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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.

On writing fantasy magical systems

On writing fantasy magical systems published on No Comments on On writing fantasy magical systems

In response to a Tumblr ask, some thoughts on webcomic magic.

(1) Don’t feel the need to start from scratch, or get overly stressed about coming up with things that Nobody Else Has Done Before. Everything has been done before. Frozen wasn’t a hit because “powers controlled based on your emotions” or “ice magic” were new ideas, it was a hit because the characters were lovable and the songs were catchy.

BICP combines shapeshifter battles, monsters bonded to human Masters, cool power sigils, a special magic language, and animating sculptures by engraving them with the right words. Every one of those is a cliche in some way; every one has a TVTropes page. If they seem fresh, it’s because they’re being handled in new ways, or put together in new configurations.

(2) Be inspired by real-world things. That’ll help with the consistency. And the familiarity gives your readers a point of reference, which is useful. Galavant gives the characters magical communication crystals – an old, old trope – but then has them glitch like a smartphone on a Skype call. It’s hilarious and engaging because the viewer knows exactly how they’re feeling.

The magitech communications in Leif & Thorn work like IRL digital communications. Different underlying process, but since human psychology is still the same, you get the same dynamics as our world has with cellphones, texting, social media.

And readers can accept it without needing a detailed list of Rules Of Smartcrystal Spell Encoding. Same way I accept that my smartphone works (or freezes, as the case may be) without knowing all the fine points of the Java or C++ that explain why.

(3) It’s okay to be guided by what works for the story. The “battles take place in a separate realm” trope is a blatant author convenience – it saves you from dealing with the ramifications of real-world destruction, and it’s an easy excuse for why the muggles don’t get involved.

X had just-like-the-real-world-but-with-no-civilians battle realms. Puella Magi Madoka Magica goes to the other extreme, having the characters fight in symbolism-laden psychedelic acid trips. BICP goes with “pretty nature scenes” – in part because it’s easy to find references for a wide variety of them.

(4) Think, in detail, about the implications of your magical mechanics. This is something you get a lot in deconstructions or parodies, oddly enough. (”Why don’t we just attack while she’s transforming?”) When that kind of stuff doesn’t get followed up in-series, fans will often step in and reverse-engineer a rationale. (”The transformations must take place in a flash in realtime – the extended flashy sequence is just a device to show it off to the audience.”)

BICP battles take place in a flash in realtime, but for the participants it’s like an extended detour into another dimension. Why just use that for magical battles? Why not use it to have secure, absolutely-not-bugged conversations – or just to hang out and relax, knowing it can’t possibly make you late for your next appointment?

So that’s exactly what some of the characters do.

I think this is the biggest one, honestly. Unless you’re playing to a very young or very broad and non-geeky audience, your readers will already have put some thought into magical tropes and how they could work. If you anticipate them having a question like “Why doesn’t–?” “But shouldn’t it–?” “Why would they–?” – and then answer it – that’s all kinds of fulfilling.

(Caveat: know which things don’t need more explanation. The Force worked just fine as a spiritual thing; viewers didn’t need or want a pseudoscience biological mechanism involved.)

(5) Think about the historical implications, too. That’ll help make things feel serious. Steven Universe is really thoughtful about working the presence of Gems on Earth into the fabric of human history and mythology. You see Gem-inspired bits of culture everywhere, from totem poles to how-our-town-was-founded legends to trashy romance novels.

BICP also has thousands of years’ worth of history involving strangely-powered immortal nonhumans. Some of the restrictions on Beings’ powers were conceived of largely to keep them from becoming overwhelming historical game-changers. What we do see is Being-based mythology, and…well, technically also Being-based mythology.

(6) You can work things out as you go. It’s not like you have to spell out everything for your audience right away. And if you commit yourself to an idea behind-the-scenes, and then the story develops in a way that makes the idea awkward or unsatisfying or inconsistent, it’s going to suck if you refuse to adapt. (See: How I Met Your Mother.)

Figure out enough of the basics to get started, then fill in the details as you write. I’ve only specified a few of the magical domains in Leif & Thorn. Partly because there are some whose existence I don’t want to spoil…but partly because I want the freedom to make up new ones on-the-spot if necessary.

(7) It’s okay to relax and just go with Rule of Cool. I put magic sigils in BICP because I loved them in Hellsing. There’s no intrinsic meaning to the lines and shapes in the Beings’ sigils – they just look neat.

(The humans-casting-spells sigils, meanwhile, are from real-world hermetics.)

The mages in Leif & Thorn (of all ages and genders) have magical-girl transformations, the kind I first saw in Sailor Moon and in plenty of other mahou shoujo series since. Necessary? Nope. Pretty? Oh yes.

And, listen, some people love coming up with intricate systems of fictional rules, with tons of detail for readers to analyze. If that’s you, embrace it! Worked out great for Tolkien. But if not, don’t feel bound to it just on principle.

If something feels exciting and inspiring to you, that’s going to energize your writing, and it’ll show through to your readers. It’s hard to fake that. Don’t worry and second-guess so much that you cheat yourself out of it.

The webcomic process

The webcomic process published on 6 Comments on The webcomic process

Me: Hey, this is a pretty funny standalone joke idea. I’ll draw it up as a Sunday strip, and just add it to the queue once I’ve drawn enough dailies to go that far.
The strip: Good news, you have a wonderful backlog of Sundays! Now you just need to draw 70 daily strips in a row to catch up.

***

Me: Think I’ll do a little mini-arc in connected Sunday strips. With only a week from one to the next, readers should be able to follow it pretty well.
The strip: Ahahahaha, I can’t hear you over the sound of the main arc churning up three plot-heavy Sundays in a row.

***

Me: If I make this character too femme it’ll play into a nasty stereotype, and if I draw this one too butch it’ll play into a different one, and if I have this particular guy wear skirts it’ll have Unfortunate Implications, and if that other woman never gets to wear them it’ll be problematic, and…
Also me: Wait, frell, now every single character is falling neatly into gender norms that their society isn’t even supposed to have.
Google: Guess how many pictures I can find of hot butch lesbian haircuts.
Me: I’ll take one of everything.

***

Me: Wow, it is super hot out. Giving me lots of ideas for a storyline about a summer festival.
The strip: Yeah, uh, you just made it late autumn in-universe.
The queue: And don’t forget, whatever arc you plot out next will be going live in February! So think snow.

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