Sunday 30 December 2012

New Synthetic Pages: 7 - 10

Following on from the introduction chapter:

The next section will cover how being in a wheel-chair effects this man's life.  And why he's such a big fan of the music of Wham.

I'm also knee-deep in my other comic project which will be revealed soon.  All I can tell you is that I'm working with one Andre McClam-Hammer, and that it's a cool-times adventure comedy that will make you laugh so hard your lungs will ignite.

Stay tuned for more pages, bros and dolls!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Two Sides to Selling Out

Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, is well known for being one of the funniest, most skilled, intelligent and thought-provoking comic-strip authors ever. 
He could put together a strong case for being a great guy, so perhaps it’s not a surprise that he’s also a good example of artistic integrity.

Watterson never authorised any merchandise to be produced in association with the Calvin and Hobbes comic books. 

For a popular comic where one of the two characters is actually a cute plush toy, that’s fairly incredible. 
He obviously felt that using his creation to sell breakfast cereal and pencil cases would water-down the messages and the integrity of his work, and I have an enormous amount of respect for this courageous decision.
But I also think there’s another side to the story.

In the early days of Seinfeld the first couple of seasons had been a bit of an underground hit, and the network decided to move the show to a more prominent time-slot.  Larry David responded that if people weren’t watching the show before, he didn’t want them watching now, just because it was being played at prime-time.  The network executive asked him if he’d considered there were a lot of people out there who hadn’t snubbed the show, they’d just never had a chance to hear about it yet.

Seinfeld moved to the new time-slot, had 9 incredible seasons, went out at the top of its game, and is now considered by many the greatest TV show of all time. 

Larry David was wrong to feel that a bigger audience would affect the integrity of the show.

When I first heard of Calvin and Hobbes I was already in high school.
Had there been Calvin and Hobbes T-shirts, erasers, base-ball caps and plush toys surrounding me as a kid it’s almost certain that I would’ve had the chance to read the comic strips in my childhood. 

Would the merchandise have lowered my opinion of the comic? Absolutely not. 
Even now I have nothing but respect (and a fair amount of longing) for the merchandise of artwork that I love, such as Ghibli’s animated masterpieces.  

Embrace the want.  Become the want.
And I’m certainly not the least cynical consumer out there.

The point is; people are always going to buy stuff they don’t need.  Refusing to print pencil cases will not reduce the number of pencil-cases out there, only a change in the demand for pencil-cases will do that. 

Perhaps the world has changed since the 90s, but I find people these days are ready to forgive a work its merchandise. If I were to judge Southpark based on its wealth of bogan attire I would miss out on the show’s hilariously witty social commentary.

The decision by Bill Watterson not to sell-out may’ve been good for him personally, but I would argue against it being good for the comic strip, and even for comics as an industry.
If someone asked me in yr6 what the best comic-strip was I probably would’ve said something like “Garfield”.  Is that not a bit of a shame?

Of course, there are limits to how much selling-out is acceptable.  Dumbing down the actual comic to appeal to a broader audience would’ve been terrible (I’m looking at you Simpsons and Futurama). 

Luckily the quality of Watterson’s work spoke for itself and the comic was able to seep in to the public consciousness without bending over backwards, but there was every chance that due to artistic integrity many of us might have lived and died without ever reading Calvin and Hobbes.

Plus who doesn’t want their own Hobbes? Damnit!

Sunday 16 December 2012

Synthetic Title Page

In the middle of working on this chapter, so I thought I'd throw this first page out there.

The story is about a man who lost his right shoulder in a frowning competition.

Also the '00s called; they want their pants back.


Thursday 29 November 2012

How to Paint a Portrait

Painting is a lot easier than it looks.  

There's a lot of hints and tips that can make you a little bit better, but there's only one that can make you a lot better.

It is...

keep going!

It's easy to be put off by a really professional looking painting, but the big secret is that no matter how good they are at painting, the picture is going to look like crap for about 75% of the time they're working on it.

It's during this period where things just don't look good that everyone gets a strong urge to throw the painting and themselves in a bin, but if you just push through you'll be shocked by how well your picture can turn out.

To illustrate this I thought I'd paint a self portrait in a bunch of steps, and to prove that you don't need to rely on fancy materials or even a steady hand, I decided to use the classic MS Paint.

Actually I don't have MS Paint, so I'm using photoshop, but I'm only using the hard-edged paintbrush tool, and no fancy tablet, just a mouse, so that...

I used this picture for visual reference.  When doing a portrait you'll always need to have a picture of the person. Even if they're sitting there it's still a good idea.

To start off I drew a circle and blob down the bottom for the jaw.  If I was doing a portrait for reals I would always cheat by drawing a grid on the picture and a grid on the page so that you can get all the features in just the right place.  But this is to show that it's not completely necessary.

I scribbled in the rest of the head and body. Looking excellent already!

And then I put in two new colours.

Next I put in some darker tones.

And then some lighter tones.

That is basically how I go about painting.  I throw a dark tone in and then I go back in with highlights, then I get a slightly lighter dark tone, then a slightly darker light tone.  It goes back and forth like this while you feel your way towards a balance between them.

All of a sudden I've got a serious skin condition

Not to mention a raging fur-face, and some big squinty eyes.

Here's the part that is really going to hurt.  I looked at the picture and noticed that my painting's head was too round.  Instead of giving up or starting again I just painted over it with the background colour until it was closer to the right shape.

Now the head is less developed but the shape is better.  
Also, those are some gorgeous lips. 

I've been going for a bit over an hour by this point, so it's a good time to take a bit of a break.

Painting is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.

A bit more beard and the hair goes on.  Suddenly things aren't as bad as I thought.

 A bit more hair and fixing up the jaw makes the head look a lot better.  The biggest issue now is that the eyes are too big and a little misshapen.

Working a little bit on the pupils is a good way to give yourself some well-deserved confidence.  
The eyes always effect the picture a lot.

Not sure what the difference is between this the last one and the next one.  I probably just saved it twice.  We're looking at about 2 hours of work by now.

Everything's getting a little bit cleaner now, but it's a slow process.

I'm still pushing the eyes back, lightening some of the heavy shadows.  Also the lips get a makeover.

By now almost the whole face has been layered many times with different colours, back and forth.  And it's starting to come together, but don't give up now! It'll keep getting better.

Here I start to go around and put mid-tones in between colours, so they look a bit smoother.

Now the things are starting to get smoother.  It must be at least 3 hours by now.  

Now everythings had a bit of a polish and I put some tones into the clothes.

Just for fun I put a bit of a filter on to blur things up a bit.  I also threw a bit of blue into the eyes, just to add to the seductiveness.  

And hey! That's all there is to it!

The point is that for more than an hour it looked like a complete piece of crap.  I could easily have packed it in then, but I just kept working on it, fixing up all the little things and suddenly out of nowhere the picture pulls itself together.

If I had've been working with actual paint it would've been a lot quicker and easier, but it's good to know that all that stuff doesn't really matter very much.

If you just keep looking at your reference picture and don't feel afraid to follow it closely, even when it seems painful or ridiculous, you should wind up with something you can be proud of.


Wednesday 21 November 2012

The Arbitrary Gene Defense

As a reader of the occasional scientific and politically progressive article I've noticed that discussion of homosexuality has found its way into a strange place.

On the one side you have conservatives who feel that homosexuality is wrong because it is a life-style decision, and on the other side there are gay-rights advocates saying that there is a biological basis for homosexuality and therefore it is acceptable.

I find it distressing that the enlightened view is basing an advocacy of liberty around the fact that there appears to be a genetic basis for homosexuality, because this implies that it would be unacceptable if homosexuality was simply a life-style decision. 

The justification of human rights and personal liberty is not a matter of genetics. 

While geneticists have proposed a gene that seems to be related to male homosexuality, some experiments have indicated that the gene is only partially related, while other tests have found no correlation between male homosexuality and the gene.  As far as I know there is no evidence of a gene that ‘causes’ female homosexuality. 

The danger of basing a liberty argument on something as arbitrary as finding a gene that you think contributes to a certain behaviour is that it’s possible that the gene theory should be critiqued.  Diverting to an argument about gene-theory is not a step forwards, and if the theory is found to be incorrect, advocates of gay-rights will take an unnecessarily heavy set-back.

Personally I think that homosexuality is at least as socially constructed as it is biological, and I find it annoying that this opinion is seen to imply that homosexuality is illegitimate.

There are basic areas of the human brain inherited from reptile origins that advocate an entirely antisocial lifestyle of killing, raping, stealing etc.  That fact doesn’t make crime acceptable.

Similarly it would be ridiculous to dismiss a person’s achievements as merely a fatalistic product of their genes.  I also don’t hear anyone arguing that a life of pure altruism is wrong because it doesn’t have a direct biological basis. 

People have a right to a personal liberty of behaviour that does not impinge on the freedom of others.  If you start dishing out liberty based on genetic determinism you go to a weird, confusing and face-palmingly annoying place.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Consciousness Conundrums

I find thinking about consciousness can be a real brain-twizzler, so I've tried to come up with a Whitman's Sampler of scenarios to spin around the ol' noodle.

If any of this reminds you of The Matrix, that's acceptable, but if it reminds you of Inception, please, please go out and find some sci-fi that isn't awful.

Like many of my fellow humans I spend most nights unconscious.  I close my eyes and my consciousness switches off, then a (insufficient) number of hours later my consciousness switches back on and I open my eyes. 

What if one night I accidentally took a grenade to bed and exploded in my sleep, but then a crack team of scientists got together and decided they could perfectly reconstruct my body?  When I opened my eyes again it would seem to me that I'd just been asleep.  I would still be the same consciousness, continuing on from a period of unconsciousness, just as I do every night. 
It would essentially be quite normal.

But what if those scientists made another reconstruction, what we could call a clone, and now there were two of me?  If I were to die after that, I would not think that I would close my eyes and 'wake up' inside the body of my clone.  Now that we both exist at the same time, we're two different people, and the fact that I have a clone would not make me less concerned about dying.  In fact I would be even more annoyed than usual, because having a clone running around means people would probably miss me less.

So if a clone is made after my death it is my consciousness, if it's made before my death it is its own consciousness.  But what about where the lines blur?

Say I suddenly contract an exploding disease, where I will suddenly explode sometime between 20mins from now, and two weeks from now.  Not a great diagnosis, but that's cool, I've got my team of scientists ready to reconstruct me.  The only thing is, as there's no cure for exploding disease (obviously) they will need to reconstruct me from the time just before I contracted the disease.  So I might lose a couple of days worth of memories, but it'll still be me right? Maybe not.

If I'm going to be reconstructed from a couple of days ago it doesn't fundamentally matter whether that reconstruction occurs after I explode, or while I'm still waiting to explode.  But if I'm still waiting then suddenly there'll be two of me at once, and we've already decided that when I die my consciousness will not transfer to my already living clone.  And rationally it must be true that if the scientists just delay construction of the clone, it's not going to change something so fundamental as the transferal of my consciousness. 

So we would have to conclude that the me who contracted exploding disease is doomed to be extinguished, and should not be in any way comforted by the fact that a copy of an earlier me will continue on, because already we're two separate people.

But what if I can be cloned into a body without exploding disease? Then I could get the team to make a copy and instead of waiting around to explode, I could get them to kill me the instant the copy is created.  This scenario we have already established is much like falling asleep and waking up, and is therefore perfectly acceptable. 

So here's what we're saying.  If I'm cut and pasted (the original disappears) then that's still my consciousness, but if I'm copied and pasted (the original remains) then I'm split into two people, and there can be no transferal of the consciousness.

If I make a diagram of the life lines here:

(Original me)_________.
(New me)                        ___________-->

is acceptable to the original me.

(Original me)____________________.
(New me)                        ___________-->

is unacceptable to the original me, but only after it turns red.

But why is this?  What if we look at the diagram broken up into discrete sections of time:

(Original me) _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ .
(New me)                                 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ -->

Now every _ is a moment of time that I experience.  It must be possible to break up the moments of time, because we've decided that a jump can happen from one line to the next that is essentially experienced as unbroken.

Each moment of consciousness does not experience any of the earlier moments of time.  We do not experience the past, but we remember it.  So the only difference between a red dash and a black dash is that they have slightly different memories.  When the original me dies he is the me that has memory of all of those red dashes, and the new me that continues on has memories of only the black dashes.

So memory is the crux of my consciousness continuing? I can think of nothing else that could distinguish the two me's, but surely that is an insane hypothesis.

What if I had to pass through a doorway that would erase the last 20 minutes of my memory.  That doesn't sound so bad, but consider; the 20 minutes immediately prior to passing through the door would have to be drawn in red. 

(Original me) _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (Erased)
(New me)                                 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ -->

While experiencing those red twenty minutes I would be walking in the shoes of a dead man whose consciousness will soon be extinguished forever, and who can take no comfort from the fact that a different me will live on.  As such, it would be crazy for me to experience those twenty minutes, knowing they will be erased, and then willingly pass through the door!  It would go against everything we've decided here!

But I can still get through the door fine, all I have to do is knock myself out, wait 20 minutes and get someone to throw me through the door.  Then it would be identical to the sleeping scenario, and therefore completely acceptable!

I don't know about you, but that bends my brain. 

It means that all my instincts to keep myself alive are not trying to preserve my body, or my past, I am only concerned with preserving the memory of this moment!

In conclusion I have one more 'what if' that will hopefully screw with you.

Say I go to sleep and I have a dream that seems completely real, I seem to be fully conscious and can walk around and make decisions.  However, I know that it's a dream and furthermore, I know that when I wake up I won't remember any of the dream.  As I'm experiencing the dream I would have to consider myself in the red part of the diagram.  So here's the big question:

What if in the dream I realise that I can stop my heart from beating, which will also stop the heart of the me who is lying in bed dreaming all of this. 

As a guy in a dream, I'm doomed to die anyway, so do I have any reason not to kill my dreaming self?

Monday 1 October 2012

Opening Sequence

The opening sequence of Synthetic.

This is the precursor to the main story which takes place years later, and follows on from the work these two will do in developing synthetic humans.

I may end up redoing these pages later, but as of now the graphic novel has begun. 

Stay tuned for more!

The blog makes the pages hard to read, if you want to see higher res versions follow the links:

Monday 24 September 2012


I really can't stand politics.
Instead of just ignoring the subject, somehow I feel it would be better if I could just solve everything in a blog post and we could all move on with our lives.
So here it is.
For all our sakes, I hope it's good.

Political positions are broadly categorised as Right-wing (conservative, traditional and generally religious), and Left-wing (liberal, forward thinking, and generally better educated).
(The term liberal should not be confused with the Australian Liberal Party, who are not liberal. Fantastic.)

For the past five hundred years society has been moving left.

Who wanted to stop burning witches? The left.
Who wanted to end slavery? The left.
Who wanted to create a list of human rights? The left.
Who wanted the same set of laws to apply to the rich and the poor? The left.
Who wanted (wants) gender racial and sexuality equality? The left.

The reason that older people are broadly categorised as holding right-wing, conservative views (a woman's place is the kitchen, homosexuals are evil, non-Caucasians are inferior) is that their view of the world was once the established position (or even seen as Left-wing) but society is moving to the left, and over time the perspective passes from the Left to the Right.

The scale doesn't really stretch either, it seems to stay fairly uniform.

A long time ago it was normal to blame your problems on a local woman whom you assume is a witch and proceed to slaughter.  The liberal, educated advocates of the time eventually create an opposition to the killing of people accused of witchcraft.  Many years pass and witch-killing is viewed as an outdated, inhumane practice based on malicious ignorance.  At this point if anyone advocates it they're an extreme minority and would be considered a part of a cult.

The same thing happened with slavery.  It was normal, then there was opposition, then it was partially outlawed, then completely outlawed, then it was viewed as completely inhumane, and a shameful example of the ignorance of the past.

Nowadays the political Right no longer advocates witch-burning or slavery, but they do want to deny rights to homosexuals.  Once this view was completely standard, then it was opposed by the Left.  At this point we're watching the issue tip from Centre to Right, and then it will pass from Right to cult.

Eventually the only people who will advocating persecuting homosexuals will be the same maniacs who currently advocate witch-burning and slavery.

Society moves to the left.

People politically Left are currently advocating the paths that society will go on to take:
We will use more sustainable energy.
We will take more responsibility in protecting the environment.
We will stop treating the third world like our slaves.
We will not unjustly discriminate based on race, gender or sexuality.

The views of the political Right will be moving as well, always to the left, always at the same pace.  Left and Right are heading into the future together, it's just that one is up the front, charting a course, and the other is dragging up the rear, complaining.

This is politics.

If you're reading my blog it's very likely that you're a young person intelligent enough to hold liberal views about race, gender and sexuality.  But what about when we're old?  How can we be sure that we won't be future conservatives, burdening our society with irrational prejudices?

It would be ridiculous to imagine that in all of the past and future of human society, we will be the only ones with the objectively correct position.  We will have to always challenge ourselves to confront any irrational stow-a-ways in our politics.

For example:

People these days are wearing short shorts.  Some of them are young, some are old and some of them are overweight.  It's generally held as acceptable in social situations to describe those who reveal large amounts of skin to be offensive or gross.  But there's really no rational basis for this criticism.
What is the difference between you objecting to a fat person in a tube-top, and an old person objecting to a relationship between two men?  Both objections are based on a personal evaluation of what is socially acceptable and unacceptable.  But society is always changing (moving left, as I may have mentioned) so if you rely on your evaluations without challenging them you will eventually be opposed to the younger equivalent of yourself.

The same thing applies to personal feelings about:

  • public displays of affection - (even to the point of actual sex in public - what is your argument against this?)
  • extending human rights to other animals - (is eating a cow so different to eating a human?)
  • non-procreational incest - (when love is already separate from procreation, how would you argue against this?)
  • not allowing some people to be born wealthier than others - (how can we say that all people are born equal, and then accept that millions of children will die from poverty?)
  • love or sex with objects or other species - (as long as the issues of consent can be met)

The point is, you may feel that these things are wrong, and this makes sense, because that is the current views of normal people in society.  But as society changes, if an individual is not willing to accept that their views are not objective, it's likely that they will be the next generation of people who don't want to allow gay people to marry, or women to be CEOs, or people to be free from slavery.

Just sayin' is all.

Friday 7 September 2012

A Kind of Papery Film

Whenever I read about people who write graphic novels they always refer to the fulfilment of a childhood ambition.  They all seem to have grown up subsisting on food, water and comics, they have fond memories of the owners of their local comic-stores, and all seem to have attended every comic convention and club since Gutenberg’s 1452 invention of the death-ray.   

Well, I have some confessions to make:
1.  My measly graphic novel collection consists of 4 books I like (including one manga series and a Calvin and Hobbes collection), and about 12 books that are in between average and dreadful, and I acquired my first volume after I decided to draw one myself, no more than 5 years ago.

2.  I have never spoken to anyone in a book store of any kind, or ever attended any comic convention, club or online forum, largely because the thought of people who like comics fills me with equal parts fear and apathy.
And finally, the most shameful and strange of them all:

3.  As a kid I don’t remember ever saying that I wanted to draw comics.

I will now attempt to offer justification for these crimes against both comics and logic.

I do not love Spiderman, but I also don’t hate the guy.  
So many people who draw graphic novels seem to be fiercely defending traditional superheroes, or fervently distancing themselves from such base origins.  I just don’t feel that I have anything to do with the history of popular comics. 
Spiderman is also a film.  If you’re a film-maker does that mean you had to either love or hate it? Must you spend your life either devoted to it, or desperately trying to escape from relation to it?
Of course not. 
Different films are made for different people.  And the only reason that I want to make a graphic novel is that I like the idea of a kind of papery film that a person can make on their own. 

It’s true that there are so few graphic novels I like, and even less that I respect both intellectually and artistically (Calvin & Hobbes, why you so good?).  
I’m just writing for me, and any clones of me that happen to be out there.  Everyone who writes is.  The fact that I feel nothing for almost every comic book in the world, I believe is actually a positive thing.  If you like everything, how can you bring anything new to the field?
I love classical guitar music, it all sounds so great to me.  Every piece is a delight.  Due to this I could never write guitar music, because I don’t have the ability to critically deconstruct a piece and discern between functional and brilliant guitar music. 
I don’t like many graphic novels, which is why I’m not copying out something that already exists.  There are so many things I find devastatingly wonderful that I want to bring to the field.

As to why I don’t feel inclined to seek out conventions, clubs and other ways to interact with people who read comics; well, they’re a creepy bunch.  I dislike most people, and only a few of the people I like read books, or practice any kind of art.
According to Myers-Briggs the exact opposite of my personality is a type referred to as “The Artist”. 
Apparently my type is mostly populated with scientists, and that actually sounds pretty good to me.  My dream is to spend my days working in a silent office of anti-social people, ignoring one another and getting copious amounts of ridiculously complicated work done. 

Growing up I never said I wanted to be a comic-book artist.  I was surprised when I realised this, but actually I always did want to draw comics, I just never felt like I would get to because I didn’t know any adults who did art. 

When people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I answered with what I thought was most likely.  I don’t remember thinking about what kind of job I would work, or what awesome things I would discover or invent, because this would be imagining the real world, and I only ever imagined everything else.

Perhaps the one thing that unifies all of my childhood ambitions was the desire to make things.
I built tree-houses, cubby-houses, forts with walls of rocks and a vast arsenal of stick weapons.  I carved dwarf faces into tree-stumps, built strange cabinets and devices for my room, and pioneered the concept of the trampoline-board.  My dad had a box of timber off-cuts which I constructed into animals (the giraffe with a spring for a neck was a fan-favourite, the fan being my grandmother), I made a decent approximation of a pool table out of wood and old carpet and I created at least one, elegantly planed longsword with a proper hilt. I painted figurines, my face and various pictures on both paper and furniture.  I made assorted sounds that bordered on music, assisted with theatre productions and puppet shows, and I made drawings.  Oh my god, so many drawings.

I wasn’t good at drawing as a kid, I just spent a lot of time making pictures. 
When I was very young my older sister did a beautiful drawing of Bert from Sesame Street, which my parents framed.  I was so jealous that my dad consented to frame a scribbly piece of nonsense I produced for the occasion.
Some people will tell you that a child’s scribbles are genius in their own way, but those people are idiots.  When a child fails to tie their shoes properly, it’s not heralded as a brilliant piece of performance art.  The intention of the child was to successfully tie their shoes, and my intention was to create an illusion within the page of a three-dimensional space containing some kind of fantastical beast.  With enough attempts I started to be able to achieve some rudimentary form of this, and I just went from there. 

When I really think about it, I didn’t just idolise being praised as a skilful drawer, I genuinely felt a desire to create new things. 
One time at church I spent hours working on an elaborate picture of a giant basketball factory.  A girl came over and said that it was a nice picture.  Genuinely embarrassed, I folded up the paper and mumbled that it was a map, not a picture. 
I’m sure there was plenty of ego involved, as there always is in being shy, but there's always been another side, where the ego is about evoking a universe from nothing.

In highschool I started my first comic.  It was a hilariously inept rip-off of Evangelion. 
Actually, that’s not true at all.  I wonder why I wrote that.  The comic was a great effort, and I worked so hard on it and taught myself so much about drawing and writing and stories and life.  
A page of which I unashamedly submit before you.

(It's actually a page from the second iteration of this comic, done slightly later, yet still a million years ago, before humans invented foreheads.)

Every time I finished a page I would bring my folder to school and get people to read it.  Sometimes they would be genuinely keen to find out what happens next, which I found really magical. 

One fateful day a young Kyle Neideck read my latest page, (wherein it turned out that the demon attack was an orchestrated test all along), and he described it as “A plot-twist worthy of Triple-X” (referring to an abysmally stupid film of the time which starred Vin Diesel as some kind of skateboarding vigilante).   
It was a fantastically crushing response, to be sure, but he was absolutely correct.  I could see that I’d let myself down, and that I could do better, which I did.

Ah Kyle, a fairly enigmatic human being, he went on to teach me more about art than I’d thought there was to know.

That about wraps up the early years of my graphically novel career, or whatever other crap I was originally talking about.


Sunday 12 August 2012

Starting a Graphic Novel

Over the last couple of years I’ve been laying the foundations for a graphic novel called Synthetic.  For my records as well as yours, this is how it’s come about. 

It was the summer of 09/10 that I started Synthetic, a date that really indicates when I finally realised the previous story I’d been working on was beyond salvation. 

The previous tale did have some nice ideas.  It was about a couple of peeps who could use superpowers at the cost of disillusionment.

I dropped everything except the two characters and started a tale of synthetic humans discovering their origins. 

Actual writing is painful as hell, but composing is a delight.  Any day I had free I could be found meandering along the trails near my place, throwing some ideas around. 

I find being in motion is great for grabbing ideas out of the air.  It’s like the practical side of the brain is occupied with the movement and allows the other side to tangle itself up. 

The downside is that the freedom allows 99% of the time to be spent idly pondering pokemon.

Synthetic began in about fourteen different ways, had at least six middles and one good ending before being entirely reworked to begin in the middle, and end with the exact same scene as the beginning.  Swathes of characters were conjured up and cast aside. As soon as the blocks seemed to be falling into place I cut out everything I could possibly bear to part with, a process that is still continuing.   

When I think about a story I don’t see it as words or a comic, I only ever picture things in film.  Naturally I find that I fit out the story to the length of a movie, but unfortunately graphic novels take a whole heck of a lot of pages to get anything done, and even with a ruthlessly edited story I was still looking at about 400 comic pages.

In early 2011 I wrote out Synthetic’s first script.  I then did battle with a mighty illness for three months, but managed to claw my way back.  June 2011 I began The Draft; a sketched mock-up of all the pages.  The sketches were so quick and vague that it appears the entire thing could’ve been rustled up over a weekend, but every line that was drawn on paper had about a 50% chance of being erased.  1 in every 5 sheets of paper got to a point where it was easier to ditch it and start new than erase everything. 

It was at that malleable time for the story that it started to become fun.  The building blocks of the story were all cemented in, and it was time to flesh out the details.  For the first time I felt myself getting sucked into the world I was working on.  Like reading the kind of book that you want to crawl inside and never leave.  It was only a hint, but it’ll stick with me.

The draft was finished in Spring 2011, which is a fine season to be finishing anything.  I cajoled a few friends into reading it, and got some feedback. 

The next step was very important.  I put the story aside for five months. I’d like to tell you this was a difficult, but summer is a grand time to be doing nothing at all.  The reason that this is important is to get some distance, so you can come back with fresh eyes, and hopefully see your work the way other people do. 

When I got back in the saddle early 2012 I knew what was good and what had to go.  I compacted it down and threw in some new ideas.  Writing it up into the final script. 

I’ve heard that in science a good theory is designed to solve one problem, and accidentally finds itself tying up loose ends all over the place.  I think composing a tale works in a similar way, and it’s always an amazing feeling to throw an idea into the mix and suddenly see things knitting together. 

I wrote out a final script.  According to my documents folder it’s version 8, and that’s not counting the 6 versions back when I was calling it Africa.  It was now time to get serious about designing the art.

Graphic novels are not the easiest thing in the world to design.  At the end of a movie you'll see a bunch of names float over your screen.  In a graphic novel almost all of those jobs exist, you just have to do them yourself.  Just in terms of design you have the architecture, the landscapes, the settings, the characters, their clothes, their hair, their make-up, their possessions, their cars and roads and buildings and birds and clouds, the dialogue, the pace, the geography, photography, typography cartography, choreography, cryptography, lithography, pornography and cinematography.  

There comes a time when you realise that you know absolutely nothing about how a 50yr old, stylish and manipulative woman would do her hair.  Or what in the hell kind of shoes she’d be rocking.  Then you try to draw two people walking next to each other and you realise you’re not worthy to hold a pencil, and should be relegated to crayons.

Fortunately I’m not like you, and had no troubles of any kind.

I spent several months sweating out some passable designs, making many a mental note that it will look like this, only good.  Then I got to work on figuring out what kind of materials I would use, how big the page would be, what I would do on paper and what would be done digitally. 

I went through what feels like the most hack-ish part of the process, which was going to the art store and buying a pile of materials.  You’d think I’d like that place, but every time I’m in there I can’t help seeing myself the way I would view any other jerk who thought he was a comic artist.  

Real drawing is done with the chewed up nubs of discarded pencils on the beaten and hewed remains of paper hand-towels.  The bereted flourishers of pedigreed pens onto cold-pressed semolina papier, who sip flutes of vintage ink are the pretenders.  Myself included.

Although the other side of me glows with pride at my German-made pencil sharpener that I had shipped from Canada because several professionals regard it as the best in the world.  Myself included.  (If you think there’s just the one blade involved, then I’m afraid you’re embarrassing yourself.)

 A few of the design sketches for Aunika, done over a year or so:

And David:

 A page to practice using ink:

While working on this stuff I've generally been at uni full time and working around four days a week.  I don't work very hard on this stuff.  I get a handful of hours a week done on one day of the weekend, a day that I've even started to look forward to.  

I wake up at the crack of dawn, and then realise I don't have to go to the office and immediately go back to sleep.  By about 11am I get up and make a cup of tea, take one sip of it and burn my mouth.  Then I draw circles for about 30 minutes, look over previous work and decide on a particular project, like a practice page, or some change to the materials.  Then I'll work for four or five hours before taking a second sip of now stone-cold tea which I throw away.

The next stage in the grand scheme is to start making the final-copy artwork.  In my timeline I've given myself three years to complete this step.  It's difficult to sit down one day and decide that you're now good enough to begin.  

Last week I made a practice page using watercolour, instead of ink, for the shading.  After looking over it, I've decided for better or worse, it's time.

If in three years you see a pale, gollum-like creature scrambling around town, give me a wave.

Monday 9 July 2012

The Do-it Code

I’ve recently been reading a book called “The Talent Code”.

The first amusing thing is that the author makes no reference to a ‘talent code’ and it’s obvious that the publisher tacked on the title so as to get a slice of the DaVinci Code readership action.  Furthermore the author seems to be just the kind of person who would despise the Da Vinci Code.

The book uses research in psychology and neurology to argue that talent is not something you’re born with, but is grown through determination and practice.

I’ve always felt that this was the case.  Throughout my life, the kindness of others combined with my own arrogance has caused me to believe that I could achieve anything I set my mind to.  Excepting a major physiological impossibility, anything that you want to do, you can do, and the only price is effort.

It got me thinking about what advice I would like to give to myself about how to hone talents, and achieve achievements, and I came up with a few things.

1.  The only way to do something well is to do it badly.
The most useful practice is where you’re on the very edge of your ability.  When you’re constantly making mistakes and correcting them you learn much more quickly than when you repeat something you can already do. 
The first hurdle that stops people from becoming really good at something is when they become disheartened by their mistakes.  But if you’re doing something badly, and you can see that it’s bad, you can be sure that you’re developing much faster than someone who is not making mistakes.

So do things badly, and not only that…

2.  Do the things that you’re bad at.
Whatever your field, there will be things that you like doing and things that you hate doing.  If you hate something it’s probably your weak area, so really focus on it.  It sounds simple, but acknowledging your weaknesses is an incredibly difficult and rewarding thing. 

I’m bad at drawing circles.  I can draw a line so straight that a Queensland priest would personally provide it with a marriage license, but I suck at circles. 
So for the last twelve months or so I’ve been regularly drawing circles of about 2-3cm diameter, over and over. 

This kind of thing:

For the first 50,000 or so, I couldn’t really see any quality difference. Even now there’s only the vaguest hint of progress.

But the funny thing is that over the last twelve months every other area of my drawing seems to have gotten better due to practicing circles.  It’s a wonderful thing to spend a while fighting the hopeless fight against your weaknesses, only to come back and realize that your entire game has lifted in ways you didn’t even think were possible.

So do things you're bad at.

3.  (The most important) Just do it.
As far as I’m concerned there is nothing else to talent.  You put in the hours and you will progress, you won’t even have a choice.  Putting in regular time is best, but it doesn’t really matter, as long as you spend the time. 
It’s a good analogy to think of talent as a muscle. Physiologically they are actually very similar.  Exercising is the only way to become stronger.

This might sound a bit odd, but I have a gridded exercise book in which I cross off a square for every hour of creative work that I do.  Over the years the amount of time that I would have put in with the sole purpose of finishing out the half hour is probably a ludicrously large amount.

If you don’t (apparently) have a secret accounting fetish, get creative in other ways.  If you’re working on drawing, writing, or generally being great, then you could spend some of your working time studying Calvin and Hobbes.  If you’re a musician, listen to something you would normally hate, and find something good about it.  If you play an instrument try singing a melody before you play it.  If you play a sport, get a skipping rope and skip the shit out of it.  Focus on perfecting one tiny nuance, or go the other way and ponder the meaning of your practice’s existence. 
The key is to keep mixing it up, keep it interesting and keep surprising yourself.

Achieving something hinges only on your desire for it.  If you can acknowledge it, want it, and most importantly, suck at it, then it will happen.

Monday 18 June 2012

School Days

"There are no heroes in the story of artschool, only various levels of shame."

When I applied for artschool, back in the summer of 2007, I had myself a few misconceptions.
I’d imagined some kind of art academy where crack troops of artists drew perfect circles while bench-pressing lithograph stones, and spent sixteen hour stretches down in the lab, creating shades of blue so pale they would make a blind man weep.

As it turns out this is not the case.

As far as I can tell, getting into artschool requires either; art ability and a keen mind, OR the desire to hang out at artschool.  While I lacked the second, fortunately I had the first and was successfully admitted.

Perhaps I’m not being fair, but it really bothers my brain that there could be some people who fail to get into artschool.  If you have within yourself the ability to apply paint to your face and face-but a piece of paper, I’m fairly sure you have what it takes.

First year was probably my most misguided.  For some reason I thought I could get ahead by working extremely hard and completing all my work to a ridiculously high standard.  One of our assignments was to create a series of 9 small artworks the size of trading cards.  Most people found a drawing they’d done years ago and cut it into nine pieces.  I handed in twenty seven individual artworks; a number whittled down from many more.

Here are a couple of examples of my cards.

In the end, I got a high mark, but not higher than most people.  Nothing singled me out. 
Artschool runs a drawing prize each year.  In first year I entered with this drawing.

Which is something of an assault upon the eyes, but still an interesting sketch.

While it did get hung, I suddenly realized that it was the only figurative drawing in the entire exhibition.  By which I mean it was the only drawing of something.  Every other drawing was about the act of making marks on something.  The prize that year was won by a girl who’d glued a small pile of dried paint to the wall. 
I did not enter the drawing prize again.

In fact it was at about this point that I realised my own values, and the values of artschool, were hopelessly misaligned.  I thought about dropping out, but I couldn’t think of anywhere that I’d be better off.  So I soldiered into second year.

Let me just say right now that some of the students of artschool were the nicest people you could ever hope to meet in your life, and their enlightened and enthusiastic appreciation of all kinds of art was a true inspiration.  Unfortunately, in my case, their opinions often diametrically opposed the views of the school.

The next project I remember was an open-ended drawing project where we were supposed to try something new and interesting.  I decided to hand-draw a tiny animation loop of a girl reading a book.  If you like you can watch the film here
For reference, this is one of the frames:

Most people in the class didn’t go to quite that much effort.  One girl stuck foil patty-pans to a sheet of paper and dripped some white paint onto them.  And I think the guy who topped the class took a long-exposure photo of himself riding around in circles with LEDs on his bike.

I got 69% for that project. 

Towards the end of second year I was really suffering.  I just couldn’t make any sense of artschool, and I was concerned that there was nothing about art that I still liked.  The only art that I really adored was the films of Hayao Miyazaki.
I decided to throw down my own gauntlet and go all or nothing.

I told my tutor that I would spend third year making an animation with paint.  He looked at me and said “Why don’t you move to a different course? I guess you’d still have the same problem, though.”
After answering his own question he walked away.
Fortunately, by this time, I had become quite adept at channelling my frustrations into a tumour.

I immediately began work on a short film about a dystopia set to a track by Bach.  By the end of semester one I had completed all 260 drawings and had set them to the music, with only the painting to go. 
My tutor had to give me a mark for the semester’s work.  I presented the film to which she had two comments.  Two pearls of wisdom, which I may learn from and grow.
She said, “I don’t like the last frame.”
And, (my favourite) “Why don’t you get rid of the music?”

For the semester I received my lowest mark ever.  Not just at artschool, the lowest mark I’ve ever got for anything in my life; 55%.

By this stage I was getting better at pretending I wasn’t bothered by the old School of A, so I powered ahead with painting the frames.  I had to work my job most weekdays so I painted on weekends, clocking more than 11 hours on some days.

I finished just in time, and presented the film to a panel of various heads of schools. 
They reached a consensus; they loved it, and gave me 90%.
If you have a hankering to check the film it is here

Perhaps artschool made me strong, perhaps it taught me about the cold and erratic nature of reality. 
That’s too easy. 
Its job was to foster passion for art and to provide sound (or at least mutually consistent) direction.

It doesn’t really matter.  If you’re a drawer you draw.  Or alternately you’re a box-shaped container that fits into a piece of furniture in such a way that it can be drawn out horizontally to access its contents.