Back to School – Week 1

I’ve finished up my first week of school at Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online, and got everything turned in.  So far, it’s been pretty easy, but next week I start my first project.  It’s a basic Computer Literacy class to start out with, but the format for research, discussion, and interaction with other students is pretty cool.  Books are mostly in digital format, so I save some money there, and I’ve gotten the Adobe CS5 Suite and Microsoft Office 2010 as part of my class materials.

CS5 has some real advances over my previous version of Photoshop, CS3.  I was surprised by hiw much they’ve added.  And for productivity, Office 2010 is pretty amazing.  I’ve been using Google Docs for a while now, and didn’t think I needed Office, but seeing the tools in Outlook and OneNote have me thinking in new ways.  Very powerful stuff!

Week one went down smoothly, and didn’t stress me out at all in addition to working full time.  So far, I’m enjoying it and feeling like I’m doing something worthwhile, so I’m feeling very good about it.

Old School

I’m finally starting something I’ve been thinking about doing for a long, long time.  Beginning in January, I’m going back to school to get a degree.  I should have done this years ago, but I always had reasons not to do it – I’m too old, I can’t afford it, I don’t have the time, etc.  I broke through all that last month, and I’m enrolled and have all my classes lined up.  It’s an online version of the school, so I can do it evenings and weekends around my full-time job.  Everything else is just the same as the traditional college program.

I’m going for a Bachelor’s Degree in Interactive Media from the Art Institute of Pittsburg, which is a fancy way of describing web design.  I’ve dabbled in the web for as long as there’s been a web.  I’ve done some neat things with Dreamweaver and Flash.  I think I’m a bit beyond a beginner, but there’s a lot I don’t know how to do yet.

I still want to do comic books, but I think the future of the genre is going to be on the web, and that’s where I want to develop my specialty.  Learning to work with databases, and be able to offer content to customers is something I think is worth doing.  I have a pretty specific agenda, and I see no drawback in getting an education in this field beyond the cost.

Heading back to school at this age is a bit intimidating.  I’m starting the program at age 46, so I’ll probably be over 50 by the time I finish.  I could easily have another thirty years of my career ahead of me, so it’s better late than never.  This kind of field didn’t even exist the last time I went to school, back in the 80s.  Computers were around, but not used for art, so the stuff I learned before – stat cameras, lazy lucys, zip-a-tone, rubylith, typesetting, etc – all that’s long since out of date.

I’m excited about learning some new things and getting into doing some of the class projects.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress and what the experience is like!

Random Thoughts for September

I’m back to working on the guitar playing again.  I suffered a setback a little less than 3 months ago, when I broke a finger on my left hand, shattering a knuckle.  It was pinned back together, casted up, and seems to be well on the way to being healed.  I go for a follow-up with the surgeon today to see how it’s doing.  I’m back to playing some basic chords and scales, so I have high hopes for a full recovery.

In my weight-loss efforts, I’m down 33 pounds since I changed my eating habits about 4 months ago.  I’m down a shirt size, and none of my pants fot correctly anymore.  For the first time in more than 10 years, I’m below 200 pounds.  Seventeen pounds to go to hit my target weight.  Maybe I should take up jogging on the beach or something, being only a block away.

Been spending some time each day before work at Panera Bread, sipping coffee and using their wi-fi.  At least the day starts calmly before a certain salesman comes in and ruins things by not respecting the sanctity of the lunch hour.

I’ve got a new comic started, but I’ve gotten a bit off-track and not been working on it like I should be.  I really need to regain my discipline in that area of my life.  Now that all the finger drama in my life has subsided, I need to get back to focusing on my productivity and setting some time aside each week to work on that project.

That’s about it for me.  How’s about you?

Heart of the Wizard

Looking ahead to jumping back into my comics work this week.  I ordered a few books from to check out how their printing is, and browsed a bunch of online comics to see what’s out there now.  I’m about half way finished with the next issue of Shanghai, and I’m not quite sure I want to do that as my first new shot in publishing.

I did about 10 pages a few years ago of a story called The Heart of the Wizard that I’m actually more excited by.  It’s the same 3D art, but I had heavily filtered it to give it more of a traditional comics feel, so that it looks like it could be hand drawn, and I have to say, I like that better.

I started expanding the story yesterday, but am still keeping it very simple.  It’s a fantasy sword & sorcery setting, but no highbrow plot as of yet.  Just basic fun and action.  I re-worked the main character last night, and gave her a more acceptable outfit, and I’m feeling pretty good about it.  I tossed together a test cover, which is above.  The actual cover will have more thought and time in it.

The style has bold outlines, over-saturated colors, and dot tones & flash lines like the comic art I grew up with.  Some people really like the clean look of the straight 3D art better, but I think the more stylized stuff is a better fit for me.  I’m going to try and get some new pages of this done and see how it strikes me.  I think the characters lend themselves very well to a one-shot book, with the chance to come back and tell a lot more stories, as opposed to one grand story arc that I lock myself into.

We’ll see.  Either way, I’ll have something new in print soon!

Chipping away at it

Been busily hammering away at new comic pages for a while now.  I have 12 for the new book in the can so far.

I didn’t do a great deal this past week.  I got my broken finger checked out by the doctor, and the pins have straightened it out, and it’s healing the way it’s supposed to.  They put me in a cast for the next 4 weeks, so my left hand is all wrapped up, but I’m still pretty functional on the computer.

I’ve also been looking into doing some supporting material through CafePress or Zazzle for the new comics.  There’s so many no-cost, no-risk methods to get material out there now, that there’s no reason *not* to self-publish.  Well, I don’t expect to make any money for a while, but the endeavors will at least pay for themselves, and I’ll have new material in circulation and available for the first time in a decade.

We had a birthday bash for my wife Trish this weekend, and had quite a few folks over for a cookout, and had a great time.  It was a nice refresher, but the coming week will be a time to get back to work and nail down some more pages.  I hope to be in the home stretch by next weekend, and get the first issue printed in September.

My goal is to have a small stack of books and maybe a trade paperback in print by the time the next Orlando MegaCon rolls around in March.

Living the Dream

This past week was very exciting for me as an artist.  I’ve been wanting to do some more printed comics since my last publishing endeavors back in the 90s, but full color press is hugely expensive, and the existing distribution network is very difficult to gain a place in.  I searched on some self-printing options, with idea of doing some ash-cans myself.

What I found was a fairly new option that’s come about in the past few years – print-on-demand.  You send in your work files – a comic book, novel, manga, etc – and they digitally print copies, assemble and bind them, and ship them to you in any quantity you want.  It’s not the same high quality as offset printing, but if you want 10 copies – you got it!  The price per unit allows you to sell it and still make a small profit.  You won’t get rich with this, but you’ll get some books out that will pay for themselves, which is a beautiful thing.  So, if I need a small stack of books to take and peddle at a convention, I can do it.

I’ve seen this referred to as “vanity press”.  A realm where amateurs can hack out books.  But how many creators starting out with their first assignment come out of the gate with greatness?  Most artists develop over time, gaining experience and improving skills as they work.  Print on demand offers anyone a chance to grow in an environment that gets them some low-cost, low-risk exposure, which is priceless.  It also would seem to allow more creators to develop their own personal style and unique creations, rather than being told what to work on, how and when by a giant corporation, who cares more about money than art.

If your aim is to work for the big guys, like Marvel and DC, what better way to build your portfolio than to take some initiative and self-publish a series yourself?

For my first time wading back into the publishing pool, I’ve chosen to go with a printing service called Ka-Blam. From what I’ve researched, they offer a great price, and a good product in a system that’s easy to use.  You can choose all your options and calculate your price per unit right on their site.

The folks who run Ka-Blam also have an online store called IndyPlanet.  It’s also print-on-demand based, so you can keep your entire catalog of offerings there, and when someone makes a purchase, they print it, they ship it, and you get paid.  How cool is that?  It’s very easy to list variant covers, graphic novel collections, etc.

And finally, they also have a service called ComicsMonkey that offers your print-on-demand books to retailers, so you have all the tools needed to get your work in the hands of potential readers.

It’s still up to me to promote my books and tell a good story.  I have to be consistent, timely, provide the best quality in my work, and get out there and hustle them.  But going to conventions and doing store signings is *fun*.  It’s what I want to do.  So, like I said before, I’m very excited to have discovered that paper publishing is not beyond the realm of us mere mortal creators!

*Note – IndyPlanet and ComicsMonkey were hacked recently. so they’re still in the process of cleaning them up and plugging stuff back in. You may get some warnings for a bit when visiting these sites.

Getting back into Print

I’ve been wanting to get back into mainstream comics for quite some time now. I have lots of new material in various stages of production, but have been unsure about how to get it into the hands of readers in a way that would make a modest amount of money and not be easily duplicated and passed around illegally on the web.

I bought a set of markers last night, and did some drawing, which I’ve not done in a long time. I was intending the resulting art piece for eBay, but I was disappointed with what I ended up with. It’s frustrating, because I’m trying to duplicate on paper what I can do with my art software on the computer in a fraction of the time. The digital art looks much better, but I can’t sell it as an original in an auction.  It just seems like a lot of time and effort to sell to one customer.  It feels like I should be working to a larger audience.

Back in the 90s, I self published a few full-color comics of my own.  Paper printing is pretty expensive, but I think I finally found an option that will get me back into print at almost no cost, and no risk. There are several print on demand services that will custom print in small numbers – like 10 books if you want, or hundreds. It’s not the quality of Marvel & DC, but it gets you a handful of books, and they also have an online store that only prints what they sell. It’s basically a method to get some material in print so a bigger publisher will notice you. And if I get a small stack of books done, a trade-paperback is easy to do the same way.  I don’t have to pay for 5000 copies and hope the major distributor will pick it up.

I’m still researching, but I think this is what I’ve been looking for. I get to do my own thing, have it in print, and I can go to comic shows with a small stack of books to peddle. I can be an independent publisher for very little investment or risk, which is perfect. It also has the possibility to open doors down the road.

I’m going to sift through all of my years of artwork tonight and see if I can come up with enough material to do an “Art of Skulfrak” book.  I’ve always wanted one of those!  The Shanghai series will be back in print now as well, and I have lots of other concepts waiting in the wings.

More to come!