wind farm. It boasts 421 wind turbines spread over nearly 47,000 acres of land (just over 73 square miles) and produces enough energy to power approximately 220,000 homes per year. From 2005-2009, the number of households in the US was 112,611,029. So to provide power to just the homes in the US would require over 24 million acres of land (an area larger than the State of Maine) assuming the wind never stopped blowing so the turbines could spin at maximum capacity. That doesn’t, however, include power for a single business, church, government entity, or recreational facility which typically use considerably more power than the average household. To reliably power the country would most likely require a wind farm the size of the eastern states.

Solar. Solar cells are photovoltaic cells (photo meaning “light” and voltaic meaning “electric”) made of a material called a semiconductor that converts sunlight into electricity. The basic principle is pretty simple: When sunlight (or any light) strikes the cell, part of it is absorbed within the semiconductor material and knocks electrons loose, allowing them to flow freely. The freed electrons are forced to flow in a certain direction creating a current.

Solar power is very seductive, because the sun gives off approximately 1,000 watts of energy per square yard of the planet's surface on a bright, sunny day, which is easily enough to power our homes, offices, and other activities. Unfortunately, no one has invented a solar cell that can capture even a fraction of that power. In May 2011, Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced a design that should provide a 3.2 percent light-to-power conversion efficiency, which is a substantial improvement over the meager 1.8 percent offered by today's photovoltaics, but still a far cry from what would be needed to make solar power commercially viable. Someday the technology will be reach the necessary level, but it may not be in this century.

Energy Crisis

Energy crisis is another buzzword you’ve probably heard a lot of talk about recently, but it’s nothing new and nothing unique to our time. In the 1970s the country was in a panic with the same worries we face today and politicians used the same rhetoric. But the energy crisis wasn’t new for that time either. Nor was it new at end of the nineteenth century when cities faced the same problems, albeit in a different form, that we do today.

There is an energy crisis, but has nothing to do with having too little power—the world currently has the ability to produce more energy than it could possibly use: nuclear power is virtually unlimited, enough oil exists in the Earth’s crust to last us centuries at our current levels of use with reckless abandon, and hydroelectric power continues to power cities for at a lowest possible cost.

No, the problem stems from certain parties not wanting to use the cheap and abundant sources that already exist and using legislation to limit them. They claim we must seek new forms of energy that are environmentally responsible, renewable, sustainable, and nonpolluting. Basically they’re on a hunt for a unicorn, a mythical creature people want to exist but doesn’t, and they don’t seem to care about the negative impacts their crusade is having on the economy (such as food prices tripling in some places due to increased energy costs).

So what is their real agenda? And what is it going to cost you and me?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why don’t Comic Book movies sell Comic Books?

Comic Book Movies have dominated the box office for the last ten years bringing lesser known characters such as The Spirit, Thor, and the Green Lantern into mainstream consciousness. But it has done little, if anything, to improve declining comic book sales. Why is that? If the movies are popular, won’t people want to rush out and buy the comic? It works for movies based on books which is funny, because Tim Burton's Batman movie did lead to a long-term spike in sales. No one knows the reason why (despite their claims), but here are a few likely possibilities:

Accessibility

Movies are designed for people who know nothing about the characters or their history. A single issue of a comic book assumes you’ve read dozens (maybe even hundreds) of previous issues. New readers haven’t and most don't want to.

Completion

Movies have a definite beginning and ending--you can walk away satisfied that you saw a complete story. There may be a teaser for a sequel, but the story itself is finished. Comic books are only 22-pages (or 20 from DC) and tell a small part of the story (kind of like watching 5 minutes of a movie). You have to buy several issues over the course of several months to read the whole story, but by then the flow has been broken up and the excitement has gone down. This may be one reason Trade paperbacks are so popular--you get the whole story in one sitting. People like their instant gratification.

Coolness and Quality

Movies have big budgets, state-of-the-art special effects, 7.1 surround sound, art directors, costume designers, plus a team of people working together over the course of years. Comics have one or two artists and a pen. In the 1940s that was enough, because four-color printing and costumed characters were unique and had little competition--movies were black and white and the pulps were mostly words. In the late 1980s-early 1990s, the Todd McFarlane’s, Rob Liefeld’s, and Jim Lee’s were cool, because they brought new life with their dynamic artwork, panel layout, and improved printing. Today comics have gone back to boring panel layouts, dumpy figures, and boring colors. Compared to a video game or a movie, they just don’t stack up. And coming out on a monthly basis doesn't allow the creators sufficient time to craft their best story or do their best artwork. It also means they are going to run out of stories pretty quick and have to start repeating themselves.

Distribution

Movies are shown in cinemas around the world. Comic books can only be purchased in hard to find specialty stores and a few bookstores. Movies have multiple showings so everyone who wants to watch them can. Comic shops try to sell every copy of a comic they order, so if you aren't there Wednesday morning, you could easily be out of luck.

Price

Movies cost $7-16 depending on where you are and how you choose to view them (2D, 3D, IMAX). Comics cost an average of $4 per issue, but each story is going to run an average of 6 issues for a grand cost of $24 per story. It doesn’t take an economist to tell you which is a better deal.

These may not be all the reasons, but they seem to be the most likely. Many people think going digital is the answer to saving comics, but they tried that in 2000 with Dark Horse's free motion comics online, and that didn’t do so hot. Current motion comics sold thru iTunes and Amazon did a little better, and digital comics thru Comixology are not doing nearly as well as eBooks.

Maybe the whole comic book form needs to be reexamined and reinvented. It is a century old. After all, children’s storybooks are very different now than they were a hundred years ago.

What do you think?

_________________

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Is Restarting the Universe a Good Idea?

DC Comics announced they will restart their universe—again—and relaunch 52 titles at number one with a modern reinterpretation. Their goal is to boost sales and create more compelling stories. So how likely is it to work? People can speculate and offer argument after argument, but the best way to answer that question is to sit back and see what happens. For those who don’t want to wait that long, a quick look at history will do almost as well.

Restarting the universe is not a new idea. In fact, it’s a rather old idea that companies continue to try. Restarting a title at number one has also been done before. The results are increased initial sales then quickly drop back down, and the characters usually revert to who they were before the clean start. Many times the issue number reverts back as well. Here are just a few examples.

The Silver Age

The Silver Age of comics began with the relaunch of the Flash in Showcase followed by a new version of the Green Lantern. Both were very successful and gained their own titles and their Golden Age version forgotten--at least for a couple of years until the Golden Age Flash met the Silver Age Flash in Flash 123. After that all the forgotten Golden Age stories reappeared and became a separate universe.

Late 1960s-1970s

In the 1970s DC tried once again to reinvent their characters "for a modern audience". Superman became a TV reporter and Kryptonite became extinct. Robin grew up and Batman moved into the Wayne Penthouse. Wonder Woman lost her powers and wore white. Green Lantern teamed up with Green Arrow and tackled social issues.

So how well did this reboot go? Wonder Woman regained her powers after a few issues, and Green Lantern’s magazine was cancelled. The changes to Superman and Batman lasted nearly a decade, but sales were still very weak.

Crisis On Infinite Earths and Man of Steel

In the 1980s, DC decided to reboot their universe again with a mega crossover event (which became standard each year and was less impressive with each outing). The multiple universes were collapsed into a single universe. Superman was relaunched with the Man of Steel miniseries and a new title Superman by then superstar John Byrne who made several big changes such as leaving Superman’s parents alive and making Lex Luthor the head of an international corporation. He also went back to work at the Daily Planet and Kryptonite reemerged. Wonder Woman also restarted from day one courtesy of George Perez. Batman received a new origin thanks to Frank Miller and Year One, but much his 50-year history was kept. Flash was killed and replaced by Kid Flash who took over the mantel.

So did this mega relaunch work? Well, John Byrne’s two years on Superman did hit see increased sales, but they tanked once again after he left. And DC continued to license the old version of their flagship hero. Batman's sales soared, but it was mostly due to the Tim Burton film adaption of the character.

Heroes Reborn

In the early 1990s, Marvel Comics was home to the hottest artists of the day until they decided to leave and start their own company selling millions of copies of their own titles while Marvel’s once stellar sales plummeted. The company faced bankruptcy. So they convinced a few of their former superstars to come back and restart four of their worst selling titles in a stunt called Heroes Reborn.

The result? Initial issues sold well, but it wasn’t long before sales dropped, and one of the superstar artists was dropped after only six months. Twelve issues later everything went back to normal.

Marvel #1s

Around the year 2000 Marvel thought the reason they weren’t selling more comics was because the issue numbers were too high and new readers didn’t think they could jump on board because of all that history. So they restarted many of their titles at number 1 including Amazing Spider-man, Spider-Man: Peter Parker, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil, and others.

And surprise! It didn’t work. Marvel soon returned their books to their old numbers, first by showing both on the cover, then just using the original.

And there were more and more and more

These weren’t the only attempts at relaunching characters or an entire universe. Superman Y2K, the aftermath of Batman No Man’s Land, Zero Hour, the Ultimate Universe, Green Lantern: Emerald Twilight, Green Lantern: Rebirth, Superman: Secret Origins, and WorldStorm are only a few other failed attempts. Most of these garnered some media attention and sales increased for awhile, but it never lasted. And many of the changes were soon discarded or mixed in with what came before.

So what has worked?

So should comic book companies just leave their characters the same with no change? Is there nothing they can do? Are they doomed to failure?

Of course not. There have been many successful “revitalizations” of characters, but it hasn’t been erasing the past and starting with a blank slate. It has always involved embracing the past and expanding on it in a consistent way. (Did you catch that word, consistent?) Changing a character’s gender, race, or motivation isn’t edgy and creative—it’s suicide! There have been many reimaginings that have been very successful and been embraced by all versions that came after, and all of them were true to the core of the character.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is considered by many to be the greatest comic book series ever, not because Frank Miller turned Batman into a new and different character, but because he reverted back to the original Batman and let us see inside his head.

The Elektra Saga took one of Marvel’s least popular characters in a struggling bi-monthly book to being one of the most popular characters a best-seller by looking at the essence of the character (he’s blind and plays both sides of the law) and really explored that using Elektra as a dark reflection of what he could have been.

Batman: The Animated Series is regarded by many as the greatest version of Batman ever, not because they created a new version of Batman, but because they gleaned the best his 50+ year history.

The Marvel movies Spider-man, X-men, Iron Man, and others were box office blockbusters, not because they presented new versions of these characters, but because they presented the classic and essential elements of these characters using the best stories form their 30+ years of publication.

Smallville was an enormous success (at least the first five seasons), because they didn’t try to change young Clark Kent, but brought in elements of his now 60+ year history and showed how his family life and friends lead him to become the hero we all know and love.

Other Considerations

There are some other considerations a lot of people overlook. When comics first began, they were new and cool. They were four-color and pictures, which compared to the black and white text heavy pulps they replaced, were new and eye-catching. They also cost a dime and could be found anywhere, because they were sold on newsstands and newsstands were everywhere. They featured bright costumed characters (Superman and Batman were originally “costumed characters” not “superheroes”), which again stuck out. After a decade, comic books were no longer the cool new kid on the block, and more and more was being produced in color due to advances in technology. The comic explosion of the late 1980s and 1990s was due to better artwork and better printing to show off that artwork. Before then comics looked and were being produced much like they had been 50 years before.

If comics want the sales explosion they had in the Golden Age and the Dark Age, they need update the format in addition to embracing the history of the characters and expanding on it in a consistent and respectful way. They also need distribution beyond a few dying specialty shops. The digital revolution seems to be the most likely route, but it isn’t the only one. Comics could survive and even have a resurgence in print if they could find a way to gain universal distribution like they once had, and if they could contain content as cool and compelling as video games, the current pop culture superstar at a price consumers deem a “good value”.

_________________

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Website: www.SkyFitsJeff.com

Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/Jeff-Thomason/e/B003MOQNAM
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to help others “StumbleUpon” your work

Have you ever written a book, thought it was the greatest thing in the world, published it, and then sat back and waited for the world to beat down your door to get their copy? If you've ever written a book, then the answer is most likely ‘yes’, and you are still waiting for the masses and wondering if they lost your address.

So how do you get the masses to buy your book and turn you into a bestselling author? Basically, write a great book millions want to read, then market it to them at a price and in a format they can’t say no to. Easy, right?

Ok, if it were really that easy, everyone would do it. With the Internet and the so-called “social media revolution” there are numerous tools you can use. (Yes, even you!) One of them is called StumbleUpon. Over at iLoveSmashwords.com I posted some helpful explanations and tips about using StumbleUpon to increase traffic to your work.

Read the full post at http://www.ilovesmashwords.com/2011/05/how-to-help-others-stumbleupon-your-work/

Friday, May 20, 2011

Poetry

I don't know when it started, but I've been writing poetry for a while. I create a Christmas card each year and write an original poem to go with it. I also make cards for Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and birthdays and usually have an original poem in them. The last few years my brother and I have been making books with family photos as gifts for our parents, and I wrote a lot of original lines for it. And when I first posted a website, I wanted a unique way to display my art, so I wrote poems to go with my illustrations as if it were a virtual storybook on the web. I really enjoy writing, especially poetry. In fact I have a secret project planned for after my second novel is published that will ... but that would be telling.

There are several things I like about poetry. First is the rhythm and the way it sounds; good poetry is so melodic even if it doesn't rhyme. Second is the ability to paint with words, because you don't have the usual restrictions of prose that requires you basically to "tell" everything in a certain way. With poetry you can place the words visually to get added meaning. Third, I like how much can be said in a minimal amount of words. So many of the greatest poems are short in word count but long in content and message. The best art and the best writing takes just a little and makes so much of it.

The other day I suddenly had the idea to publish my poems. I was originally going to publish all of the illustration poetry, Christmas Card poetry, and other greeting card poetry, but realized it would make more sense to publish them as three anthologies. So I just posted the illustration poetry, but it is some of my favorite. It's available in most eBook formats from Amazon.com and Smashwords, but will soon go on sale at Barnes & Noble Nook store, Apple iBookstore, Sony eReader store, Kobo, and Diesel. I love the cover art! If you've been following this blog, you may recognize the characters. The title comes from one of my favorite poems. Enjoy!

Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0051U9XB6
Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/60375

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to format a graphic novel or comic book for digital distribution thru popular eBook stores

Have you ever created a comic book or graphic novel and wanted to publish and sell it but weren't sure how or didn't want to go bankrupt doing it thru comic book stores?

Well turn that dream into reality! Over at iLoveSmashwords.com, I've outlined a few helpful steps and tips to make your work meet the formatting guidelines and pass thru Meatgrinder intact and qualify for the premium catalog. I cover what file format to use, what size your images should be, how to place them in a Word document without being shrunk to thumbnails, as well as tips on allowing previews and avoiding error messages.

Read the full post here: http://www.ilovesmashwords.com/2011/05/formatting-a-graphic-novel-or-comic-book-for-smashwords/

If you'd like to check out a few of my comics, visit my Author page at Smashwords. Some of my comics are even available for free: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jeffthomason

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thoughts on Writing: Show and Tell

In one of my high school English classes, the teacher would start class by writing a sentence telling an action on the board, and we had five or ten minutes to fill up half a page showing the action. For example, the teacher would write “The room was messy” and we would write a paragraph or three describing the messy room without ever actually saying the room was messy. It’s a technique calls “Show Not Tell” and English wasn’t the only subject to make use of it; my college art classes were fond of it as well. It’s frequently quoted as a way to make your writing “better” and more “professionalism”, but is showing really better than telling?

On an interesting note, anytime you write, you are telling your audience what is happening. To show you need to include pictures, so anytime you create visual art, you are showing and not telling. But semantics and technicalities aren’t my goal for this essay.

Showing and telling are both tools a writer or artist can use to convey a message or story. One is not necessarily better than the other. They both have their strengths and their weaknesses, and they both have their uses--things they do better than the other.
Telling appeals to the intellect. It is much quicker and much clearer. If you tell someone the room is messy, you can convey that in four words and there is no question whether or not the room is messy. If you were to describe a room and the clothes on the floor, the week old pizza under the bed, the overflowing trashcan, you need several sentences, and at the end, some people may think the room is normal, not messy.

Showing appeals more to the emotions. It creates richer, more vivid images in one’s mind. It also requires more of the reader to figure out what you are trying to say, and therefore can be more satisfying when the reader succeeds.

Telling is good if you want to make a point quickly and clearly. Telling the reader certain facts allows you to move thru a story quickly without breaking the rhythm. Showing allows you to bring your reader into the situation, to create an experience and play on their emotions so they feel something for the story as if it happened to them.

Determining which to use in a given situation depends on the situation, what your goal and purpose is, who the audience is, how much time they have to digest the information, and how capable they are of digesting the information. One should not automatically dismiss telling as bad writing and accept showing as good writing. One must take into account the situation, purpose, and desired result to judge the quality of writing.

A wise writer or artist will use the most effective tool for the job.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day Card

I like to make cards for special occasions by hand. I create an original illustration and an original poem for each. I've built up quite a collection.

This year for Mothers Day I created an original for my Mom, but I decided to share it with you too. Enjoy!

Mothers rarely get what they deserve
For the many sacrifices they make,
The time they give up,
And the worry they endure.

They may hear an occasional thank you
Or some other quick acknowledgement,
But like so many other important things
Their labor of love goes unrecognized.

But today, this mother will get what she deserves
As we not only tell her, but also show her
How much we love and appreciate her.

Happy Mothers Day!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Technology in the Classroom

The local news in Idaho has been filled with a lot of talk about the education reforms recently passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor. One of the controversial issues is to divert money from teacher pay to increasing technology in the classroom. If increasing the amount of technology provides more student benefit than increasing the number or teachers or quality of teachers, then it is a good idea. So the question is, does technology in the classroom benefit students, and if so by how much, and is that greater than the benefit of more teachers who are happy? Here is one product of the Idaho school system’s personal experience on the subject.

Background

To give you a little background, I love technology and my entire working career has relied on it. I create websites and program custom web apps for clients in the financial, health care, retail, and many other sectors. I also use a computer to create logos, brochures, packaging, sales sheets, business cards, handouts, inserts, posters, and much, much more graphic design work. I also provide illustrations for book covers, children’s storybooks, and young adult novels all of which require a significant amount of digital art. So I am no stranger to technology and certainly understand its place. I’ve also had to use a diverse array of knowledge I gained in school including writing skills, math skills, accounting skills, analytic skills, debate skills, speech skills, random odd facts, and much, much more. Knowledge I’ve gained on a variety of subjects has been invaluable to me. So here are three case studies of technology in the classroom and what it did for me and my fellow classmates.

Case Study 1: High School Math

In High School I took all of the advanced math classes. In Advanced Algebra and Trig as well as Pre-Calculus, we occasionally used the T1-81 (a high tech graphing calculator) with several richer students had the then latest and greatest T1-85. In Calculus we used the HP 28 (another high tech graphing calculator). During the times we did NOT use the calculators, we learned how to do math by hand and better understand the principles. When we pulled out the calculators, students struggled with getting them to work, then once they figured it out all they had to do was punch in numbers and think about the processes taking place or the concepts being used. Or they programmed their calculator to play Mary Had A Little Lamb. In both cases, little math was learned. I honestly got a lot more out of the weeks in class we solved equations by hand then I did punching in numbers and copying the answer.

Case Study 2: College English

In college I took a computer-based English class. We sat at computers during class time and all work had to be done on the computer. During the 3-credit hour course I was required to type one paper and take two tests. And on the days the computers were malfunctioning (a common occurrence) class was cancelled. Anyone who has taken a college-level class will tell you one paper for the entire three credits is unheard of.

Since college I have become a professional writing both writing copy for websites and graphic design projects, marketing materials, newsletter articles, my regular column on Examiner.com, one young adult novel with another on the way, several short stories, and a few comic books. I have yet to use anything I learned in that computer-based class. I’m not even sure if I did learn anything.

Case Study 3: College History

I also took an Internet based Art History class. We were given a schedule of what we were to research, then let loose to scour the Internet for information and present it to the class. I had a friend in another Art History class being taught traditionally. I was always amazed how much they covered that we didn’t even touch. Later I took two other Art History classes taught traditionally, and I learned much more from those. Technology again got in the way of education.

Other Examples

These are just three of many, many examples I have. I could also include computers causing graphic designers to be worse designers, illustrators not drawing as well, business classes where more time was spent on finding funny pictures and cool transitions for a presentation than on researching and finding content for the presentation, and much more, but I think you’re getting the picture.

What am I saying?

Now, I’m not saying technology doesn’t have its place in a classroom. Word processors are the best way to type papers, and students should learn to use them and use them well. PowerPoint presentations, videos, and scientific calculators are also very helpful.

What I’m saying is whenever a teacher or institution tried to rely on technology or put great emphasis on technology, education has suffered. I have personally learned more from a teacher who was passionate about a subject and allowed to share that passion with me without worrying about whether the information would be on a standardized test or how to get some gadget to work.

My experience has told me that giving students laptops, iPads, new computers, and other cool gadgets isn’t going to improve education, but instead be a distraction from it. Unfortunately, it’ll be several years in the future before the data exists to prove this, and by then the damage will be done and the students will not be as capable as they could and should be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Technology has changed the Illustrated Story: Case Study 1 - Pulps vs. Comics

Matt D. Williams, the author of Jak Phoenix, invited me to write a guest post on his site. I look at the early twentieth century and examine how advances in printing destroyed one genre but created a new one. It also changed the way certain types of stories were told.

Read the entire post at http://jakphoenix.com/2011/04/13/how-has-technology-affected-the-illustrated-story-a-guest-post-by-jeff-thomason/.

As you can see, it is only one case study. The topic interests me so much that I plan to make it a whole series of posts. Don't hold your breath, because I have a lot of other things I'm working on first.

This image is a drawing of Wandering KoalaTM, and I think I'll use it for the title pages of all future stories. It's fitting, because I consider Wandering Koala to be a 21st century pulp hero who also appears in comics.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A few thoughts on Digital Comics

I use to be a big time comic fan, then I stopped reading them for a while, then I started reading them again but not with the same enthusiasm.

Recently Comixology released a few numbers about the growth of digital comics. They are growing, but more slowly than other media that went digital like music, movies, and books. It’s too soon and the data too scarce to make any definitive statements about them, but here are a few of my thoughts.

Why do people buy Digital Comics when they can get them on paper?
1) Price – Comics cost $2.99-3.99 per 22-page issue. When I started buying comics in 1989, most comics cost $1.00 while Superman comics cost 75 cents. That means they’ve increased in price by a factor between 3-5. Paperback books haven’t even doubled in price during the same period. Paper comics are pricing themselves into oblivion. The current diehard fans that are willing to spend too much and buy multiple copies for variant covers are the main thing keeping the current system going; very few new fans are entering the market threatening its survival. Digital Comics are currently sold for between 99 cents and $1.99. I feel this is the main reason digital comics are growing--the print market is so far above market price that it is forcing competition to emerge, a phenomenon that has been observed in the past and been misinterpreted by courts as a lack of monopoly instead of the result of a monopoly.

2) Coolness Factor – With the launch of the iPhone, Android phones, the Kindle and other eReaders, and the iPad, downloading digital is the current “new and cool”. People download apps they’ll never use, books they’ll never read, and music they’ll never listen to a second time. Why? Because it’s cool, and this has led many people who don’t read comics to start downloading digital comics. This is one reason certain titles have seen growth in digital sales without any loss in sales for the paper version.

3) Availability – Every year more and more comics shops close their doors. Fewer and fewer newsstands carry comics. And while the Direct Market was set up to over order comics so they’d have back issues to sell, the current goal is complete sellthrough so the shop isn’t stuck with unsold issues. Digital issues in theory should always be available in whatever quantity they’re demanded. This is probably the least compelling reason.

So are digital comics the future? Maybe. I personally like paper comics better, but I won’t be able to afford to buy them for much longer at current prices. And many times I’ll wait for the trade paperback and buy it at a discount at Amazon, which doesn’t help the Direct Market system or local comic shops.

Of course, there are challenges:

1) Collectablity – A digital file is unlikely to increase in value.

2) Readability – While one can read a comic book on a giant computer screen, it’s not a pleasant experience. People like to download and consume content on their iPhones and Kindles and iPads and other gadgets, but their screens are too small to read current comics. Some have tried to cut up the comic into individual panels, but that usually results in odd configurations and cropped artwork. Others have tried to zoom from panel to panel, but then you lose the “page as a whole” design the artist intended and again miss out on some of the artwork.

3) Technology – Anyone who has tried to download and read a digital comic knows it takes a lot of time and processing power. It’s kind of a buzz kill waiting and waiting and waiting only to have the comic crash.

4) Price - Digital comics are currently sold for between 99 cents and $1.99. I’m not sure these are the right prices, being a creator and seller of digital comics myself. At 99 cents you don’t make enough profit to sustain or grow the business unless every issue is a blockbuster which it won’t be. As a consumer I’m resistant to spend $1.99 on something that isn’t physical and that is hard to read.
Is there anyway to overcome these challenges. Of course!

1) Focus on complete collections over the one “hot” issue. Make having every issue seem as great as that limited first issue going for $40 on eBay. I don’t know how well it will work though. But if people actually read the comics instead of storing them in Mylar, it may.

2) In the 80s it was common for action figures to come packaged with a mini-comic. They were usually aroung 5” x 6.5” and would be easy to read even on a smart phone screen. In Brazil they sell comics in digest sizes with three issues per book. This makes the cost per issue much lower than it is in America, and they have to translate the dialogue anyway so adjusting it for the smaller space has to be done anyway. (In case you haven’t guessed, I’m proposing creating new comics as mini-comics; that way you still get the total effect of the page while maintaining readability. Plus you have fewer panels per page, so there are more pages and it appears to be a better value. Of course, this isn’t helpful for older comics. There is no good solution for those.

3) The technology problem will solve itself as Internet speeds become faster and devices become more powerful. Of course, better coding would speed up the process.

4) $1.50 seems like a good price to me. That’s what I sell a lot of comics at, and they sell as well as the ones I price at 99 cents, but I’m actually making enough money to make it worth my while. Of course, the packaging multiple issues together would allow for lower per issue prices and may be the way to go, especially for long stories that can’t be wrapped up in 22 pages.

I don’t see digital comics ever completely replacing print comics just as digital music hasn’t replaced hard media and eBooks haven’t replaced print books. There are things print can do digital can’t, and if the industry takes advantage of that, then print can have a healthy future.

But I have my doubts they will.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A few thoughts on books and writing

So a friend and fellow author has a blog where where she does a lot of reflecting on the writing process, publishing, and other related topics. Her latest post made many points and raised many questions that I've often pondered. Here are a few of my responses to what she wrote.

1) So called "literature" is in not superior to so called "escapist fantasy" books. I'm not a big fan of "literary" writing myself; it turned me off of reading in high school, and I didn't start reading again for several years until I was introduced to Foundation by Asimov. There is nothing wrong with popular books. There is nothing wrong with escapist literature. They can be just as well structured and written as the greatest work of "literature".

2) If a story wants to switch genre midstream, I say let it; the whole concept of genre can be very limiting and hurt a story. I think back to the classic 80s cartoons I loved as a kid, and they crossed all kinds of genre lines, and I loved them for it. He-Man was an action/adventure show, but it also has science fiction elements (robots, gadgets, alternate dimensions), fantasy elements (magic, dragons), romantic elements (Teela & He-Man), dramatic elements (Teela discovering her real mother) and more. A writer shouldn't force a story into a certain genre; they should let the story be what it wants to be, and if it's hard to categorize, then it's hard to categorize.

3) There is a false notion that you should show not tell. The wonder of using words and being a good storyteller means you can show when it best conveys the meaning, and you can tell when it best conveys the meaning (the term is story tell-er, not story show-er). A writer should use the best tool available.

4) If you seem to be writing screenplays, then publish your stories as screenplays. That's the magic and wonder of eBooks--you don't have traditional restrictions. Or get really crazy and turn them into podcasts or audiobooks and sell them as such. eBooks are a cool new format, and there's nothing wrong with experimenting with new forms that don't have a chance of making it in paper.

The picture at the right is another cover someone hired me to create for their book. It was done with a brush-tipped marker and colored with chalk in Corel Painter X.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Digital Comics vs. Print Comics

Recently I've read articles about the growth of digital comics and people wondering if they will replace print comics. While there has been growth, it has been very slow, much slower than music, movies, or even books. I've even written articles on it myself on Examiner.com. While I am a huge fan of eBooks and think they will replace the majority of books with print shrinking to more of a specialty gift market, I'm not sure the same will happen with digital comics for several reasons.

I think people like printed comics better than digital comics. I know I do. They look better printed on paper and are easier to read. Comics were meant to be large with the words and details of the art nearly impossible to see on a small screen or a computer screen. Print also has resell value and is more collectable. But there are a couple of serious problems with print.

1) They are getting too expensive to buy ($2.99 to $3.99 for 22 pages?). Digital Comics have the potential to be priced where people can afford them (99 cents).

2) Print comics just aren't that cool. In a world of special effect movies, video games, and cool new gadgets like the iPad, eBook Readers, and smart phones, the four-color goodness of comics just aren't competing. They look pretty tame in comparison.

3) Comics take up a lot of physical space, whereas digital comics don't. For a lot of people, space is a premium.

Honestly, I think cost along with low quality stories and art will kill print comics unless they do something different with the format to provide more value. Here are a few of my suggestions:

1) Double the length of comics. Twenty-two pages is honestly the wrong length for a good story. It's too long for a quick yarn, and way to short for a story with any real development.

2) Increase the size to magazine size. Big artwork is cool (check out the DC Absolute Editions or the Spawn Deluxe Collections), and comics need a new infusion of cool with all the competition they're facing from movies, video games, and gadgets. Also, the small artwork on smart phones, eReaders, and computer screens wouldn't have a chance to compete. I personally love this size and have a lot of comics in it.

3) Put them out bi-monthly. Having a new story every month I think takes too much of a toll on writers and artists. They put out subpar work as a result, and a lot of readers stop reading as a result.

4) Charge $4.95. This way you are getting your 22 pages of story for $2.50 which is the maximum amount anyone really wants to pay for a comic.

Most likely the comic industry won't take any of these suggestions or do anything differently. They'll just continue to milk their current fans without attracting many new fans and slowly go the way of the nickelodeon. Of course, that will open the door for new people to enter the market, so maybe it's not such a bad thing.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

More Jak Phoenix Character Sketches

So Matt asked me to sketch a few more characters. I was going to wait until I finished reading the novel, but after meeting Cartrite I had these images of characters in my head and wanted to get them on paper.

First is Cartrite. He's orchestrating the takeover of the entire galaxy by setting up a government that is destined to fail and then stepping in and saving the day. It's a rather brilliant yet insidious plot. What's scary is it could so easily happen in real life.

I based his costume on Stalin's uniform and the face is a composite of two white haired actors. I bought a new skinny brush that I used for the first time on this face to create more delicate lines for faces and hands while going for thick lines for the clothes and chair. It provides a nicer line weight contrast than I usually have.

The next character is Rusty. He's the proprietor of a space station where weary travelers can stop and repair their ships and themselves. In the story he gives Jak first class treatment, but Jak suspects there's something not entirely altruistic in his motives, and of course he's right; Rusty wants something--something big.

I based his look on a couple of different characters. I thought a medieval type garb would fit the innkeeper nature of the character. I pictured him as being short and round, but I wasn't sure about the hair. This version shows it well kept, but I did consider making him much older with out of control hair. I'm not sure which is better.

If you haven't had a chance to read Jak Phoenix and you enjoy old fashioned space operas, do yourself a favor and pick it up. The story is great! The characters are more memorable than the typical space opera character. The adventure is interesting and varied. The only criticism I have is the writing: it's not as efficient as it could be, some parts a little overwritten, and a few awkward phraseologies pop up here and there, but not enough to get in the way of enjoying the story.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cover Art

Have you ever been told not to judge a book by its cover? And have you put that to the test and realized it was absolute nonsense? Of course you should judge a book by its cover. That's why it has one!

Which brings me to the topic at hand. This was my first attempt at a cover for an inspirational book. It was rejected. Why? The client loved the colors and the figures, but it did not represent the content of the book. So I ended up doing something completely different that the client absolutely loved, and will probably attract the type of customer who will buy and enjoy her book.

This was done with my dollar brush, sumi ink, then scanned into my iMac and digitally colored in Corel Painter X. The background is a composite of three photos and the rock their standing on is from the Australian Outback. I really like putting cartoon figures with a realistic coloring against a photographic background that's been digitally tweaked to look painted.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Writing Process

I love DVDs. While I love the main feature (the movie), my favorite part is the behind-the-scenes feature. I love learning how and why a movie was made. The same goes for books. I love learning about the process that went on from conception to publication and all the steps and changes that happened along. So in that spirit, I thought I’d share my own writing process for those who are curious about where my stories come from.

Step 1: The Idea

I don’t sit down and say to myself, “Self, you must come up with an idea for a story.” Instead I go about my day working on websites and other work. During the normal course of a day, something will spark, and I write that spark down. I have over a dozen pages of story ideas. I look over these ideas from time to time and explore them in my mind. I’ll write down additional ideas, images, actions, themes, characters, possible titles, etc. that I think of with these, devoting a page to each major idea.

Step 2: The Basic Story

Once I've filled a page with enough raw material, I'll identify the most interesting threads and organize the other ideas around it. I'll create a loose plot so I have some notion of where the story may begin, where it may travel, and where it may end.

Step 3: Plot and Dialogue

Once a story emerges, I’ll write a very tight plot and dialogue. The format is similar to a movie script with the major actions spelled out, a lot of the dialogue written, and the major emotions or thoughts identified. This plot usually ends up getting restarted, rewritten, and resorted several times before it is finished. I think of it as the skeleton of the story. It tells me basically how long the work will be (so I know if it is a short story, a novel, a comic book, etc.) I also know who the characters are, what they will do, what their motivation is, what changes they will go thru, what the major conflicts are, and have a very tight story.

Step 4: First Draft

After all this work I’ll begin a handwritten first draft. This stage goes pretty quickly since the story is basically written, the conflicts worked out, and the characters well defined. I still make a lot of changes at this stage, but knowing the overall story in pretty good detail helps me keep everything consistent with revelations and discoveries happening at the right moments.

Step 5: Second Draft

Once the first draft is written, I begin the second draft which is when I type the story into the computer. Again I make a lot of changes as I go being both writer and editor. I mainly refine the story itself expanding undeveloped scenes and cut boring or unnecessary scenes.

Step 6: Refinement

Revision and refinement is mostly to work on the wording and clarify any writing, but I have been known to add a couple of chapters as this stage if the message wasn’t complete. I’ll usually make three passes correcting mistakes and working on wording. I have no interest in impressing readers with my extensive vocabulary or complex sentence structure. I try to make the writing as clear and efficient as possible without getting dry. I want the writing to be so smooth it just disappears leaving the reader with unfettered access to the story.

Step 7: Publish!

Finally I illustrate and publish. And wallah — a new story is born!