Sunday, July 24, 2011

Looking for guest strips

The month ahead looks to be a particularly hectic one for me, so I'm throwing myself on the mercy of the internet and asking for Precocious guest comics to help preserve my sanity. If any of you artsy types out there are willing to craft a comic for me, I will be eternally grateful! (Guest artwork is also accepted.)

I'm setting a deadline of August 14th for submissions, since I know how cartoonists act without deadlines. Even if you wait until the last minute to draw something (again, cartoonists), I'd love to get a heads up that something will be coming. It'll help me plan. I'd like to get enough strips to cover a week of daily updates. If not enough show up in time, I may hold on to what I did get for later use.

Guest comics should be in jpeg format. They can be any height, with a maximum width of 1000px. Keep 'em PG rated at worst, as Precocious is a family-friendly strip!

Much love and thanks to everyone for supporting Precocious!

Friday, July 22, 2011

An editor's agony

(Image unrelated. I made it for fun!)

I've been reading through some Get Fuzzy collections recently, and I haven't exactly enjoyed it. I know it's generally considered one of the few good newspaper comics left, but I found the collections I read to be more miss than hit. Some of it comes from its tendency to fall back on gross-out humor and that not being my thing, but a lot of the misses felt more like half-baked jokes. Darby Conley was phoning it in.

That is the big consequence of doing a daily comic: The time restrictions mean you can't possibly sit around and nurture all ideas until they blossom into greatness. Sometimes you have to force things to meet your deadline. Every daily cartoonist is allowed the occasional misfire, as a return to glory is always only a day away. The problem is when you fall into constant, "well, of course it's rushed! It's a daily!" mentality. What I perceived in these Get Fuzzy books was the work of a creator who was throwing EVERY idea he had out there to fill space until he could hit upon a new story that would inspire him.

For example, there was one Sunday strip where Satchel brought a friend back from one of his dog support groups, a police dog. The police dog spent most of the strip being overly officious, spouting regulations. Then he saw a cat and shuddered, because he has a problem chasing them. The end. There's no flow at all. He created a character, made the character do things and tacked on an ending unrelated to build-up. (I can give him credit and say he was *trying* to show a strong character had a weakness, but that's not how it read.) The strip feels like he got an idea, started fleshing it out and hit a brick wall - but ran it anyway.

I notice this stuff because it's a trap I've certainly fallen into before. I rationalize that I can always right the wrongs the next day and run strips not made with the care they deserved. I was at my worst probably when SCAD was taking up all my time, and my readers certainly were not pleased with it. My low point probably came with strips #621 and #622 - when I chose not to draw the interior of Kaitlyn's house because it was too much work, result in kids wandering through a blank panel and me just telling you what had happened in the titles and alt text. Lazy. Lazy. Lazy.

And that's just the pitfalls on the art side. Another downfall of a daily cartoonist, which I saw often in the Get Fuzzy books, is the reluctance to reject strip ideas. Deadlines always loom, and the idea of scrapping one strip, much less entire stories, is incredibly risky if one doesn't have more ideas to use as replacements. Telling every little detail is great for the cartoonist, as it keeps the material flowing, but it can easily turn to arc fatigue for the readers. Again, I certainly stretched some stories out in this way to keep pace with the daily demand. A lot of times you can even get away with it - but do it too much and you risk losing an already highly-fickle readership.

Recently, I've tried to edit myself a lot more than usual. After two very long arcs, I set myself a goal of telling stories over the course of one week. It's harder than you'd think to tell something from start to finish in seven daily strips. You can't stray too far from the point, and most detours have to be excised. I have no idea how successful I was at this venture, but it was certainly a good experience for me. Almost all of the week-long stories could have stretched out a week or two longer - and sometimes readers got angry that I didn't expand on things - but I'm glad I stuck to my guns.

The current "Compensated Endorsers" arc was originally meant to be another week-long story, but I decided enough time had passed that I could indulge myself in expanding it. Even so, the first of the arc can easily stand on its own separate from the rest. In fact, I originally planned on breaking up the story and inserting a random week-long story between them. (Maybe I should have gone through with it?)

With the decision to expand the story into an arc, I started planning things out and jotting down ideas. I mapped out motives, plot, characters and all the fun stuff. I looked at the natural progression of things and got a good sense of the story. Then I took a chainsaw to everything, and I couldn't be happier about it.

I looked at editing this current story from the approach of editing a 45-minute TV show. A show of that length is long enough to run something of substance - but maybe not long enough to run it with as much detail and depth as a writer would like. I think of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series DVDs, where watching deleted scenes suddenly gave otherwise random scenes some context. With the time limit, some edits are brutal. Minor plots that made it into the shooting script are hacked away for time. It can bug you a little, but the sacrifice was made so the MAIN story could be told. I'm not saying it's a GOOD thing, as ideally you write concisely to get it ALL in, but I'm proud of myself for making the tough cuts when I needed to make them.

Why did Dionne act friendly with Bud? We never really find out, because plot points related to her motives were axed. (You can ask me about it after the arc is finished if you want.) Shouldn't the casting guy get a proper introduction and name? Maybe, but the plot doesn't suffer at all with me cutting right to the chase. There were WEEKS of material I could have covered dealing with the other kids angling for the role and the owner of the bakery - but all those characters were wiped away. They were distractions to the story, and thus not important enough. The end result is a 22-strip story in place of one that could have run for 50 instead. It's tighter. It's stronger. It's better. (And, for the record, the 22nd strip is only there because I edited the next week's scripts down to only six days of material.) I'm not sure this arc will ever enter into the top tier of Precocious stories, but I'm proud of it anyway.

This is still an evolving process, and I'm sure I'll be annoyed that I didn't fine-tune the strips further after a few months. I'm still making mistakes due to the time crunch. I'm still not always as sharp with my writing as I'd like to be. I still struggle with backgrounds and complex scenes, often resulting in me reverting to a cheap close-up that takes much less time to draw and color. Some days I have no choice but to show a bunch of talking heads against a background void. I have a long way to go. Point is, I'm learning from my mistakes and I care about getting better. I have no intention of coasting through my updates just to get them done. Precocious is my life right now, and I want to make it as good as it can be. Editing myself means I'm far more rushed at the moment that I could be, but my archives should be a much nicer place because of it.

(Yes, folks, I'm aware of the irony in writing a long, rambling blog post about how vital it is to edit long, rambling stories.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

What a pile of every Precocious strip looks like

And today is when my (lack of) organization skills begin to cause me pain. I'm a good boy in that I at least keep all the strips together. (With one exception, but that loner will join the horde tonight.) I'm a very bad boy in that they aren't in order, and nearly all of them aren't labeled and numbered. Heck, those that ARE numbered are likely numbered incorrectly, as I shuffled the archives around.

I knew this day was coming, so I can't complain. The task ahead of me is simple: Sort through everything, number the strips correctly and begin the long and painful process of re-scanning and re-lettering all the early stuff. I also have to decide if I want to go through with re-drawing the first 17 strips. In my dumping out of my comics bin, I did find the beginnings of the redos started a looooong time ago.

In other news, the reason I keep falling further and further behind with things is because I keep giving myself more and more tasks like this. All of them are important and must get done! I just need to learn to function without sleep or something.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Precocious across the world!

Behold! A ego-tastical posting for today!

I can send off all my commissions and donation packages, but it doesn't become real to me that SOMEONE ACTUALLY WANTED MY STUFF until I see photo proof!

Look at this! THOSE ARE FRAMES! My work was frameable! All three Tiffany watercolors hanging together! Oh my heck! (I'll forgive him for making Ginger's Bread the centerpiece, since I outnumber it four to one.)

Since I got permission to post his pictures, here is my Skull Mountain commission with the awesome reader who set the plan in motion! (Note the Team Jacob shirt too. Bonus points!)

I'm even excited to see my magnets in action. This is not just a refrigerator, people. It's a refrigerator IN RUSSIA! Tiffany is demanding attention on another continent! That amazes me!

I've been fighting to keep pace with all my work lately, and it's treats like these photos that keep me pushing forward. Sure, the money is nice for allowing me to eat and stuff - but it's the ego boosts that come from selling art that keeps me going. Thanks to everyone who has supported me. Love to you all!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Planning? Ha!

Behold: A new character! He is the product of such laziness, he will never even get a name! Seriously, this time I waited until the panel he appeared in before even thinking about what he looked like. Granted, improvising on random characters when I get to them is standard for me, but this guy will actually get to hang around for a few strips. Normally characters that aren't one-shot get a little more thought put into them. Oh well, this guy looks fun enough, right?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brains never cooperate

What you see here is the very first concept sketch for the main character of a comic that I will likely NEVER DO. It is awkward and awful, but that isn't uncommon for first tries. Don't judge me harshly over it.

So why am I sharing? Because I can't get this damn thing out of my mind! I know I don't have time for it. I know I don't have the drawing chops for it (yet). I don't really have any idea how to go about writing it. I'm not sure I care enough to bother finding out. BUT MY BRAIN REFUSES TO BACK DOWN FROM A CHALLENGE!

It started as a thought exercise. I looked at a genre I've avoided like the plague ever since I first started crafting stories in my head and asked myself, "Can I pull this off if I tried?" In this case, the genre was... high school slice of life? With teenagers? And relationship drama? Dude, have you checked out Precocious? Not only does it feature only one teen (who is rarest of rare in character appearances) but it's not big on relationship gobbledygook. The kids are too young for that and the parents are all locked into stable, happy relationships. Looking back over allll the stories I've composed in my head over allllll these years... VERY FEW TEENS. Even when I *was* a teen, all my stories involved adults.

I thought this would be a quick exercise, as I drew a complete blank on how I would approach something so foreign to me. Then frigging Alanis Morrissette came on my iTunes playlist with the song "8 Easy Steps." In the past, I had fun matching all the personality flaws listed in the song with characters from a story I've had in my head since I was a teen. This was a fantasy tale, with every main character over 18. But what if... what if I used those long-established characters and turned them into awkward modern high schoolers? It's a plan so stupid that it... worked? I was seeing characters I've known for half my life in an entirely new context, and it was fun figuring out how their fantasy story quirks would translate. Suddenly my mind wanted to ride this wave and see how far it could go.

Of course, there's still the problem of composing a story. Just as my thought exercise into trying to write a superhero story yielded the promising concept of The Utopians, this exercise also gave me just enough mental rope to hang myself. The Utopians is going to stall forever unless I bring in a friend who knows their supers to help me get some basic concepts and pacing down. This idea is also going to languish until I settle on my storytelling angle - and that's not even factoring in the art requirements of this concept being far more than I can currently handle! But my brain is too stubborn to admit defeat.


Stupid brain.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bonus Comics Day - A song in my heart!

This day has been a blast! I'd do it forever, except that this day has also nearly killed me.

I went into it thinking I'd get a ton of work done because I'd be chained to the computer. WRONG. With ADHD, it can take me a while to settle down into a work groove, and having to reset myself every hour to an update threw me off-balance completely. By the time I did the update, posted about it, checked out all the social media places, prepped the next update and sat down to start my work... 45 minutes had gone by! It's hard to get a project started in 15 minutes, so back to email and Twitter and...

It was still totally awesome being able to throw updates at you guys left and right. (And I grin looking at the stat boost I got from today's antics!) If I ever do another donation drive, I must have a bonus comics day again - although next time I MUST charge more per strip. I hope you all had as much fun as I did.

Along the way, while trying to stir up the slow early morning crowd, I was talking about music I was listening to - and realized I missed a golden opportunity. I've been listening to the delightful St. Vincent, and some of her songs make great fits for my own little Vincent. Somehow, despite it being crazy to do so, I drew up ANOTHER bonus comic - just so I could double Vincent all the way across the sky. It'll show up at the top of the hour. (Bonus music comic #15, strip #854.) I had two ideas for the St. Vincent strip, and the sketch you see above is from the one that lost. It's such a sweet line and it's perfect for Vincent, but also kinda gross to illustrate if I wanted to be literal.

It's weird to think I could be exhausted from doing nothing but playing on the computer for 15 hours, but I really am. After I get to the regular update, when I can finally let go and have the CMS do the updating for me, I'd like nothing more than to go to bed and sleep for a week. But I'm a cartoonist. That ain't happening.

For one, thanks to all this Bonus Comics Day stuff, my buffer is now gone. Tomorrow I have no choice but to color the rest of this week's strips. Then can I rest? Oh, no! I still have three commission projects that desperately need attention! And I have to build up my buffer again! And I have to work on a donation poster for August! AND I NEED TO GET WORKING ON THE DANG BOOK! *head explodes*

Ahh, cartooning. The work is insane, but at least the pay's nonexistent and no one ever respects what you do (even in your own field, if you're a newspaper-style cartoonist). Woohoo!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's a Precocious party!

The Skull Mountain commission did its job and made it to the DC area in time to join in the closing festivities! I hope some joy was brought into the world via my cartoon critters and the good will of the man behind the commission.

I want to give mad props to this guy and his brother (who did the Downfall parody on the Precocious home page), who are making a bid for the ultimate Precocious fans. That's right, all you other ultimate fans. You have competition! The only solution is to keep one-upping each other, making my smile grow ever larger. (I'm worth it!) That, or group hug in exceedingly cute fashion. Both options are good.

A good Precocite is an active fan! The comic needs to grow in order to become a sustainable thing, so every time you spread the world you are helping to ensure the strip will keep going strong. Seriously, I am absolutely amazed every single day when I think about all you guys have done for me. Don't ever change, you wonderful people!

Oh yeah, and if a good Precocite gets something from me, I want to see photos! Show off your shirts! Show me where you're displaying Precocious art! (Bonus points for super-creepy shrines.) Where are you sticking your magnets? I'll probably whip up a blog post if I get some good shots. If not, you're still helping my self-esteem - and isn't that the most important thing of all?

So now that we're all feeling good about ourselves, are we ready to party some more? Despite no one seeming to care except me, I want Bonus Comics Day to be fun for all. Since I'll be doing an update every hour, my plan for tomorrow is to glue myself to the computer for scripting and coloring - and hopefully lots of hanging out in the comments section!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The final mailings

I'm still holding on to the donation sketches, but I think it's save to share the grand donation prize. One brave reader came through with a donation to claim Jacob, as was promised in the donation drive comics, and Jacob he shall get!

I'm packing the last of the envelopes tonight. (Man, this step takes about ten times as long as I anticipated.) Tomorrow I drive to the post office and send them on their way. (I should walk for fitness, but the humidity... oh the humidity.)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dedication to the craft

I decided to blog from my phone today on a whim! Maybe because I knew I had little to say and this would give me an excuse. (Edit: This turned out to be a horrible idea, as the Blogger iPhone ap lacks an option to update one's profile if they've since changed their Google password. That is truly some epic failure in ap design, guys. Eh, one duplicate profile later I finally got this thing posted.)

What you see here is some of the process behind the next Copper Road. The scary thing here is my embarrassing lack of prep. I had to draw Xander, who hasn't show up in forever. I had to design a one-shot character. I should have done some research into the setting. All real cartoonists also thumbnail the layouts, because they're kinda vital. What did I do? One page of half-hearted sketches for the new character. GOOD ENOUGH! Time to jump into sketching and wing it! Screw prep work! I'll learn as I go!

And that, children, is why panel one of the next Copper Road contains a major cartooning no no, as a dialog balloon cuts off a guy's head. This could have been prevented with just a little planning. Oh well! I live life dangerously! (Stupidly.) I rarely do extensive prep work on anything I do.

I will never be a real cartoonist at this rate.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mailing day II, Heat Wave Boogaloo.

(Although I think it's more "Summer as usual in Georgia" than an actual heat wave.)

Yes, FINALLY, the second wave of donation goodies is hitting the post office! (Magnet people, who got their goods in the first wave, I want to see pictures of what you did with your new prized possession!) This wave covers everyone who donated for a sketch and told me what their request was (With one exception. Sorry, Kevin!) and a few lucky ones who donated for a print and magnet.

After I finish packing everything, I will be faced with a decision: Do I risk giving up my primo parking spot to drive to the post office, or do I walk two miles in 95-degree heat instead? On one hand, I *do* need the exercise. On the other, MY SCANDINAVIAN SKIN WILL BOIL AWAY!

The upcoming third wave, which will hopefully go out at the end of this week, will cover the rest. Those who donated for a sketch without giving me a request will end up getting a facefull of whatever the heck I wanted to draw for them!

Oh, right. I have a blog.

So I'm sitting here, putting together the donation packets for mailing tomorrow when I realize I HAVEN'T SHARED ANYTHING I'VE BEEN WORKING ON IN DAYS!

What can I say, I've been immensely self-absorbed. (Also, much of my work wasn't blog-worthy.) My solution to the recent funk was to lock myself away and ignore everything else in the world. Not the brightest thing to do, but it's working!

So here's the final version of the Skull Mountain commission. (At least, I hope so.) That's my first offering. To make up for my slacking off, I think I'll have to blog nonstop for the next few weeks. (Yeah, we'll see if I can pull that off...)