A webcomic about addiction, depression, eating people, and math heroes.

Updates Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

I'm cleaning up my old comics

Tuesday, Apr 25, 2017

True Stories

It's true. I've long had problems with my old comics having not-totally-straight lines and generally looking bad. So now I've started cleaning them up. The one that has been bothering me the most is this one. It's my favorite comic, and definitely the one that has the most meaning to me, but it used to look like crap.

But tonight, I've cleaned it up. I straightened out the lines, cleaned up the dialog using the Comic Sans font that we all know should never be used, and otherwise just made it look better. I'm now willing to put this up on a poster, which I hope will appear in psychiatrists', therapists', and high school guidance counselors' offices everywhere. Really, this is one I firmly believe should be in psychology textbooks.

But it's not happening. What is happening is that it's been cleaned up and looks better.

So now I'm paradoxically in the situation where I have older comics that look better than brand new comics that I've drawn today. It's an interesting feeling, to say the least, but I'll make sure that new comics get the same changes, and eventually, they'll all look just as bad next to each other.

This is, after all, a stupid web comic.

How do you make a comic?

That's a good question to ask, and the answer is that I'm Old School. Completely.

This whole comic started one night when I bought myself a spiral notebook of sketch paper that had perforations so I could rip the pages out nicely. I sat down and tried to draw a horse, and it looked more like a dog. Thus, the Huey Lewis comic was born (which nobody understands, so don't feel bad if you missed it). Then I started drawing a few more....

The technique I used goes to StickMan StickMan, an also-run stick figure comic that I found quite entertaining. Well, the author of that comic wrote a long post about how he made that comic, and I followed his instructions. Basically, he said:

  1. You don't need to be able to draw. You need to be able to make a joke.
  2. Draw in pencil, ink over it.
  3. Have some paper ready that provides the standard frames, and draw in that.

Now, I initially took a more free-form approach, but let me get into more details.

Pencil Sketch First

Every comic has a pencil sketch first. That's where I lay out the dialog. In fact, I usually draw the dialog first, and then add the characters. After I have the comic finished in pencil, I grab an ink marker (currently using a Sharpie marker) and draw in the final lines. That includes dialog. Then I erase all the pencil stuff. Then I scan it.

I scan in lineart mode. That helps to correct against any deficiencies that using cheap paper might introduce. After scanning, if there's no coloring, I convert and rescale and publish. If there's any coloring, I load the comic up in the GIMP and color it there. If there are any flaws (for example when I drunk-write dialog), I correct it there.

This is all a lot of work, so I wrote a tool to help me.

Automating a Web Comic

The biggest asset on my comic is also the biggest liability. It's a poorly-planned python program that generates the comic. The good sides? Well, you've seen those, but I'll go ahead and describe them:

  1. Comic management. There's a queue, and if I draw far enough ahead in the queue, I can publish regularly according to my schedule. I've obviously failed to do that.
  2. Template support. For most pages, I can edit a master template and have the change propogate to every page. This is how my book pimping link made it almost everywhere.
  3. Automatic scanning. When I noticed I was writing three-pane comics, I created a paper template for it. My script can scan and extract the individual comics from the paper. Most don't need to be colored, so it's mostly automatic.

The liabilities? There's a few:

  1. I didn't plan the program, so it's difficult to extend.
  2. It's important enough to mention twice, but I didn't plan the program, so it's difficult to extend.
  3. If the program doesn't support it, then I'm shit out of luck. And you've seen my planning.

So, what have you been doing?

Well, first of all, I don't want to get distracted talking about the software. I started a big rewrite while drunk, and then stopped in the middle of it. A couple of years later, I tried to work on it some more, while drunk, and couldn't figure anything out. So I reverted it to the last known working version.

When you look at the comic, for now (at the time of writing), you'll notice that there are several stages where I leveled up and made better comics. I'm not talking about the content, I'm talking about the presentation. At first, I used the pages of this sketch notebook. That was fine for awhile, but then I graduated to using printer paper. That was fine for awhile, as well. Ultimately, I settled on using matte finish card stock. That lets me use both sides of the page as well as providing a firm permanent paper to store the original comic.

In any case, at each point where I leveled up, there are noticeable changes. When I started using a straight edge instead of drawing the panel frames freehanded, there's a noticeable improvement. The types of markers I use have tended to show themselves. My handwriting varies quite a bit, especially for the comics I draw when drunk. But even the move to card stock is a visible increase in the quality of the artwork.

What's your process now?

Simple. If it's a simple three-pane comic, I draw it on preprinted card stock that has three panes. These sheets have three comics per sheet, a total of nine panes. I'm looking at modifying the automatic scanning software to scan a larger area so I can include content outside the three panes.

If it's a more freeform comic, which is what I'm trying to get back to, then I draw it on the back of a finished three comic page.

As I did from the beginning, I sketch in pencil, then ink. Then scan and color, if need be. Ultimately, the final presented comic is actually generated by the ImageMagick software package. What I do is create the input files for that package.

I've used a few different scanners to make the comic. When I first started, I used the scanners at the school where I worked. Later, I used my brother's scanner. Today, I'm using a scanner acquired from my mother-in-law. It does the job quite well. I scan at 900dpi, and I color at that resolution, so I can theoretically rescale any comic to a larger size without pixelating. It's actually a comic strategy to draw on larger paper than 8.5" x 11" and then rescale down after scanning. I'd like to do that, but my scanner can't do that. But it scan at a high resolution which can in turn be adapted to a bigger piece of paper.

So, what's next?

I won't promise regular updates, because I've so often failed in the past. But I'm staking my future on this comic, and sales associated with it (mostly the books I write), so I have a stake in this comic. In the past, this comic was just for fun. In future, the comic itself is for fun, but it also has to attract an audience to which I can suggest books I've written.

At the time of writing this, I've published one book. I'm almost done with the rough draft on a second book (Fastburger!). I've started offering posters. We'll see, I suppose.

It comes down to money. The more I earn from this site, the more time I can devote to working on it. Currently I'm earning nothing. If you want regular updates, buy something, it's as simple as that. If you can't afford to buy anything, then share with everybody. You don't have to get all evangelist or anything. Just, you know, if you like this comic, support it.

You make my day with your email! So please send it!

This comic features adult language and some adult topics. If you feel like you are not adult enough to read this comic, please don't waste my time telling me that.

All content on this site is Copyright © 2009-2013 by Dave Fancella.

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