The Webcomicker

Who watches the watchmen?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Webcomickry: The joy of finding your pen.

A serious amount of screwing around from MiSTEam
If you've looked at the links on the side of the page, you'll notice that under the list of webcomics I read is a very short list (2) of webcomics that I "do". One of these is my serious project, a detective story in manga format which I only do the story for: Gideon D. Ragon, Private Eye. The other one, MiSTEam, is a much sillier comic that I use mainly for the purpose of goofing around.
First, a brief background on MiSTEam itself. One of my real jobs in the world is to do tech support and web design for one of the offices at the University of Illinois, the Office of Math, Science, and Technology Education (MSTE). We have a website which has quite a bit of useful content on it both for math and science teachers and math and science students. But it was kind of old and crappy looking. So me and my tech partner were assigned the task of updating the look and feel of the site and also adding a lot of functionality (such as posting news, managing the various classes the office oversees, having an event calendar, etc etc ad naseum). So he and I began brainstorming ways to encourage visitors to keep coming to the site on a consistent basis, so that they could see all the new features and content as we put them in place. Of course, I remembered my obsession with webcomics and how it keeps me visiting the artists' pages every day, without fail. So I thought it would be a great idea if the office had its own webcomic.
Well, since it was my idea, it fell onto me to be the author and artist of the comic. So I figured it would be even better at connecting visitors to the site if the comic was about the MSTE Office itself. And thus MiSTEam was born. Fortunately, the work environment at MSTE is pretty laid back, and lots of crazy stuff does happen at the office, so it makes it easy to come up with ideas. In fact, many of the comics are direct transliterations of actual events. So it's been a lot of fun, and the people at the office at least seem to enjoy reading the comics, so I consider that to be an accomplishment.
By far the most interesting experience I've had in my short experience drawing a webcomic is trying to learn the tricks of the trade. At first, I basically knew nothing. The first few comics were drawn in pencil, then inked over with a simple BIC ballpoint pen, scanned in, and given an increased contrast to try to make the lines stand out, which is why they came out looking something like this. Also, you can tell I'd had very little practice drawing the characters, as for awhile they look fairly different in basically every panel I drew.
Well, eventually I got a better pen (I seem to have misplaced it now, it was kind like one of those ultra fine point Sharpies, with the super thin point tip) and I got better at touching up the comic after scanning it in to get rid of old pencil marks and whatnot, and the comic began to look a bit better.
Then, looking at a lot of the strips around the net, I saw that most of the black and white ones were using much thicker black lines than I was, so I figured, "Hey, they must actually be using some kind of marker to make their comics!" So I tried a strip with a fine point marker.
And then, finally revelation came to me. It came from Starslip Crisis (which is quickly becoming a personal favorite of mine), when I looked to see how Kristopher Straub created his comic. After all, aside from the backgrounds his comic is at least similar in style to mine. So I stumbled onto this page, and suddenly my eyes were opened.
Oh sure, I'd heard of the "paper doll" comic before, but I'd always assumed that meant something along the lines of old school Elf Only Inn, with basic images manipulated in various ways to achieve some semblance of a contiguous storyline. I never imagined it could be used to create such a richly varied strip as Starslip Crisis. And so I decided to convert my strip over to vector art, in paper doll format, in hopes that it would not only make my art look better but also make it easier to create a strip on a weekly basis, which I have trouble doing. And you can see the results at the top of the page. I didn't use Flash like Kris Straub does (that program confuses the heck out of me), but I did use Macromedia Fireworks, which is a program I have a little bit of experience with.
I've got to say, I'm pretty excited about the new world of possibilities this opens to me, and you can tell by the strip up there. I was basically screwing around with the vector characters, and then I decided that the screwing around in itself would make a pretty good strip. I love the last panel especially, where I comment that it has an "art deco" feel, which is humorous to me because I have no idea what art deco even MEANS, much less if that style of painting is even remotely close to what something art deco would look like.
I don't think I'll be doing MiSTEam in color in general (there's something about that black and white line art that just appeals to me), but it's nice to know that if I ever wanted to, I could, with a minimum of effort. And that's pretty darn cool.
I've found my pen.


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