Friday, September 19, 2014

Tablets for Comic Creation

The tablet has become part of our lives, for better or worse. The best thing about a tablet is that it can go anywhere and easily fit into a purse or backpack; although it lacks the processing power of a true computer, it is nonetheless capable of doing a lot of the things you would expect from a laptop or desktop, especially if those tasks are relatively simple. For a webcomicker, however, these tasks should enable you to do a lot.

An obvious caveat: If you're trying to do a full comic, including coloring, laying it out for publication, and making it look pretty, you're going to need an actual computer. Not only has the software yet to really catch up, but most tablets lack the processing power (although it is worth noting that there is a Kindle app for turning your comic into its own app). While I'm they can be used for a lot of the production, there are some things that an actual computer is still needed for. Nonetheless, a tablet can really kick some butt.

That said, a tablet can be a very useful tool for creativity. With a Bluetooth keyboard and a wordprocessing app you can easily spend all day writing scripts. I personally suggest going for landscape mode and then expanding the page so that the margins are just barely out of sight to make things a lot easier. Just remember to save every two pages or so, and you should be fine.

For illustrators that use models, there a number of great modelling apps. Some of them do require a certain amount of work and the learning can be ridiculous, but it can be worth it. They can be used to model people as well as buildings and objects. Just like other software, do not be afraid to spend some money; the good news is that apps cost a lot less than certain suites. The camera atached also allows you to grab pics of great sites and people should you see anything that you want to use for the comic later. Between the two you can explore how something looks before you draw it and have something to reference later.

You can also use the tablet for the drawing. Although it can feel like using Paint, there are some reasonably sophisticated graphics apps out there that can allow the use of layers, copy/paste tricks, and even basic coloring. For most webcomics this is more than sufficient, as well as for some comics. Combined with a decent stylus and possibly a piece of tracing paper to give the feel of drawing on paper, and you can do a lot of great artwork on the tablet.

The major advantage to a tablet is that it's cheaper than a computer, and the software is also ridiculously cheaper. That software can also be downloaded, installed, and ready to go in minutes. Also, if something happens to the tablet, you can be back up and running in the time it takes to replace it, as most of your files are stored on the cloud, provided you allow the tablet to access it frequently. In some cases you can even deregister the tablet, which effectively deletes your files from the old tablet. You may lose some files permanently as well as some upgrades, but at least someone else won't have your files. All of this makes looking into getting a tablet for business purposes a pretty good idea.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thinking About Technology From A Design Perspective

There are any number of ways that technology can look, from alien and organic at one end to hard and metallic at the other. As an illustrator, one of the hardest problems to deal with is the technology. Before settling on the look of it, you need to ask the writer some very basic questions. These questions will determine how the technology looks in the comic and what kind of models you should be looking at. These three questions are:

Before we get going it needs to be noted that the level of technology is superfluous here. Once you have established something as a laser rifle, all that matters is that it fires a laser ray; there are a practically infinite ways that it looks. The same applies to almost any kind of technology, allowing two crossbows to have the same function but look completely different. It's just important to decide on some basics before getting to the design phase.

1) What is the tone?
The tone of the piece needs to be reflected in the technology. The more geared towards horror it is, for example, the more likely it is to be more organic in feel, while a more clinical story requires hard tech. On the other hand, something for kids or comedy will have more curves, brighter colors, and look more plastic. The tone helps define a lot about the look of the comic, so that decides need to be defined first and foremost when it comes to designing even the basic appearance of even the small details of your comics.

2) What is the genre?
Different genres have different expectations, and those expectations should be reflected in the comic. This should not be seen as a limiting factor, but more as giving your audience what they expect. You can't do a superhero comic without having a lot of glowing tech with Kirby crackles, just as you can't have science fiction without clean lines. If you are doing something dystopic your technology should be dirty and gritty. If you are doing something in a fantasy vein, you should have a lot of glowing things. Your readers are coming in with certain expectations, and you should try to honor those expectations.

3) How much technology is out of place?
Let's look at some real-life examples here, such as smart phones at an Amish farm; Amish kids are not as out of touch with today's technology as it may seem. Consider cargo cults, and how much of the technology from airplanes are on some islands where they crashed. The same applies to just about any genre, such as Klingon knives in Federation space or a katana wielded by a barbarian. You're going to have something that doesn't fit; you should decide on how prevalent it is and then run it through the other two questions.

Those questions should help you decide on the look of your technology that looks the best for your comic and give it a nice, consistent look. So ask the questions, no matter how embarrassing they may seem. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cosmic Realms: DC vs. Marvel

There was a thread that asked who had the better cosmic comics, DC or Marvel. You know, the Big Big Leagues, with the Darkseid and the Green Lantern Corps on one side and Thanos and, well, everyone on the other. Although I thought DC had the better potential name for a band, I went Marvel. Another poster provided the reason when he pointed out that there was a hypocrisy in that people were liking the cosmic while liking that Marvel kept things grounded.

Suffice to say that I didn't see it that way.

The one thing that Marvel has gotten right for a while is that they have a cohesive universe. It can adapt to just about anything, and if you scratch it you find that there is some depth to it. Once you get past the mages and mutants and guys in fancy armor, there's a lot of regular folks. If "Marvels" didn't sell that point, then "Damage Control" definitely did. Marvel could probably tell the stories of regular people for years and it would be fun. Sure, you'd see Spidey swing by and sometimes there would be stories of the super-hero groupies, but you know they exist in the Marvel Universe.

Put another way, they have down time. We've seen super-heroes play football, get married, have kids. We've seen teams settle a friendly rivalry with a baseball game. The bad guys keep switching sides as we get more of their stories, as we see why they are villains, and it has nothing to do some cosmic balance. It's really hard to not root for Thanos sometimes because we respect people that think big and do things for love, both of which describe the Mad Titan to a tee.

Marvel doesn't just tell stories. It lets us see what would happen if we gained powers and what we would do.

DC doesn't bother. Superman does't really revel in being a reporter. Sure the Kents keep him anchored, but it's easy to see him moving on from the Kents. Batman is a great hero, but you need to seriously suspend belief for him to work; he needs to learn to take some time off every so often. More to the point, he needs to reveal who he is to Lucious Fox, or whoever his vice-president, and leave Wayne Enterprises way behind; Bruce Wayne is merely a mask at this point. Few DC heroes have any real grounding elements; sure it's great escapism, but it just feels like so much sizzle rather an actual steak.

And this affects its cosmic stories.Marvel has developed its alien empires to the point that they tell their own stories, and having cosmic-level heroes make sense; with Galactus, Thanos, space pirates, and empires threatening to take over the universe you need someone with some serious power out there. Marvel's universe has been developed to the point that Earth need not be the focus of the story, and there have been entire comics that have avoided the planet. More to the point, if there is a problem in the Kree Empire, heroes go there rather the battle spilling over on to Earth.

On the other hand, DC's cosmos has been seriously underdeveloped. They fridge entire planets: Krypton was but the first example.You just know that if DC introduces planet it's going to end poorly for the planet, and that assumes it's not in the process of blowing up at the time. Past that, from a story perspective, there's no real reason for the story to be set on Lovely Terkla; it's just a set and may as well be a desert in Nevada. Worse, any so-called cosmic threats usually threaten Earth as well so the Earth heroes can do something about it. It's just hard to see DC doing a story that doesn't involve Earth.

So is there some contradiction in loving Marvel's cosmic stories and that it seems grounded? I don't think so, as one leads to the other. You can't have a truly cosmic story without there being a universe, and the more realistic that the universe is, the more grounded it it, the more you can throw it at. And that's an important lesson comickers need to learn.