Posts in "Shop Talk" Category

Starting year three of The Middle Age…

Pages of The Middle Age

Today, The Middle Age turns two years old. So much has happened…

  • Ninety-eight episodes – even through two hurricanes!
  • An Eisner Award nomination for “Best Webcomic”!
  • Three Ringo Awards nominations – two for “Best Webcomic” and one for “Best Cartoonist”!
  • The Middle Age was picked up by GoComics, showing our hero’s adventures alongside my favorite comic strips including Calvin and Hobbes, Cul de Sac, Peanuts, and Garfield.
  • There are now three small, softcover collections of the individual chapters!
  • The Middle Age now has more than 3,000 subscribers across GoComics, Webtoon and Tapas.
  • There are now sixty supporters on Patreon – and we’re getting ever closer to increasing the strip’s frequency to two days a week!

Not bad for a silly comic strip about an older knight, a sarcastic sword, and two baby dragons.

So what’s the plan for year three?

The Middle Age on Patreon100 Supporters on Patreon!
This is my current obsession! If I can reach 100 supporters on Patreon, The Middle Age will double to two episodes per week. This is the next big step for the strip and if we can reach this goal, it will mean twice as much story, twice as many opportunities to find new readers, and much more frequent print collections! To that end…

The FumblesmithNew stories set in the world of The Middle Age!
Starting today, to give readers even more reason to become Patreon supporters, I’m uploading exclusive-to-Patreon comic features – most of which will be set in the world of The Middle Age. These stories aren’t part of the main Sir Quimp storyline but will help flesh out the universe and give me a way to play in the world without slowing our hero down. The first one, “The Fumblesmith of Gaffe” starts today. Upcoming features will look at the cultures of dragons, the 12th War, the magic of sandwiches (nibblemancy), and Fadoodle and Fleak, Agents of the Department of Cosmological Chicanery and Metaphysical What-Have-You.

Volume One KickstarterA hardcover collection of the first three chapters!
Next week, I’ll be launching a Kickstarter to collect the first three chapters in a single hardback volume! I’m super-excited for the new format because it will show the work at a much larger size than the individual, single-chapter softcover editions! And there will be t-shirts, a new enamel pin, and other cool loot. Stay tuned.

Thanks to everyone who liked, shared, retweeted, commented, backed, shopped and/or became patrons of The Middle Age during the first two years. I’ll keep working to make silly comics worthy of your kind support.

— Steve

Webcomics: Another look at multiple formats

Episode 83 featured image

Following up on what I wrote in Webcomic Formatting: Can I future-proof my webcomics?, here’s a look at the various formats I prepare for each new episode of The Middle Age.

This week’s episode (number 83) was a little more challenging because the third panel is very horizontal which doesn’t work very well on vertical, scrolling sites like Webtoon and Tapas. For those services, I reconfigured the panel, stacking the elements and placed the word balloon below the figures.

You can click the image below to see a larger version.

Webcomics: Another look at multiple formats

You can see the live versions of the various formats 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!

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