This 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:
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!”
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!
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!
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!
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 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.
Or more specifically… how I draw chain mail in my webcomic The Middle Age.
I 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.
Step 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.
Step 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.
Step 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.
Step 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.
Step 5: Between each of the triple-tick marks, draw four ticks marks next to each other.
And 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.