Clip Studio Paint is the New Photoshop … For Me

Although I illustrate almost exclusively in Photoshop, I’ve used Clip Studio Paint EX for lettering comics because it has useful tools designed for making that job so much easier. Otherwise, I haven’t really played with the program at all, even though I’ve been wanting to do so.

While up late into the night (because I’m a night-owl and can’t seem to get on a normal schedule), I decided to launch the program and check out its brushes. And honestly, while I’ll still be using Photoshop for a while, I have to say that inking and painting in CSP is so much more fun and its brushes are so much nicer and natural that Photoshop.

Here’s just a page of doodles done while playing with the program. Nothing fancy or “nice” because I was just enjoying getting a feel for the pen tool and brushes and wasn’t trying to create something to post.

Another nice thing about CSP that I think is better than Photoshop are (as I already mentioned) the tools available for creating comic books, not to mention tools for simple frame-by-frame animating. And best of all, you can render in vector without the STUPID, counter-intuitive techniques required by Adobe Illustrator, a program I (and many other artists who came from traditional media) simply loath.

As far as the many custom tools or blending options Photoshop offers for photo-editing which we artists utilize for illustrating, I don’t know how many such tools CSP has yet. Maybe not as many (for now). However, the advantages it has over Photoshop is still pretty impressive.

So while I won’t be switching to this program just yet, I plan to learn it and keep it as a backup program when/if my OS X no longer supports CS6 (I haven’t updated my iMac OS in years because their updates tend to take things away or mess things up. Gone are the days when I was actually excited about an Apple OS update and was willing to pay for it. Now I don’t even want it for free). The thing is, I suspect that day will eventually come, and I refuse to allow Adobe to extort a monthly tribute from me rather than sell me a copy of Photoshop, so I’ll be looking for a new program to replace Photoshop CS6 for illustrating. At first, I thought Corel Painter would be my go-to replacement program if I had to leave Photoshop behind, but now I think CSP will most likely be the software I turn to. In fact, if I can find the time to learn it, I’d like to start using it for my professional work right now, or maybe bounce between CSP and Photoshop and use the best feature of both programs.

So if you’re worried about what you’ll do when your Pre-CC copy of Photoshop is no longer supported and you want a software you can purchase and own, you may want to check out CSP.

Incidentally, Clip Studio Paint has a mobile version for the iPad, but it’s a subscription-based app, which baffles me because the only reason I’m willing to use their desktop version is because I can buy it. Hopefully they don’t do something stupid and start requiring a monthly fee for their desktop version. If they do, I’ll dump them in a heartbeat and use Corel Painter.

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Miscellaneous Ramblings About Comic-Book Stuff, Part 2

Unlike Part 1, this rambling about comics will address something I’ve seen in comics as of late that personally annoy me. The two examples provided are from titles of pulp characters that deserved a better treatment.

Disclaimer: The following is just my opinion. If you happen to like these comics, don’t let me rain on your parade.

These days many comic-book colorists handle a lot of the shading, highlighting, and special-effects decisions because of the available digital tools. With respect to effects, I’ve seen some comics where the colorist took it upon himself to add effects independent of whatever the penciller or inker intended. Here are two examples below. See if you can guess what’s wrong with the following page from a Doc Savage comic:

Did you catch it? Here’s a similar example from a Spider-Man title:

In the first example, you’ll notice the penciller drew clouds. In the second example, the penciller drew smoke. However, in both cases the colorists decided to include their own clouds and smoke over, under, or around the drawn effects using Photoshop brushes.

So what’s my beef? Well, in the first place, the penciller already designed the page by indicating precisely where they wanted clouds and/or smoke. In the second place, graphically-drawn clouds and smoke clash with realistically rendered clouds/smoke. Now, it’s not that you can’t mix styles on an illustration, but doing so requires intentional planning which doesn’t involve different styles of the same objects. For example, you can have a figure designed in one style in front of a landscape rendered in a different style and that can look just peachy. But you probably wouldn’t want to see Wilma Flinstone with realistic hair. The thing is, in the examples above, the colorist made stylistic decisions that were an afterthought, and it shows. Now I’m not knocking the talent of the colorist as far as the application of coloring goes. I’m really just commenting on the editorial decisions that were made independent of what the penciller’s design seemed to indicate.

Okay, I have one more beef with something else I’ve seen in modern comics. The thing is, there are different genres of comics and that’s fine. But comic writers really should keep comic stories in their respective genres. Now, there’s something I like to call “white wig movies.” Those are the kind of movies catering mostly to women, which usually involve people two centuries past wearing white wigs who apparently have no jobs; they usually sit around all day, overdressed, drinking tea and talking about who is or is not good enough to marry so-and-so (ya know, girly relationship stuff). It seems that the sitting or standing around and having conversations (stuff that puts the average comic fan to sleep) has crept into comics in a bad way. These talking-head comics seem to use repetitive panels that feature nearly the same thing, over and over. It’s really a waste of ink and paper, in my opinion.

Continuing along those lines, I recently picked up a Shadow comic and flipped through it. The first red flag was that the Shadow, the main character, was only on a few pages in the entire issue. What was really conspicuous, however, was that it seemed like I was looking at the same panel over and over throughout the entire issue. Here are some of the pages, which I’ll show kind of small so as to not take up too much space and also so as not to bore you to death (these are not presented in any particular order, because it really doesn’t matter for the purpose of making my point):

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just glancing at these pages this small allows you to grasp just how repetitive the pages and panels appear. Now I realize that the writer was trying to be clever and tell a story from the patient’s point of view, but that kind of story just doesn’t fly for a medium that has limited space, is dependent on visual design and appeal, and is consumed by persons who want to have some fun enjoying intellectual junk food. Personally, it would torture me to have to read this comic story, much less have to draw it.

A final example of this repetitive-panel practice is seen below: Because the characters are very well drawn, it’s difficult to know whether the boring repetitive panel design was the artist’s idea or if it was required by the script, but I suspect it’s the latter because writers seems to have more control over what the artist must draw. Plus, I’m assuming that an artist who can draw this well is a better designer than this.

So I can only conclude that this awful trend in comic design is really the fault of writers who have no idea how to write for a constrained visual medium like comics. A great character drawing isn’t enough to overcome a poorly written story or script. The story is king, and the art is simply a means to communicate the story. (Though, if the art is really great, I’ll buy a comic just for the art, but my idea of great art includes great layouts as well.)

So there’s my rant. If you agree or disagree or if you just think grown people shouldn’t be reading comics, feel free to comment.

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Miscellaneous Ramblings About Comic-Book Stuff, Part 1

I came across some old and new comics in the last six months or so and decided to ramble a bit and share some pointless thoughts. So here goes…

I saw these two older issues of Marvel’s Amazing Adventures, both from 1973, and I would have ignored them entirely had I not noticed that the stories took place 45 years into the future, i.e., right now in 2018. Well, actually, I noticed the future date of the story and then ignored them entirely. But I kept it in mind to share these pages because it’s interesting what kind of scenarios people think might represent a believable future. Half-naked people fighting in the streets with swords and axes clearly missed the mark. The page below, however, accurately predicted one thing about 2108. Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed “man bun,” you win.

Let’s move on to the false advertising in comics to which I and countless other children were subjected. While this may sound like a complaint, those ads managed to fuel my imagination with their wildly false promises like “a bowl full of happiness” (which sounds more like an ad for a laxative). That sense of wonder remained with me for a long time, mostly because I was never able to afford a lot of that stuff and consequently never discovered it was all junk (unlike like the poor souls who pedaled their hearts out delivering newspapers to earn money, only to find out they were duped).

The most popular and well-known rip-off were Sea-Monkeys. Check out the now-familiar-to-everyone-not-living-in-a-cave ad for “instant pets” below…

This wasn’t even the most blatant misrepresentation (in later years, the company ran its ads showing a small image of how these creatures actually appear; probably an inclusion that was necessitated to fend off angry parents and their lawyers. However, I wanted to show you one of the misleading versions of the ad I saw as a kid). Some ads actually featured these critters in lab coats and, as you can see above, these critters were “so eager to please. They can even be trained” (a promise sounding like it belongs in mail-order bride catalogs). Honestly, I thought this is what they looked like and I wanted to own my own little people so bad. I dreamed about training them to do cool stuff and they could be my minions (I have kids now, so that itch has been scratched, though not really because they wont perform juggling tricks for me). This is the only product from a comic ad that I eventually was able to see in person because some friends of mine were duped into buying them. Imagine my chagrin when I saw what looked like small bits of pulp floating in watered down citrus juice rather than a collection of Lilliputians that included what would be the closest thing to an actual naked lady a ten-year-old boy would ever get to see in person (I’m kidding. That thought actually never entered my mind. No, seriously, it didn’t. No, really, I’m being serious). Anyway, that dream ended on a sour note, but there was always … the nuclear sub!

What better way to bomb those school-yard bullies back into the stone age than with a nuke from an actual submarine costing less than a sawbuck? Well, I never had the opportunity to see what this falsehood-in-advertising actually looked like, but, like the sea-monkeys, I’ll bet it was a big disappointment despite the promises of “rockets that fire” and “firing torpedoes.”

“PATCHES ARE IN!” …

And now they’re out. Moving on to other comic ads…

“TOO SKINNY?”

And if you ordered their tablets and ate too many of them, they had you covered with what might be considered an antidote…

I wonder what you’d look like if you alternated between the two tablets? probably like someone walking through a carnival fun-house with those distorted hall-of-mirrors: “Now I’m fat, now I’m skinny, now I’m fat again. Woo-hoo, now I’m getting car-sick! Now I’m taller!” Speaking of which…

“BE TALLER!”

I was trying to guess how they accomplished the magical feat of making you grow taller, but those sneaky ad writers anticipated my wanting to save a quarter and eliminated my speculations as to how it’s done by listing how it’s not done. Is it done with exercise? Nope. “Drugs?” Nope. “Elevators?” Nope. “Appliances”??? I’m not sure why anyone would suspect the secret to growing taller is by being strapped to a blender or washing machine. Maybe attaching a vacuum hose to your head and hoping it’ll suck you closer to the ceiling would work for some people, but, no, that wasn’t my first guess. I suppose if I really wanted to know, I would have had to send two-bits to the “Height Increase Bureau,” probably located in the same building as the ‘Women’s Mustache Reduction Agency.’

“75 FREE GIFTS”

Sure, the “gifts” are free, but the list of free gifts will cost you a buck (and it’ll turn out that in order to collect the free gifts, you had to collect them in person at a dark alley from a shady-looking guy named Rufus who keeps these gifts in his car trunk, next to the dead bodies). This is how lots of companies made money. It wasn’t the products that made them rich. It was selling catalogs or information lists. Moving on…

“Learn how to become a GAME WARDEN, GOV’T HUNTER” and you could catch “America’s favorite pet” for free, saving the cost of $29.95 (but be careful, because that “Rascal” will tear your eyes out given half a chance).

“YOU CAN HAVE A HE-MAN VOICE.”

Or, you can keep your she-man voice if you like. Maybe alternate between the two when you want to have fun during a job interview.

Okay, enough silliness for now. Keep an eye out for more comic ramblings later.

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The soullessness of modern comic art…

I’ve been at the art game long enough to remember what being an artist entailed before the internet existed.

For one thing, artists used to clip pictures from magazines, books, pamphlets, and other sorts of ephemera and save them in what was usually known as a swipe file. If you needed to draw a lion running and wanted some reference, you went to your swipe file and hopefully you had clipped something from a National Geographic that provided enough reference for you to do a believable drawing.

Artists also often accumulated libraries of books and magazines on art, photography, and general reference on animals, anatomy, costumes, architecture, and so on — you get the picture.

And then there were times you couldn’t find what you needed so you loaded up a roll of film in your camera and went out and shot your own reference. That could cost you some money, depending on how much film you bought, not to mention the cost of developing, and then you hoped your pictures came out right.

Finally, when you just couldn’t find what you needed, an artist just relied on his imagination to best approximate what he wanted to convey (hoping that the viewer was unfamiliar enough with the subject matter to not notice any errors).

My studio and library full of reference.

I relied on all of the aforementioned sources for reference as well… until the world wide web arrived. The internet made reference ubiquitous and rendered swipe files and library sources obsolete (in all honesty, I was grateful I could throw away file-drawers full of clippings, though I continue to expand my book reference). The problem with internet reference (as I’ve written in a previous post) is that everyone is often using the same reference, so that there’s a sort of creative inbreeding occurring.

And digital photography has made the taking of reference photos cheap. No more cost of buying and developing film, so one could keep on clicking away until he gets the right shot, even if that means taking a bazillion photos.

So what’s my problem with this and why do I think this can be a problem in comics (and other art)? Well, comics in the late 80’s and 90’s seemed like they were going through a drought of talent where, in my opinion, there were few artists that I thought were really impressive. On the flip side, digital coloring and fancy printing was raising the bar on comic quality and was a far cry from the cheap newsprint comics I grew up enjoying. What this meant is that some artists who I will not name got a lot of attention and were hailed as great artists when, in my opinion, it was the novelty of digital coloring and fancy printing that made their art stand out as something special. And I’m not suggesting that digital coloring or slick paper is a bad thing, but only that it shouldn’t be a crutch when other aspects of good art are lacking.

Today, however, I’ve noticed the quality of draftsmanship in a lot of comics is over the top. By that, I mean it looks too real, like it’s heavily based on photo reference (and to elaborate further, I’m suggesting that some renderings look like they’ve practically been traced from photos), so much so that the characters lack style and the overall look seems to lack imagination. And it’s that style and imagination that I miss. No one will mistake Will Eisner’s Spirit for a photo-realistic drawing, but it’s filled with style. No one will accuse the team of John Buscema and Alfredo Alacala of using a photo when rendering a Conan page, but their efforts exuded talent and imagination. Certainly Jack Kirby’s figures provoked some debate as to the quality of his figure-drawing, but few artists have his imagination or are able to lay out an action scene with the same dynamics. Now I’m not suggesting that the artists mentioned would never have relied on a photo for reference if necessary; but if they used reference, it was only to spark their imagination and point them in the right direction.

Another problem with relying too heavily on photo-reference is that not every panel in a comic may do so. Consequently, you have a real change in feel when the artist is not using photo reference and now has to draw a character as well as the “photo” drawing from his imagination, which rarely works. Most of the time one can browse through such a comic and point out where the photo reference was used and where it wasn’t. Moreover, having to match the style of the photo-referenced-drawn panel restricts the artist from employing his own style (because photo reference has no unifying style, which is another problem in itself).

Does this mean I hate realistically-drawn comic art? No, it’s impressive on a certain level. But I noticed that what made a lot of past artists great is their talent for cartooning and unifying style. Cartoons may seem silly or childish to some, but they’re filled with animation and life that portrays an ideal. Renaissance artists were great precisely because they sought to capture this ideal and not simply recreate reality.

So why do I think much of modern comic art is soulless? A well-posed wax statue might initially seem alive, until you realize it’s stiff, making the lack of animation all the more conspicuous. And a photo-realistically drawn comic may initially impress, until you notice the same dead stiffness. I personally prefer a cartoony comic full of life, than a comic filled with a realism that lacks animation or style.

The best example I can give to sum up what I’m trying to say (and this is really aimed at those who are familiar with the artists I’m going to mention, even though the example is not from comics) is to compare Frazetta and Boris (here’s a good article discussing their differences in depth). The former painted mostly from imagination (yes, he used reference on rare occasions, but it was strictly as a springboard and nothing more), while the latter’s figures were almost entirely based on photos. After a long examination, it’s clear which artist’s work is brimming with life and energy and which represents “nice” paintings (no disrespect to Boris, whose work I still admire greatly).

In the same way, I think realistic comics are “nice,” but I’d rather take the comic art of a Will Eisner or even an Eric Powell (a contemporary comic artist oozing with style and talent…and weirdness), or any number of other artists any day over a lot of the realistic comic art of today.

Did I also mention how I miss those Sea-Monkey ads? … And don’t get me started on the perversion, profanity, and propaganda in modern comics. I’ll save that rant for another day.

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MORE SILLINESS…

Life is too short to take oneself too seriously…

Spider-Lizard

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IDW Artist Editions – The Sequel

I was never a big Will Eisner fan, but he garnered so much industry respect that I thought I must be missing something. I really wanted to go back and study his work on The Spirit, but any trade reprints just didn’t seem to be of great quality. Let’s face it, the production quality of comics has come a long way from the off-register-colored stuff printed on newsprint which made up the comics of my childhood. Frankly, I preferred the DC series which were done by Darwyn Cooke several years ago. So I never purchased any of the series by Eisner. TheSpirit_IDW_1st And then came the IDW Artist Editions. I watched a YouTube video of someone flipping through one of The Spirit editions, and it just didn’t impress me. And then I saw one in person and flipped through it – Wow! Seeing the work up close made all of the difference in the world. Naturally I bought both volumes. The first thing I have to say is that I now understand why everyone has such great respect for Eisner. His work on these Spirit comics is amazing. And seeing the original-quality inking without the distraction of coloring really highlights what’s best about this work. Eisner wasn’t just a great sequential story-teller (which is what I thought was his claim to fame). He was really a great artist as well. I would recommend any fan of good, traditionally inked work to run out and get themselves a copy of these editions. An artist can learn a lot from studying these. TheSpirit_IDW_2nd The IDW Artist Edition on EC comics is my least favorite of the ones I’ve reviewed, though, that Frazetta cover is an amazing work of art which one could study endlessly (it’s easily one of my favorite Frazetta pieces). I was really hoping this edition contained mostly collaborative work by The Fleagles, but that wasn’t the case. It’s still a top-notch volume where quality is concerned, but if you’re looking for lots of Williamson, Frazetta, and Krenkel, don’t look here. I think there was only one such collaborative story, but that isn’t really much in a volume this large. Wally Wood also isn’t represented here because his work was saved for another Artist Edition devoted entirely to him. Still, as I said, it’s a well-produced book. EC_IDW Regarding future IDW Artist Editions, what I’d really like to see is some work from Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan magazine (from the 70’s) reproduced in this format. I really want to see Big John’s penciling with Alfredo Alcala’s beautiful pen and ink work. Can you imagine seeing the following pages reproduced at their original size in all of their splendor? alcalaconan5 Perhaps someone at IDW is already on to these and has plans for reproducing them in a future Artist Edition. One can only hope.

Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo 2014

A lot of my work is done under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which precludes me from posting such work publicly on my blog or elsewhere. This leaves me with little to post here. Consequently, every weekend I’m left scrambling to throw something quick together for a Monday morning post, and, being lazy as I can be, I decided that I’d use this Monday’s post to share my experience at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo which I attended with my wife several weeks ago. So here I goes my rambling…

Comikaze01

In my last post, I shared about the Rocket Men poster I did for the Comikaze Expo. Well, John Semper, the gentleman for whom I did the poster, suggested that I attend. While the San Diego Con is really enough pop-culture-convention-time for me, I figured it couldn’t hurt to check out the Spider-Man panel to say “Hi” to John in person, as well as check out this Expo which I’d never attended. The thing is, I really didn’t want to attend this show badly enough to purchase tickets, so I went on their website to register as a professional and try to acquire complimentary passes.

With the show being less than a week away, I really didn’t think I’d get in. Furthermore, the registration page indicated that it could take up to four weeks to be approved for professional status. As it happened, it only took a few days to get my professional status approved, and they offered me complimentary passes to the current show. That whittled my cost down to gas, parking, and lunch. Not too bad.

I went online to pre-order parking and, as I expected, parking for the convention center was sold out. Fortunately, there are surrounding lots which still had some available spaces, so I pre-ordered my parking. When my wife, Cristina, and I arrived downtown, the parking lots were not accurately marked, and as there were many little lots on the same block, we had to circle around and inquire at a few lots to find where we were supposed to park. When we finally found the right lot, it was full… Wait, huh? Isn’t that what pre-ordering tickets is meant to avoid? I suspect the persons of dubious character who were letting cars in were probably just doing their own parking business on the side. I was naturally bent out of shape at having to pay again to park. Anyway, we did the driving version of musical chairs, hoping we could squeeze into a parking lot somewhere before the music stopped. Fortunately, we found parking at a lot across the street of the Staple Center. As we drove into the lot, the attendant at the entrance was changing the sign and raising the cost to park another fin, so we just avoided the price-hike.

Comikaze02The convention floor of the Comikaze Expo was pretty full. I though the energy and buzz there was much larger than the Wonder Con in Anaheim. It actually felt like the San Diego Con, only with all the big-money booths absent (i.e., no big film studios or comic companies seemed to be present). We were only on the floor a few minutes, after which we headed upstairs to the Spider-Man panel to see John Semper talk about the series and announce the Rocket Men project. He also announced that the entire cast of the Spider-Man series committed to doing the Rocket Men series, so that’ll be interesting if the crowd-funding comes through.

Comikaze03

That’s John Semper on the far right. Everyone else were voice actors on the 90’s Spider-Man animated series.

After the panel, Cristina and I went back downstairs and walked the entire floor. While the excitement of the show was there, I have to be honest in saying that most of the smaller exhibitors that interest me at San Diego were absent. The crowds were certainly enthusiastic, and there were lots of people in costume, but there wasn’t much that caught my eye at the booths. To be fair, I’m only referring to things that interest myself, so others might have a different opinion on that matter. I’m sure there was plenty to interest others. Because few booths interested me enough to stop in them, we pretty much were able to cover the entire showroom floor in a couple of hours.

Comikaze05One thing that I thought was really cool while we were walking the aisles is that they held a large panel with Stan Lee and various artists right on the convention floor, along the back wall. It was projected on giant screens so that people walking the aisles could watch it. I thought that was a clever way of letting people enjoy the panel without wasting half of their day in a line and having to crowd into a panel room. I wish there were something like that at the San Diego Con, though I realize that would cause them to lose precious exhibitor space.

We pretty much left after walking the convention floor. I didn’t have much interest in hanging around all day for the after-show party that evening. All in all, it was an interesting show. I suspect that in the future many film studios may switch to this show since it’s so much closer to Hollywood than San Diego. Still, I suppose it depends on how successful they continue to be. In the meantime, I still prefer the SanDiego Con over either this or WonderCon.

Here’s a recording of the Spider-Man panel…

Kid, Inc.

Back in 2009, writer of Kid, Inc. comic strips, Chuck Duffie, asked me to illustrate a few strips for him. I was working with existing characters, so I had to stay within the style guidelines already set by the previous artist. Here is one such strip I did. You can check out Kid, Inc.’s website for more creative works from Chuck Duffie and his creative family.

Kid_Inc_Weekly004

Sequential Storytelling

I’ve never wanted to do animation, because it seemed like one had to draw nearly the same thing over and over, with only slight changes between drawings. In all honesty, that seemed too tedious and uninteresting for my limited attention span.

Comics, on the other hand, allows for more progress from panel to panel, so it was something that appealed to me more than animating — though, if I had my druthers, I’d rather trim the fat even further and simply do an illustrated book. In any case, I’ve always found sequential storytelling an interesting enterprise.

Here’s a page from a comic I did some time ago which had very little dialogue or text and depended heavily on imagery to tell the story. Hopefully, I didn’t entirely choke in my attempt to express the story in pictures. Well, the writer was very happy with the work I did on her story, so at least someone was satisfied with my effort.

Sample_Comic_Page

Comic Con 2014 – And More Pics

Bat-Man Texting

Texting the Joker

Sharknado

Sharknado – This was a clever costume

Bat-Girl Walking Dead