Astounding Space Thrills 20th Anniversary Cover

Astounding Space Thrills 2018 cover

Astounding Space Thrills: The Codex Reckoning and Aspects of IronThis year marks the 20th anniversary of my webcomic and comic series Astounding Space Thrills. To celebrate, I’m prepping and re-releasing the original comics with a 20th anniversary Omnibus Kickstarter planned for later this year (please sign up for my email list if you want to be alerted when the Kickstarter goes live).

Here’s a look at the cover for the new collection of Astounding Space Thrills: The Codex Reckoning and Aspects of Iron. The figure and textures were painted in Procreate with vector-drawn elements imported from Photoshop. I’m really happy with how it turned out.

This collection reprints the first three black-and-white issues of Astounding Space Thrills.

Astounding Space Thrills 2018 cover

The remastered web series can be read here (with updated installments on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

You can read about the original 1998 cover collaboration with Jim Steranko here.

— Steve

Astounding Space Thrills at Twenty: Cover Story

Astounding Space Thrills 2018 cover

Astounding Space Thrills #1 coverThis year marks the 20th anniversary of my comic book and webcomic series Astounding Space Thrills. This year, I’ll be producing an omnibus edition collecting all the AST stories into a single volume. The omnibus will be available through a Kickstarter campaign, so be sure to follow me on social media or, better yet, sign up for my mailing list to be informed when the Kickstarter launches and snap up the limited awards and early-bird discounts.

Twenty Years ago today, on January 5, 1998, I sent out a Press Release announcing the upcoming first issue of the Astounding Space Thrills comic book. The big news was that the cover featured work by legendary artist Steranko.

Here’s a look at the announcement:

AST #1 announcement

As I wrote then:

“STERANKO continues to amaze fans and the creative community,” said Conley. “I can think of no artist to better capture the energy of this new series! It was a total blast working with him!”

It’s still all true! Here’s a look at that cover.

Astounding Space Thrills #1 cover

— Steve @theSteveConley

Cartooning: Six Tips for Working with Procreate

The Middle Age watercolor cover

I draw my Eisner- and Ringo-nominated webcomic The Middle Age using the Procreate app on an iPad Pro. I’ve worked this way for nearly two years and during that time, I’ve stumbled on to some pretty good tips and tricks. Here are a few I use all the time.

General warning: These tips are geared to professional and aspiring professional cartoonists and these tips assume you’re at least a little familiar with the Procreate app basics like copying and pasting, sharing files via Dropbox, and exporting a video of your file. No matter what your skill level, I recommend going to the App Store and downloading the Procreate manual to your iPad. That ebook does an amazing job of guiding you step-by-step through the basics and all the latest features.

TIP 1: Don’t start in Procreate!

My template for The Middle Age
My template for The Middle Age
When you start your comic strip, create your template on your desktop computer. I usually use Illustrator and Photoshop – and import the template into Procreate (via Dropbox). This offers a lot of opportunities to mark off crops, and bleeds and the live area. You can also create perfectly geometric panel borders (something Procreate isn’t good at). I also use this opportunity to import a graph-paper-like grid which comes in real handy. Since you’ll likely be lettering in Photoshop and bouncing back and forth with your desktop, having a properly sized template helps a lot.

TIP 2: Instant bluelines!

White and Blue Layers
White and Blue Layers
Back in ye olden times of pencil and paper, we cartoonists used blue pencil for sketching and roughing out our drawings. This helped with photographing and later scanning original art. While those reasons don’t apply when working digitally, the approach is still still amazingly handy. To do this, create two Procreate layers: One layer should be filled with blue and have a layer effect of ‘COLOR” and the second layer should be filled with white with an opacity of ~80%. Drag these layers above any art to instantly turn everything below them to bluelines.

TIP 3: You have a surprise backup!

If you accidentally delete a sketch, pencil or reference layer, simply export a video of your project and scrub through the video until you find the lost image. This has saved my butt more than a few times. And knowing I have this safety net makes me feel a little better when working quickly.

TIP 4: For transformations, take baby steps, or better yet, use Photoshop!

Procreate is really good at flipping and flopping art horizontally and vertically. Pretty much every other transformation (rotation, scaling, skewing) is rough compared to Photoshop. A 90-degree rotation in Photoshop is pixel-perfect, the same rotation in Procreate turns your perfect pixels to mush. If you must transform something in Procreate – such as scaling and rotating, do them as separate, baby steps. Don’t combine two transformations. Scale then deselect. Rotate then deselect. BTW: Procreate is constantly improving and the next software update may make this tip obsolete. Fingers crossed!

TIP 5: Don’t copy art directly from Dropbox – save it to Photos first!

If you copy a perfectly-sized PNG or JPG in Dropbox and paste it into Procreate, some slight transformation happens – it’s usually a little too small. To avoid the distortion, save the PNG or JPG to the Photos app. Then open the Photos app and copy the file from there. Every pixel will line up perfectly.

TIP 6: Clear off your iPad from time to time!

Selecting multiple files in the gallery view
You can select multiple files in the gallery view
Procreate files are big and having too many of them on your iPad can slow down the app and make the pen laggy. I recommend copying them to your desktop computer with Airdrop – it’s much faster than Dropbox. From the gallery view, you can select multiple files (with the right-swipe) at the same time and Airdrop a bunch at a time.

I hope you find one or two of these tips useful.

— Steve @theSteveConley

If you found this post helpful and would like to see more like them, please consider supporting me and my webcomic The Middle Age on Patreon.

Webcomic Formatting: Can I future-proof my webcomics?

Episode 64 inks featured image

Can I future-proof my webcomics?

If I want to reach the widest possible audience, I can’t let technology or format stand in the way of a new reader.

The past decade of online publishing has shown that…

  • Screen sizes will change (it seems that every larger device is getting smaller and every smaller device is getting larger.)
  • Screen proportions will change and are flexible (there’s a multitude of desktop, tablet, and mobile screens sizes and many operate in both landscape and portrait orientations)
  • Resolutions will increase (I want to support those resolutions yet I don’t want to give away print-resolution files)
  • File formats may change and some may become obsolete (less applicable but still worth noting – I’m thinking of Flash webcomics and also some panel-by-panel presentations now appearing on Instagram)

What I’m doing to address this: I work at a high resolution in a flexible format. I design my comics with rather big lettering to work in three basic shapes – horizontal, squarish, and vertical.

Nowadays, I reformat The Middle Age webcomics in five different sizes in three configurations:

  • Full-resolution stacked format for print
  • High-resolution stacked format (~900-pixels wide) for my Patreon site
  • Standard-resolution stacked format (~600-pixels wide) for this site and for social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).
  • Horizontal format for GoComics – this was the starting place for my design. It’s the exact same shape as a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.
  • Scrolling vertical format for Webtoons and Tapas

One Comic, Five Different Formats
I recently added the vertical, scrolling format and the response from the mobile-centric Webtoons audience was overwhelmingly positive.

(BTW: This thinking isn’t really new. The format of the classic Peanuts comics was even more rigid in that it was four equal-sized boxes which were sold to newspapers as a ‘Space Saver’ meaning it could be run horizontally, vertically or stacked as a square.)

In the end, if I want to create stories that last, I must create them in a format (or formats) that will last.

In other words, the only acceptable reason for someone not reading my comics is that they just don’t like my comics.

— Steve @theSteveConley

I hope this occasional bit of shop talk will be useful to others working on their own webcomics. If you find it interesting or helpful, let me know!

The Middle Age and Steve receive Ringo Awards nominations!

The Cast of The Middle Age

Ringo Awards NomineeI am thrilled to learn that I’ve been nominated twice in the inaugural Ringo Awards.

The Middle Age received a nomination in the ‘Best Webcomic’ category and I was nominated in the ‘Best Cartoonist (Writer & Artist)’ category. A lot of comics are created by teams of artists and the ‘Best Cartoonist’ award is for creators who write and draw their own stories.

The Ringos (or The Mike Wieringo Comic Book Industry Awards) are named after Mike Wieringo, a wonderful artist we lost ten years ago. I had only met Mike a handful of times in person but we often corresponded. He was always more supportive of my work than it deserved. His kindness, professionalism, and the lively spirit of his art remain steady influences.

I’m deeply honored to be nominated and I can’t say enough good things about my fellow nominees.

My sincere thanks to the awards jury as well as everyone who voted in the popular categories.

The awards will be handed out September 23 as part of the Baltimore Comic-Con. You can learn more at RingoAwards.com

Thanks again or your kindness and support!

— Steve @theSteveConley

The Middle Age’s First Anniversary!

The Middle Age watercolor cover

The cast of the Middle AgeToday marks the first birthday of The Middle Age.

I started writing a list of things I’ve learned in the past year but then scrapped it as I recalled I don’t have any idea what I’m doing.

Paraphrasing William Goldman, “Nobody knows anything…” and, as a nobody, I can confirm that.

Well, I know one thing and the past twelve months made it even clearer: my friends are the best.

I’ve started many comic projects. Some of them blew up on the launch pad. Some gained a little altitude only fall apart in the air. Some were announced with great fanfare but never left the drawing board. Objectively, when it comes to comics projects, my track record indicates that I’m anything but a sure bet.

Now, here I was I starting yet another comic – this one starring an oddly named character with a weirdly shaped head and who seemed to die on page one. And it was a fantasy webcomic – like the Internet isn’t already saturated with those.

But what did my friends do? They jumped on board and supported it immediately. Like I said, they are the best.

They made this comic strip possible and I’ll work every single day to be worthy of that friendship.

— Steve

Heartfelt thanks must go to Dustin, Tracy, James, Robert, Brad, Karen, French, Greg, Shelly, Pookie, Mike, Neil, Robert, Nate, Tyler, Matthew, Vanessa, Simon, Gareth, Rich, Mike, John, Joe, Macthe, Lee and David! They support me on Patreon and they make The Middle Age possible.

How To Draw Chain Mail

Chain Mail Tutorial

Or more specifically… how I draw chain mail in my webcomic The Middle Age.

Chain Mail TutorialI get a lot of comments and questions asking how I create the chain mail texture in The Middle Age. The hero of the story, Sir Quimp, wears armor that looks sort of like chain mail or banded mail armor. Artist friends have presumed it’s a special brush or a texture map or something computery.

But it’s all drawn by hand, one link at a time. And it might look complicated but it’s not.

Now, I work on an iPad Pro using the Procreate App but this approach works with any software and even works with traditional pen-and-ink tools.

Chain Mail Tutorial - Step 1Step 1: Start by drawing a grid on the form which will act as a guide for your texture. Keep in mind the shape, perspective, folds and bends. It should look 3-D. If it looks like graph-paper, the pattern will look flat. But it doesn’t need to be perfect. We’re just using it as reference and we’ll erase it when we’re done. In the example, you can see mine in light blue. Extra tip: I draw my guides on a separate layer to make them easy to hide and delete.

Chain Mail Tutorial - Step 2Step 2: Now let’s start the pattern. Somewhere around the two-thirds point on the side where light is coming from (not down the middle), draw small, single, evenly-spaced tick marks. Again, they don’t need to be perfectly spaced or identical. Do your best and that’ll be fine. Remember that this is armor wrapping a living figure, not a robot, and we expect variations. Those variations make the figure feel more alive. Extra tip: I make the texture extend a little bit beyond the shape – you can see it overlapping the cape – this helps me keep the pattern and spacing consistent. I erase the overlapping bits when I’m done.

Chain Mail Tutorial - Step 3Step 3: Between each one of those tick marks, draw two tick marks next to each other. Extra tip: The longer each tick mark, the wider each chain segment will seem later.

Chain Mail Tutorial - Step 4Step 4: Between each of the double-tick marks, draw three tick marks next to each other. You can see where I’m going with this.

Chain Mail Tutorial - Step 5Step 5: Between each of the triple-tick marks, draw four ticks marks next to each other.

Chain Mail Tutorial - Step 6And so on… until you run out of room. Always increase the number of tick marks per row and you’ll get the proper effect. Then do the same thing in the other direction. Extra tip: don’t draw all the way to the shape’s outline on one side to give a hint of really-bright side lighting.

If you want to see how other cartoonists handled drawing armor textures, I recommend checking out the work of Hal Foster, Wally Wood, Russ Manning, and David Petersen.

Here’s a video clip of my approach…

You can see plenty of examples in my webcomic The Middle Age.

Scroll down to ask any questions or leave a comment. If you’d like to see more tutorials like this one, please consider becoming a supporter on Patreon.

— Steve @theSteveConley

The Middle Age joins GoComics on June 19th

The Middle Age watercolor cover

I was very happy to announce in a recent interview on Tom Racine’s Tall Tale Radio podcast that The Middle Age will be joining the lineup at GoComics.

This means Sir Quimp, Maledicta and Waddlebottom will be appearing alongside Snoopy, Calvin, Garfield, Opus, Petey Otterloop and my other favorite characters. I’m super excited to reach a whole new audience of comic strip fans and I’m honored to be in such excellent company.

The Middle Age Joins GoComics
The image above shows Sir Quimp joining the party and it gave me a chance to draw some of my favorite GoComics characters (okay, I pretty much traced most of them as there’s just no way to touch the originals IMO).

This won’t affect the schedule of The Middle Age and you’ll still be able to read The Middle Age here (and your RSS links will still work!) But now there will be a new place to see the strip alongside many other favorites. This move will also let me present the strip in its horizontal newspaper-style format which I’m excited about.

Thanks to the folks at GoComics including Shena Wolf. And thanks, as always, to my supporters on Patreon who make The Middle Age possible.

— Steve

As a reminder, The Middle Age is nominated for a 2017 Eisner Award in the Best Webcomic category. If you’re a webcomics creator or other comics professional, you can vote until June 16th here: eisnervote.com

The Middle Age receives an Eisner nomination!

The Middle Age watercolor cover

The cast of the Middle AgeI’m thrilled to learn that my online comic The Middle Age has been nominated in the Best Webcomic category of the 2017 Eisner Awards.

The Eisner Awards are often called the Academy Awards of comics. There’s a part of me which wants be cool and say it’s not a big deal but I can’t kid myself. A big part of why it matters so much to me is my personal history with the awards and the Webcomic category in particular.

My first experience with the awards goes back to 1999 when I was nominated in the Talent Deserving Wider Recognition category. The award that year went to writer Brian Bendis and he was absolutely the right winner. Not only was his acceptance speech gracious and pitch-perfect, it was particularly kind to the then-struggling independent wing of Image Comics. Today, that wing is the biggest and best part of Image Comics and consistently publishes great work. And I can say, looking back on my own work in 1999, while it was nice to be nominated, my work was not deserving of any more attention.

Cut to 2005. I was asked by Eisner Awards administrator Jackie Estrada to serve as one of the judges for that year’s awards. I happily took part but lamented that there wasn’t yet a webcomics category. In the years leading up to this point, webcomics had been gaining stature and each year – when they weren’t included on the ballot – the message boards and online forums would erupt. I found that the only reason webcomics weren’t on the ballot was because nobody had ever written a proposal to include them. So I wrote one. (Okay, it wasn’t as easy as that because awards have weird rules for often very good reasons and adding a category which broke some of those rules needed finessing.) My fellow judges approved the proposal and webcomics were sharing the stage with printed comic books for the first time.

Now, twelve years later, my own comic has been nominated in that category and my work shares the ballot with some of the best creators in comics today.

I’m still not sure if my work is deserving of wider recognition, but I’m honored and humbled by the nomination and can’t thank the judges enough.

The award ceremony will take place Friday, July 21. Fingers crossed!

— Steve
Eisner nomination 2017

Drawing in Procreate using an iPad Pro

The Middle Age

The Middle AgeHere’s a look at some recent art I created for my webcomic series The Middle Age. This piece was drawn on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil using the Procreate app.

This video shows how the B&W art and textures were created.

Hope you like it. 🙂

— Steve