Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cartooning 101: Storytelling

First off, if you haven't seen the previous post, go check it out and come right back. The image above is the final art that you should compare with the original art that I drew and displayed in the previous post. Got that? Excellent.

Now, this new strip from The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake was delayed a bit, and I apologize. The end of the year was full of all sorts of unhappy events, and then the Holidays hit, and well, it's been tough.

Also, I had a wee bit of a dilemma in the story department. I've mentioned this before, probably, but there are different WAYS of telling a story. One way is to plot it all out, and then write/illustrate it. The other, just as admirable, is to plot just a little bit, then write/illustrate, and then plot some more, then write... and so on.

If you are working for an Editor, or doing a monthly comic, then chances are that you are working in the first way. The advantage to this technique is that you know exactly what is going to happen and how everything is going to end, and you can use foreshadowing and other techniques of great literature to their best advantage. The other method, the one I am employing now, allows the story to develop, sometimes in surprising manners!

Bill Watterson of Calvin & Hobbes fame used this technique in some of his storylines, and like me, enjoyed the surprises that occured when his characters took the story and ran with it. Another advantage is that you, and the story, grow over time, and so you can easily add new developments that might not have occured to you earlier. I certainly didn't see the strip with Steven Knight playing with puppets when I first conceived this story, and yet it has led to not only a funny strip but to Steven becoming a part of the story in today's strip, and later, we'll see he is the narrator and author of the story!

A disadvantage is that sometimes the clock runs out and you panic because the story hasn't opened itself up to you! In this particular case, I wasn't sure if it should be Iris in the water, or her father Steven, or a brand new character we haven't met yet. In fact, we might not meet her at all.... I really haven't decided. Adding a new character can be exciting, or it could just complicate things, and make things crowded.

If I was doing this full time, instead of part time, I might have more time to plot, and the strips would be on time more often. :0)

Then again, I have three endings written so far for this story, and even I don't know which one will be THE ONE!

Exciting, isn't it? And that's just one example of how much fun this job could be.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cartooning 101: Techniques and Art

It's harder to find quality art supplies, as more and more people move to the computer for illustration. Many still use traditional illustration methods, such as pen and ink, and some use programs like Photoshop and Illustrator exclusively. Somewhere in the middle, though, is where I am, and where I suspect most cartoonists and illustrators are: using traditional drawing and scanning into the computer for finishing, cleaning, coloring, or all of the above. And why not? Coloring especially is much easier on a computer, as is finishing and cleaning. Cleaning on the computer leads to laziness at the drawing table, so that the days of razor blades and white paint are gone, and your original might be quite messy.

Where does this leave the world of original art? I'm not sure, but I don't see much art out there these days, except of course with fellow Cartoonists. There are a lot of prints, however, since big syndicates have deals with online sites so that you can 'buy a print of today's strip', and many of us have art we are proud enough of to share by providing them as prints.

In my case, I work as mentioned above, drawing with ink, then scanning, then cleaning and finishing and coloring on the computer. I am embarassed to admit that my originals are not always complete, and sometimes I draw all of the panels separately, so that one cartoon may not have a piece of art worth displaying.

The upside of this is that sometimes I can concentrate on one panel and do it up nice, showing the whole scene where maybe the words might once have hid much of it. My strips are often verbose, so I struggle with the challenge, sometimes, of showing enough background to be recognizable behind the word balloons. This can be bad in black and white art, where the background may be nothing but a bunch of unrecognizable lines, unless there is a strong establishing panel for the scene. Sure, I know that this line is the top of a fence, and that squiggle is a tree, and that line over there is the side of a house, but how about the reader? Without room for an establishing shot, the background loses meaning.

With The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake, the scene is crucial to the story... at least the Pirate Ride is. To me, the idea of a Pirate Ride is cool, and I want the audience to feel like they can see it clearly. Also, by creating a good panel or two, I can visualize the ride better, and have some nice original art in the bargain. The illustration here is drawn much larger than a normal panel, and without word balloons, you can see the entire scene. Look at the finished product, and you can see how much background disappeared, and how much is covered, and maybe you can imagine how it would have been to draw this around the word balloons.

Extra work, surely, but worth it. I have a nice piece of art to sell or display, a scene I can use later perhaps, as extra art for a book, and a good establishing shot of the first part of the pirate ride.

Speaking of prints, I am making a large map of The Ghost Pirate Skeletons of Three Craters Lake ride, with much of the artwork from the story and website, and it will be available as a print when complete. It's a lot of work, but I think it will make a fine companion to the story.

And so, Happy Holidays to you, and Merry Christmas to those to whom that applies, and yes, I have finally finished illustrating the HappyGlyphs Holiday Card for 2008!

Better late than never, eh?

Have a Happy! JOHN :0)