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Spooky comic settings, for #WebcomicChat

Spooky comic settings, for #WebcomicChat published on 3 Comments on Spooky comic settings, for #WebcomicChat

A post I had to illustrate with the stock image of Lady Stanczia and Lord Imri’s eerie mountainside castle. (Last seen in Vampire Hunter Thorn #3.)

Q1: How would you describe the difference between “spooky” and “scary”? Is there one?

“Spooky” is a particular aesthetic, all ominous and Halloween-y. “Scary” is a much broader category. If you narrowly miss being in a car accident, that’s scary, but not spooky. Dark misty forests with no sound except a cold breeze rustling the leaves, on the other hand…those are both spooky and scary.

Q2: What makes a scene or setting spooky to you?

Let me just rec some comics that do spooky really well, and you can work it out backwards from there.

The Last Halloween (ongoing) is full of claustrophobic staging and ominous crosshatching. Along with all the specific pumpkins-and-graveyards type stuff.

Stand Still Stay Silent (ongoing) gets these wonderful eerie effects from detailed art with limited palettes. Check out this shadowy, rain-drenched forest.

Awful Hospital (hiatus) does a great job of combining the gory and horrific with the oppressively mundane.

Serenity Rose (complete) has lots of shadow-filled forests, ornate but falling-apart old houses, and elaborate gothic architecture. Plus stuff in the corner staring at you.

Q3: Are spooky settings limited to specific genres? Why or why not?

If you’re writing something like a lighthearted comedy or a fluffy romance, there’s a limit to how deep you can go into horror territory. But spookiness doesn’t have to be horrific — you can also do the cute-and-fun version. Any genre can be paired with at least some point on the spooky spectrum.

Or, to put it another way: any comic can do a Halloween special.

Q4: What sorts of elements make a scene less spooky?

Bright lighting, pastel palettes, humor.

Spookiness isn’t really something that happens by accident, it’s something you have to actively cultivate. But those are things that can temper it after it’s been cultivated.

Q5: Provide us some examples of your favorite spooky settings!

I did it for other webcomics up in Q2, so here are some from Leif & Thorn:

The dark and deserted-by-order Embassy gardens from Homecoming. And again in Vampire Masquerade, complete with cold blowing winds.

Mata in a deep dark hole — this is one where the spookiness gets tempered by the way he stays relaxed and keeps making jokes.

Stanczia and Imri’s castle from the main continuity. Complete with ominous business deals.

Rec your own favorite spooky comics in the comments!

Talking about detail for #WebcomicChat…well, trying to.

Talking about detail for #WebcomicChat…well, trying to. published on No Comments on Talking about detail for #WebcomicChat…well, trying to.

Q1: How do you feel about comics with incredibly detailed visual or story elements?

Deeply envious. If I wanted to draw comics in a minimalist style, a la 1/0 or xkcd, I could pull it off. But lush, elaborate, detailed art? Even if I tried, there’s only so high a mark I can hit.

Check out these establishing shots from Devil’s Candy, or these eldritch city environments from Zebra Girl, or this surreal interlude from Floraverse.

Q2: What sorts of things do you find necessary to put the most detail into?

Establishing shots — that is, a wide shot of the scenery when the characters enter a new environment. That’s what both of these are:

(The first one following a fourth-wall-straining metajoke about “gosh, this scenery would take forever to draw.”)

After that I make a conscious effort to put the characters in front of a simple background — various walls, rows of bushes and trees, a cave, the sky. In a black-and-white comic you can get away with just leaving blank white space around the characters, but in Leif & Thorn there needs to at least be a specific flat color.

(But I’m A Cat Person falls between the two (in a…grey area *rimshot*). It’s somewhat easier to cheat because I can fill the background with whatever shade of grey fits the lighting and tone of the scene, without having to keep track of which exact wall they’re in front of.)

It doesn’t save 100% of the work. You still need to keep your panels visually engaging by doing long shots, different angles, and other things that demand some thought for the background. But it cuts it down a lot.

Q3: How do you balance complicated details with simpler, more accessible details?

Mostly the common advice of “keep the characters/point-of-focus detailed and the background simple, so the focus stands out.”

Make your characters’ everyday outfits relatively simple and quick to draw, then give them more elaborate and complex clothes on special occasions.

Same with rare and fancy objects versus common ones. There are complex magical contraptions with engravings and swirly bits, but the smartcrystals they’re always using to make calls or browse the Network are just plain rectangles.

Q4: Do you have any time-saving techniques or resources for handling fine details?

Make yourself some stock graphics!

I finally made a nice tiled pattern for the embroidery on the trim of the knights’ uniforms, so I don’t have to draw random little fiddly bits every time. It’s just black lines on a white background, so I put it on a separate layer and set it to Multiply, and then it blends naturally with whatever shading or color-adjusting happens underneath.

And I have transparent graphics for the detailed art-nouveau Embassy gates. They can be resized, skewed, and otherwise distorted to match whatever angle the panel calls for.

Q5: What are your favorite comics that have immense amounts of detail?

The ones recced above, plus Homestuck (a ridiculous variety of planets and dreamscapes), Buying Time (cyberpunk settings and equipment complete with cycling Flash animation), and Serenity Rose (spooky midwestern town and supernatural environments).

Readers, what are yours? (And/or, what’s your favorite high-detail Leif & Thorn scene?)

The latest in #WebcomicChat — cameos!

The latest in #WebcomicChat — cameos! published on No Comments on The latest in #WebcomicChat — cameos!

Today’s topic is cameos!

Used to do them all the time in And Shine Heaven Now. They have their own tag on the new Shine site.

Mostly in Leif & Thorn I’ll only do cameos from But I’m A Cat Person, and vice versa. But if there’s a big crowd scene, sometimes you want to make it interesting.

Q1: Have you ever used other comic creators’ characters as cameos in your comic? If not, would you?

Not characters from webcomics specifically (I don’t think). At least, not yet. Characters from other media, sure.

Speaking as a reader, they’re a really fun Easter egg to catch. Rereading Bruno the Bandit recently, I was all entertained to spot some cameos from Sluggy Freelance. In an intra-artist example, Sleepless Domain borrows some characters from the same author’s Kiwi Blitz to fill out magical-girl crowds.

Q2: How do you usually go about adding cameos – ask people, request cameos, or just add them as a fun surprise?

Fun surprise!

If it’s a quick background appearance, I don’t think you should ask. The goal is to show your appreciation for the other creator’s work, not get their approval for yours. (Copyright-wise, you’re fine here — look up the YoI cameos in the Steven Universe comics, or Sailor Moon characters in the background of My Little Pony issues, for examples.)

If it’s a long-term use of someone else’s character, then either it’s some kind of planned crossover/tie-in (in which case, both creators should be discussing it), or it’s a fancomic (in which case, do whatever you want! — just don’t sell it). Or it’s a mid-line case, like Phil Likes Tacos — an original comic, but with so many sci-fi and video-game cameos that the artist has consciously decided not to put it up for sale.

Q3: What are the upsides to using cameos of other people’s characters?

It gives you a break from drawing your own designs, lets you branch out a little.

It livens up boring crowd scenes.

It’s a small way of showing your appreciation for the other person’s work.

If you’re lucky, they see it and like you back and link their followers to your strip — but don’t make that your goal. There’s an episode of the Webcomics Weekly podcast where the artist of (iirc) PVP complained about how many “look, I gave your character a cameo!” emails he gets that are clearly just shilling for links. That’s just rude.

Q4: What are the downsides to using cameos of other people’s characters, if any?

Well, if you’re rude about it, the creator you admire is going to feel annoyed rather than appreciated.

And if you overuse the cameos, it limits your ability to sell the comic. (Only a downside if you were hoping to sell the comic in the first place. If you’re just here for the fun of the hobby, it’s all good.)

Some people are probably going to answer this with “it limits your creativity and gets in the way of developing your own characters,” but, listen, if making comics with 100% other people’s characters is fun and entertaining for you, go for it. Four King Hell and Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi are pure fancomic, and they’re delightful. Have fun.

Q5: Share a page where you have used cameo characters!

This L&T strip has gay skaters on the left, Magic Tavern podcasters on the right:

Read the whole storyline to pick out others! Including the Leverage crew, apparently stealing a Summerfest.

The Moral Of The Story — for #WebcomicChat

The Moral Of The Story — for #WebcomicChat published on 5 Comments on The Moral Of The Story — for #WebcomicChat

For today’s discussion on @webcomicchat.

Q1: How do you define the “moral of the story”?

A practical lesson it teaches. Can be a deliberate anvil-dropping, but any well-written and complex story will have natural morals, in the sense of “if you, too, behave like this, you’ll face these consequences.”

e.g. a moral of The Lord of the Rings (and by extension DM of The Rings) might be “don’t underestimate your gardener.”

Q2: Are a story’s morals and its themes the same thing? Why or why not?

A moral should be an outgrowth of a theme, but a theme doesn’t necessarily lead to a moral.

e.g. if one of the morals of Sleepless Domain is “reaching out to your friends can help you deal with a traumatic loss,” that comes from the way it handles the broader themes of loss/grief and friendship.

Contrast something like Catball & Clown Girl, which arguably has themes of friendship (and hatred, and cat-ness), but I don’t know that you can draw any useful lessons from it. It’s just cute.

Skipping around because this one’s related:

Q4: Do a story’s thematic elements need to reflect any of its morals? How so?

…how would you get a moral that doesn’t involve any of the thematic elements? That’s like asking if the answer to a riddle needs to reflect the setup.

I guess you can read this as “do the characters need to behave in accordance with the moral,” in which case, no. You can have a story that centers on Bad People Doing Bad Things (consider String Theory, or Bruno The Bandit), and interpret the moral as “hey, don’t be like that guy.”

Q5: Tell us about your favorite stories with a central moral to share!

Ehh. Anything with a “central moral” is likely too anvilicious to be a “favorite story.”

Good storytelling and character development needs to be at the center of the writing. Morals are just an outgrowth, an aftereffect, of that focus.

Q3: What are some examples of stories (including your own) you see with morals imparted in them?

I think the most obvious moral of Leif & Thorn are “communication is important, even (especially!) when it’s hard work.” Maybe with a side of “be kind to people, because you never know what they’ve gone through.”

…Readers, any other nominations?

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