Friday, July 17, 2009

Black or White?


Several have suggested that I add color to my drawings, or even that I abandon traditional pen and ink completely, and explore the new frontier of slick, detail-impoverished Web comics. The technology is out there, so why must I be so rugged as to create something I can hold in my hand? While the style typical of computer artwork isn't my aesthetical preference, it seems to be the more popular route.

While reading some articles about virtual reference, I saw that my advisor, R. David Lankes, included impressive self-portraits in the headings of his digital publications. Asking him if he drew these portraits with his hand, he confessed that a newfangled digital graphics device aided him in the process. Before I knew it, I came into the temporary possession of his Wacom Drawing Tablet.

And for a semester, it has been sitting next to my desk, taunting me: "Nobody draws, and ABSOLUTELY nobody inks by hand anymore, Chrissy. I know that I seem like an updated version of that cheap, cop-out "Magic Art Reproducer" featured in old comic book ads, but everyone else is using computers to get a competitive edge, so you might as well play ball."

Well, with the free time that summer has bestowed upon me, I have no excuses anymore, do I? Using this tablet and a cutting-edge, brand-new art tool called Photoshop, my work will look less like R. Crumb's and more like R. David Lankes'. I'm going to create a Web comic!

You can skip ahead to the comic if you don't feel like reading this preamble.

Five years ago, I wrote and drew a parody of May I? Please? Thank You!, the flagship book in the "Ready, Set, Grow!" series of dated children's books. The book I mentioned featured cartoons of unsavory characters (the gluttonous "Patsy Pig" or the destuctive "Careless Carrie") as examples of how children oughtn't behave. The drawings I imitated were illustrated by a fellow named Hergie. Not Herge: Hergie, an American-Greetings type artist whose style should easily translate to the slick, minimal Web medium. By the way, I suspect that Hergie was a secret R. Crumb fan, too; some of the drawings in this children's series had hidden jokes such as Zap! Comics peeking out from a child's bookshelf. Maybe they worked for American Greetings together!

Before you do some little calculation to guess my age, since these books are obviously relics no longer in print, I'll have you know that they were hand-me-downs from my brothers who are on average 10 years older than me.

My parody was called "Coke Fiend Chris," based on the life of a philandering, schneidering con artist I once knew. I'll be cleaning up the content as well as the original images, since this is a family blog. Don't worry; I figured out how to resize images so you can read everything on one screen. Check out the transformation!

I'm used to re-drawing "Coke Fiend Chris" pages, since I left one of the original, uncensored ones in a Kinko's copy machine, Mike Diana style.

With the tablet, I thought that tracing these drawings into Photoshop would be as easy as ABC, Do Re Mi, but no. When using the electronic pen that goes with it, I assumed the cursor, or pen point, would stay within the boundaries of the Photoshop drawing canvas. But actually, the tablet's "easel," or "window," or whatever the proper term is, represented the entire computer screen. So if the original image was large enough that it went up to the edges of the tablet, I had to shift it more towards the center if I wanted to trace and have the traced image actually appear in Photoshop. Maybe there's a way to change the boundaries, but the "help" feature didn't lead me in that direction. While my version of Photoshop (yes, I made this on my old Lenovo computer that everyone makes fun of), despite its origins, isn't actually in a Chinese language, it might as well have been. But you know my motto: "If at first you don't succeed..."

I was able to manage by shifting my drawings around in the appropriate area.

As for the coloring, at first I considered just paint-bucketing everything, but when I failed at even that, I went online for help. There, I found a very nice, easy to understand tutorial for coloring line art, and was seduced by all the talk of highlighting and shadow...I decided to make a real effort at this! The trick, as explained in the guide, is to make a different layer for each color, zoom in a lot, and toggle between magic wand and paint bucket to fill large areas. Then create separate hue layers to add light and shadows. Sometimes these effects were awesome, sometimes, like with the hair, they added sort of a dirty look. I could have done something extra special to add shine on the hair and little button on Chris' jeans, but for now, I wanted to make a valiant effort at this Web toon without dedicating my life to it.

I learned from my evident mistakes, and this isn't the train wreck you expected, right? I'm glad these new art tools aren't completely beyond my grasp. I can see the appeal, as I skipped a visit to the gym(!) and ate nothing but naan and "spicy" eggplant/pepper spread (I guess the mild tastes like a milky-way bar) during my two-day flirtation with modern-ish graphic design, unable to tear myself away from the screen. It's just as time-consuming as what I usually do. You kids are weird. Why not just use a paper, pen, and ink or marker?

Lest you think that *I'm* a "Coke-Fiend Chris," rest assured that I slept fully every night during production.

And I'm sorry about the lettering. Photoshop doesn't have an Ames Lettering Guide tool. I also don't know if there's a way to save the same colors for multiple drawings, so Chris' skin, for example, is a slightly different shade of brown on each page.

Who am I kidding...not to be a Braggadocio Bill, but three days ago I had never drawn anything or added color to anything in Photoshop, and since then I have created my favorite Web comic. I think I'll try breakdancing now...who knows what else I can do if I set my mind to it. I can put Photoshop experience on my resume now without feeling like a complete sleazeball, right?

After a while, dystophile.


  1. That baby sandwich cracks me up! Love it!

  2. Thank you! That particular image is a favorite.

  3. "...schneidering..." -- Why did this make me giggle?! :P

  4. Your comic looks great! Hell, if my first photoshop experience were this nice, I'd have a better paying job. And yeah, I agree, coke heads are no fun to party with.

  5. Thanks for the note, Minh! Better paying job...I don't know about better paying, but I like the (non Photoshop-related) job I have now. Cheers.

  6. ooo... i am an eggplant super fan! sigh. i want the spicy eggplant sooooo badly right now. with rice.

    Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.