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Blogmatic


photo: The gang of artists

Working diligently with the city of Somerville, Hub Comics created an excellent work environment. I finished 20 pages of “Blank Spot”, my most focused 24 Hour Comic Book in over two years.

This was a huge improvement over last year's attempt, when I was too unfocused to produce. Back then, I lived in Union Square for a few months. The fun parts of my new neighborhood were still too distracting. Today, after living here for over a year, my attitude was more "been there, done that". Being immune to the distractions allowed me to concentrate on the job at hand. I never left Hub Comics. With the exception of stretching, bathroom breaks and the occasional conversation, I stayed in my seat and drew.

Art Materials

Another element was my new comfort with traditional media tools. Since last year, I taught "Art of the Comic Book" and drew 2 short comic book stories ("School Fight!" and Lucky Seven") with ink on paper. Ditching my complicated digital art process, "Blank Spot" was rendered as:

  • 7.5" x 10.75" live area on 9" x 12" sketch paper
  • Speedball Super Black India Ink
  • Short-handle round #4 sable brush
  • Ruling pen (borders)
  • Speedball nib #512 (straight lines, details)
  • Speedball C6 and B5 (lettering)
  • Ames Lettering Guide (setting 3.5 default)

Some of my local colleagues think using an Ames Guide for a 24-hour comic is a bit much. Perhaps they're right, but I really wanted to test my new C6 nibs. Using straight lines, solid blacks and the Ames guide probably stopped me from completing 24 pages. The process did, however, create an extremely readable 20 pages. Of this, I'm extremely proud.

I strongly recommend drawing on thick bristol paper instead of thin sketchbook paper. The physical act of erasing the pencils almost ripped every one of my pages!

photo: David Marshall working on pages 7 and 8

Me on pages 7 and 8. Photo by James Wellborn

Samantha Distraction

Faced with the possibility of watching me draw for 24 hours, my girlfriend decided to visit her friend Rebekah instead. I asked them to burst into Hub Comics on Saturday night. Like a pair of Lady GaGas, they'd taunt us by wearing next-to-nothing and stinking of alcohol saying "Wish we were having as much fun as you boys are! Oh well, ta-tahhh...!" Sadly, they found better things to do than acting out my "Last Temptation of Christ" scenario. The first part of the story is loosely based on this crushing defeat.

Blank Spot: The Story PDF Story | Landing Page

Following the rules, I walked in without a plan. I also swore not to look anything up, trying to keep the pen moving and work from my inner "House of Ideas". But what happens when that house has been ransacked, condemned or abandoned?

The first result is a page of me talking to readers who couldn't possibly care less about my though process. Thankfully, this time-tested stall tactic is only on the first page. The rest of the story moves along at a pretty good clip. I'm especially proud of the "real vs. drawing" banter, my childhood "blanket snakes" nightmare, the Ditkoverse path to Ball Nut Avenue (Sammy's name for any path to Somerville's Ball Square) and the Planet of Kung Fu Fighting (Sam's favorite song on my iPod).

With four pages left, I didn't get the chance to finish the story. There's no connection to the story title or the coffee cup on page one. If my schedule allows, I'd like to create a second finished version -- 4 pages in 4 consecutive hours, once again without a plan.

The Ohio State University Cartoon Library & Museum PDF Submission Form | Official Website

The official repository for the hard copy archives of 24 Hour Comics Day. The archives are currently unprocessed; they hope to make the collection available on their website soon.

Conclusion: What Did We Learn Today?

  • Focus is good
  • Union Square Somerville is a great neighborhood
  • Working with traditional drawing tools was faster than using the digital tools
  • C6 lettering nibs are terrific
  • Thicker paper is essential
  • Lady and Lady GaGa would've wrecked the event
  • Sam was the inspiration for 7 out of 20 pages (I knew that kid would earn his keep someday!)
  • Turn in your comic!

Thanks for reading. Goodnight and good luck.

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Thumbnail sketch of comic book page

One of the most-used lines in my Art of the Comic Book class is "In the post-Google era, there's no excuse for not knowing what something looks like". Prior to the internet, visual reference was done in public libraries, personal interviews and taking our own photographs.

Doing the research for "Lucky Seven: The Dee Brown Incident" in May/June 2009 supported this view. The story, covering Boston's difficulty with class and race, takes place in 1990. Recreating the era's surface-level items was relatively easy, thanks to Google and Boston Globe articles. Building visual details, logistics and overall atmosphere was a lot tougher. What did Dee's fiancee look like? How did the characters express their words? Which version of the incident — Dee's or the officers' — was the most believable?

As the deadline got closer, it was evident that using Google wouldn't be enough to answer these questions. Forced to use the analog research methods, I ultimately produced a more accurate, objective and honest story.

Google Web Search

May 1, 2009 | Weather, neighborhood demographics

Highbeam Research logo

HighBeam Inc.

May 1, 2009 - May 7, 2009 | An online library of archival print media, was an excellent resource. Their text-only articles (from the Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Times and Sports Illustrated) provided a framework to start visual research. At this point, I knew what happened, but not what anything looked like.

Google Image Search

May 1, 2009 - May 16, 2009 | Revealed Dee's 21-year-old image and other surface details (the rented Pontiac Grand Prix, Reebok Pump, fashions, etc.) At this point, I didn't know what Dee's fiancee Jill Edmondson looked like. The Globe articles said she "had been a Northeastern University student", so maybe I'll try to find her in their yearbook collection.

Wellesley Hills - MBTA

Taking Photographs

May 5, 2009 | I visited Wellesley Hills via Commuter Rail today. Shooting exterior photos of the neighborhood was easy and educational. Standing on the lawn of the South Shore Bank, diagonally across the street from the Wellesley Hills Post Office, identifying the suspect would be impossible.

Getting interior reference of the Wellesley Hills Post Office was a lot more difficult. My camera is too big to take guerrilla pictures. Introducing myself to the workers as an art school instructor doing a project comparing interiors of various post offices, I asked for permission to take photos. Before 9/11, this would've worked. These days, workers get nervous when dark-skinned strangers take interior shots of federal buildings. My request went all the way to management, who ultimately said no. However, I was allowed to sketch, a practice I hadn't used since 1988's "A Sunday Walk".

It's also easy to see why people would think this was simple racism. Although bright and sunny with lots of trees, the neighborhood feels quietly hostile. Given the option of sticking around for a later train or leaving soon as possible, I got the heck out of Dodge.

In Living Color - Homey The Clown

Northeastern University

May 14, 2009 | Hoping to find Jill Edmondson in the college yearbook, I visited the Northeastern University archive library. Sadly, her name didn't appear in any of the directories. Perhaps she never graduated, or the Globe got this detail wrong. Determined to make this a useful trip, I used the 1990 yearbook to make reference sketches of hairstyles and fashions. Combined with the Google Image Search results of popular TV shows ("Married with Children", "In Living Color" and "Beverly Hills 90210"), I should be able to create my own version of her if needed.

Email Dee Brown

June 1, 2009 | Running out of options, I sent an email to "EDGE Basketball", Dee Brown's basketball camp business in Orlando FL. Mr. Brown isn't likely to respond, but one never knows.

In Living Color - Homey The Clown

Boston Public Library

June 3, 2009 | Jackpot! The Boston Public Library Microtext Department has entire newspaper pages arraigned horizontally on tape. These tapes are on reels that can be viewed on hand-cranked lightbox readers, like a giant View-Master. The manual hand-cranking makes finding exact pages a tedious process. Zooming through irrelevant pages made me seasick. After many wrong guesses, page 14 of the November 17 1991 Boston Globe Magazine had a photo of the elusive Ms. Edmondson. The image was high-contrast and grainy, but more than I had.

Boston Globe

June 4, 2009 | Called into the photo archives for a clearer version of the November 1991 Globe Magazine photo. In the days before Google Image Search, we visual artists used to invade the photo morgues of the Globe, Herald and local libraries. Spoke with chief archivist, who said he'd look for photos tomorrow.

So, What Did We Learn Today?

  • Solely using Google and Wikipedia for serious research is a lazy cop-out
  • There's no substitute for hard work and intelligence

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photo: the gang

Last year's 24-Hour Comics Day was in Kenmore Square's Comicopia, where I knew no one and was far from my neighborhood of Inman Square. Those conditions forced me to concentrate on the job at hand. While I ran out of time to make it coherent, the basic story got finished. The host's professionalism and experience was also helpful. The clock started on time, food was plentiful, and they publicized our mission to all the local media.

This year's host was Somerville's Hub Comics, about three blocks from my new apartment and yards away from Union Square. Despite this ideal situation, I couldn't focus enough to finish. By noon on Sunday, there were barely 16 penciled pages to show for my scatterbrained effort, no word balloons or inks. After my previous success, it looked like I'd finish with ink and script and color. How could I have been this wrong? How did this happen? Oh Survivior, why hast thou forsaken thy "Eye of the Tiger"?

This post isn't so much for the public, but a Momento-like note to myself for next year. Looking back, it just wasn't my year.

photo: Andy Wong

Digital Expertise: I wasn't the only digital artist,
just the least productive one.

Alibi One: Much Too much

I lost my full time web development job this Spring and've been scrambling for freelance work ever since. In addition, condo conversion forced me to move from Somerville's Inman Square to a much nicer place in Somerville's Union Square. While both changes proved positive in the long run, they put me in a state of perpetual hustle mode. Keeping all the plates spinning left me too tired to even think of the comic.

Alibi Two: Friendly Neighborhood neighborhood

My primary connections were Hub Comics' staff and building. This was my first neighborhood comic book store since Allston in the 1980s. By the time of 24-Hour Comics Day, I've logged hundreds of hours talking with the owner and staff. In this environment, I didn't mind being the oldest guy in the room. It was like hanging out at a friend's place, with kids in the den. I felt no connection to the younger artists' taste in movies, music or comics.

I wonder if John Garcia felt the same way about me. In addition to being a historian, illustrator and friend, he was also a mentor in understanding the business of commercial art. For the first time in 28 years, he's not around to impress. (For the record, he thought using digital tools on a 24-hour comic was stupid and much slower than drawing by hand.)

Alibi Three: Guess Who's Coming to Lunch + Dinner + Breakfast + Lunch?

When I got to, Hub Comics approximately 11:30, there was only one table set up, and 5 cartoonists looking for space to work. I helped the store's manager Jesse clear off 2 tables in the basement. In defense of their first 24-Hour Comic Day, the RSVPs didn't match the number of people who showed up. Officially, the noon event started promptly at 1:00 PM.

Alibi Four: Running On Empty

photo: foo

I brought 70's sci fi classics Rollerball and
Logan's Run, which Jesse approved

I tried following the spirit by not preparing. I hoped to plot and draw at the same time, creating an amazing panel-by-panel improvisation. With nothing in my head or heart at that moment, I chicken-shitted into planning a storyline. With no real concept, I strung some long-forgotten anecdotes together. According to the "Created" tag of page 1, the plotting and thumbnailing took almost 5 hours (1:00 - 5:42).

How easily-distracted was I? Sometime near 7:00 PM, I went to a local bar to watch 2 innings of the Boston Red Sox/Tampa Bay Rays Game 6, running away from both my writer's block and this rag-tag collection of productive artists.

During my freshman year at MassArt, I was somehow allowed in an advanced watercolor class. The teacher was an internationally-known 50-something with a quiet, soft-spoken style. Most of us knew to shut up and learn. There was one kid who decided he was smarter the rest of us mere mortals. Can't remember his name, but we derisively called him "The Pro". He sure talked a good game, yet his work was substandard. Once he even challenged the teacher by saying "I've been watercolor painting for 7 years, and don't need to follow your instructions." As we were in shock, the teacher said he'd been using watercolors for over 30 years and that we should listen to him. If memory serves me well, we all laughed at "The Pro", who was eventually bounced out of the program.

For this year's 24-Hour Comics Day, I might've been "The Pro". While everyone talked about how hard this mission was, most of the "pups" finished.

photo: Us at 3:30 AM

Protect and Serve: Somerville police were brave
enough to kick out this bunch.

Alibi Five: Dragnet

At 3:30 AM on Sunday morning, two patrolmen from the Somerville Police Department approached the store. Jesse was the only staff member there. They asked if Hub Comics had a permit for a public event after posted business hours. Jess said he didn't know and the owner James just left. The policemen said without a permit, we all had to leave the store. Jess pleaded by saying the store wasn't doing business and they had a casual relationship with Somerville City Hall. The cops didn't want to hear any of this and ordered us out of the building immediately.

Luckily another artist lived close by and let us crash/work at his place. In addition to having no drive, no concept and no sleep, I was now in someone else's house with a bunch of other cartoonist vagabonds. What little momentum I had was lost.

I joined Jesse (who went back to the store to clean up) around 8:00 AM, and worked until noon. For all that drama, I only had 16 pencil pages. Getting rescued by Sam was a releif.

Conclusion: What Did We Learn Today?

  • I wasn't ready this year
  • There are some wonderfully talented people out there
  • Being a neighborhood fixture isn't what it's cracked up to be
  • Most true artists don't RSVP
  • Blowhards are never productive
  • Police are very serious people, especially in cold weather
  • There's always next year

Thanks for reading. Goodnight and good luck.

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When working digitally, these are the steps to producing finished art. Instead of working on paper then scanning, I work directly with the Wacom drawing tablet. While this technique's has limitations (mainly speed, lack of peripheral vision, having the tactile and visual results on two different planes), the production benefits outweight the drawbacks. For instance, paper art has to be scanned, usually by an overworked production artist. Scanning operators sometimes produce dozens of high-resolution images, guaranteeing some loss of subtle elements. Going digital shifts all the production accountability where it should be ... to the artist.

Marshall Art Studio - Comic Book Artist + Writer: Info graphic of digital comics-making process

The process, from Photoshop to Acrobat in 5 life-draining steps.

Adobe Photoshop: Pencilling The selection, resizing, layers and "soft pencil" tools are the closest things to my traditional drawing methods (tracing paper, Xerox, scaled copies) I've found so far. Using paths to control perspective is an added bonus.

Corel Painter: Inking The anti-aliasing is "tighter" than Photoshop's, making a much cleaner ink stroke. Painter X, the latest version, has terrific brush and texture controls. The page rotation tool's a life-saver! Inking happens quickly, brushing way outside the planned borders.

Adobe Illustrator: Lettering + Bordering This is where all the vector stuff happens. The first step is importing the final inked Painter TIF in Illustrator, then sticking it in a compound path of the panels. I then letter with Blambot fonts (Letter-o-matic) in custom word balloons. Once everything's set, each page is saved as an individual EPS.

Adobe InDesign: Pagination A collection of the final EPS files. Page numbering and common elements are controlled in the Master pages. This file is used to generate the PDF.

Adobe Acrobat: Final Art Optimized for print, web and email.

Thanks for reading. Goodnight and good luck.

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