Friday, February 24, 2012

Character Design: Vintage Cops

When I was younger, I used to love Legos and had quite a few. One of the sets was a Police Station, part of the Town system. I also got the boat and a couple other police items. I really liked them for some reason. I've never really wanted to become a cop myself, but it was fun to pretend with my Legos.

The drawing at the left is from my upcoming comic book, Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure. I've always loved the early 20th century look of policemen and wanted to use it for my fictional work.

I drew the image with a Papermate Sharpwriter Pencil, inked it with a Zebra Disposible Brush Pen and Pigma Brush felt-tipped pen, scanned it in with a CanoScan LIDE, and colored it in Adobe Photoshop CS. I was really pleased with how it turned out.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Movies need to go immersive, not just 3D

Star Wars finally debuted in glorious 3D, and it was pretty spectacular. The 3D really helped to bring out the details in the background and the extras that really are doing more than standing around. Each scene in The Phantom Menace is really rich. 

While I really enjoyed Star Wars in 3D, do you know what would have been even better? Star Wars as an immersive experience.

"What is an immersive experience?" you may be asking yourself. It's where all senses are used and not just sight and sound. If you've ever been to Disneyland, Universal Studios, or a similar fun land, you've probably experienced immersive movies, although they just call them 3D. These are the rides where you put on 3D glasses, you hear sound coming from all 360 degrees of the room, you feel your seat rumble beneath you, you feel jets of air shoot across your legs and feet as well as your face, you feel mists of water squirt in your face, you may smell some sweet or not-so-sweet smell, etc. Each of these movies is usually in a dedicated theater and the best ones have some animatronics to go with it.

For a standard, commercial theater, all you would need to add would be rumble seats, jets shooting air at face and feet, jets spraying a mist of water, and maybe a few scents. These few things in addition to 3D glasses and surround sound would actually make the movie goer feel like he was in the movie.

One of the biggest complaints I hear about 3D is, "That's all there was to it? How disappointing?" The experience is lacking, especially after you've been to a Disney World style 3D experience. 3D isn't the next big thing in movies, because it doesn't go far enough. Full immersion is. Now if only Hollywood can figure that out.

Note: The image at the upper right is a panel from the upcoming Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure comic book, set to be released in March 2012. Wandering Koala certainly looks like he's being immersed in something, doesn't he?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How to Format your Comic Book or Graphic Novel for Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Comic books are a wonderful genre, but the cost of paper and printing have driven the price so high that the market is in danger. Digital comics offer one solution to this. With the rise of eBooks and eReaders, aspiring comic book creators now have an economical way of launching their own creations, and established professionals may be able to keep their jobs.
Here are the basic steps to publish your own comic book on Smashwords, Pubit, or Amazon KDP:
1) Create your comic so the length and width are the ratio of 1:1.3 or else the entire page will not display on the Nook. (All Kindles, the Nook Color, and other devices don't have a problem but the original Nook does.) This is the aspect ratio of golden age comic books and the original graphic novels in the 80s. Current comics use a ratio of 1:1.5.
NOTE: Make sure your comic is VERY LEGIBLE ie. easy to read at 550 px on its longest side. Most comics formatted for the traditional print comic size will NOT work, because the lettering is too small. You may have to reletter your comic and use fewer panels per page. The best advice is to just format it as if it would be a mini-comic or digest. But also make sure it looks good big, because some people will read your comic on a 27″ iMac and see it in all of its 1100 px glory.
2) Save each page of your masterpiece as a jpg that that is either 825 px or 1100 px on its longest side.  (This size is optimized for the Kindle which all other eReaders seem to copy.) Make sure it is 72 or 96 dpi (if you use Photoshop, Save For the Web will automatically do this.
For Smashwords and Barnes & Noble Pubit:
3) Create a new Word document. Create a custom page size in Page Setup that is 6″ x 9″ and set the margins to 0.5″ on all sides with no header or footer.
4) Create a title page following Smashwords’ formatting guide. Adjust for Pubit using Barnes & Noble's guidelines.
5) Insert each jpg into its own page (except the cover page which can sit on the first page unless it’s too big, then it will automatically move to the next page). This way Meatgrinder won’t automatically resize your images to illegibly small. You will NOT need to resize the image; it should automatically fit in the page. Stretching the image will cause it to become fuzzy, and is a sign you didn't create the jpegs properly.
NOTE: Meatgrinder doesn’t like several hard returns in a row, so adding a return after each image/comic page will cause a warning and put you to the back of the approval line. Just insert one image, then insert the next and it will automatically be placed on the next page.
6) Include an About the Authors/Artists, Other Works, etc. at the end. This is a great place to market yourself and your other works. It will also provide a word count for your work and make sampling work better.
For Kindle Direct Publishing:
3) Create an html document following the KDP guidelines.
4) Insert each image with an image tag in between paragraph tags

with an align attribute in the tag
5) Include an About the Authors/Artists, Other Works, etc. at the end. This is a great place to market yourself and your other works. It will also provide a word count for your work and make sampling work better.

Here are some other tips and considerations:
  • Smashwords only allows you to upload a 5MB file, so your comic should not exceed 22 large pages (1100 px) or 33 smaller pages (825 px). Amazon KDP and Pubit have no such limitations. That means producing long graphic novels and trade paperbacks is impossible with Smashwords. My advice is to break it up into parts for Smashwords, but sell it as a complete work at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Maybe someday the 5MB limit will change, but for now that is your best bet. (These page counts are just rules of thumb; the size of your files will vary.)
  • Allow 40% sampling. This will allow a reader to read about half of your story if you’ve included a lot of About Me information and Other works.  A 50% sample will usually do this, while 30% may not let a potential customer see anything. BE SURE to preview at your book to make sure you aren’t giving the whole thing away!
  • Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Sony will only allow a small sample (much smaller than you indicate) so most readers will not be able to see even one panel of your work. My advice for Smashwords is to break your story into 20-page parts and offer the first one for free. Most of your sales will be thru these retailers, so this is the best way to expose new customers to what you have to offer.
  • I’ve said this once, but I’m going to say it again: Make sure your comic is VERY LEGIBLE ie. easy to read at 550 px on its longest side. Most comics formatted for the traditional print comic size will NOT work, because the lettering is too small. You may have to reletter your comic. The best advice is to just format it as if it would be a mini-comic or digest.
To see samples, I’ve published a couple of comics you can download for FREE from Smashwords and Amazon!
Good luck, and happy creating!
Jeff Thomason is an economist that writes novels and short stories, draws humorous cartoons, creates graphic novels and comic books as well as visionary illustrations, programs custom web applications, and builds unique websites. See his work at or become a Facebook fan at

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Creating a Comic Book

I'm the kind of person who likes to look behind the curtain and see how things are made. I've been known to buy a DVD just for the bonus features. So I thought I'd share a little of the process for my latest creation, Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure, a comic scheduled for release in March.

The idea for this story came to me when I was reading a biography of H.J. Ward, one of my favorite artists. He painted covers for pulp magazines during the 30s and 40s before he died from smoking (stupid people depriving us of so much art). I purchased the biography quite a while ago but never got around to reading it until just recently. It mentioned how putting women in terror on the cover sold more copies regardless of what was actually in the magazine. So I thought I'd create an image of Wandering Koala in peril.

I drew a thumbnail and started to lay it out, but never finished. But what I did do was create a story around the cover. I was so intrigued by the imagery I couldn't help myself.

I write all stories by first jotting down ideas in pen in a tablet. Once I have enough ideas I start to shape a story, then jot down more ideas, sometimes sketching images. When I finally see a story start to emerge, I create a tight plot with dialogue. The process diverges from there.

For this comic, I analyzed a lot of past work, what worked, what didn't work, what I liked, what I wish had turned out better, and what I enjoy doing. I then created a few concept illustrations (which I posted previously) until I found a style I liked.

I also asked myself what kind of writing I like. I like a narrator who is involved with the story. So I wrote this story from the point of view of Brent who usually accompanies the Wandering Koala. It also meant I didn't need much dialogue, which was good because I hate word balloons. I have no intention of using them in this comic. I do like boxes with narration--they make nice design elements. I also chose a font that looked sort of handwritten but was really easy to read.

I typed the story up in a Pages document to see how long the story was and to revise it easily until I was satisfied with it. Also, I can just cut and paste the text, so the lettering is half finished. Nice bonus.

The backgrounds were created in Google SketchUp like The Phantom Coach had been, but this time I went for a more detailed deco look with thinner lines and some texture. I, of course, do some noodling in Corel Painter X to make them look more hand drawn and wood carved.

The figures were originally going to be black, white, red-orange, but I happened to try a full color figure in one of the concept illustrations and really liked it. So for the first page I tried two versions, and ended up liking the full version better. But to keep a limited palette, I'm only using Red thru Yellow; no Green, Blue, or Purple (except for one place where I cheat). I'm also using a lot of silhouettes and panels with no frame, because I really like the look, and it provides a nice change as does the occasional backgroundless panel.

I'm really liking the look. And the look was very important to me, because comics have to compete with video games, which means they need to be visually stunning.

So far I am seven pages into the tale. It's scheduled to be released in March, so I've still got a long way to go. The final comic will be around 40 pages long.

I hope you like the final result!