My Favorite Parts

I’m always a little surprised when I still enjoy writing this comic. It has, as best I can tell, next to zero readers. When I write, I’ve got a constant low-level anxiety about whether anyone wants to read it and maybe I’m just a hack. That’s there with a webcomic, too, but it’s much more muted.

But I enjoy the actual work a lot. Here are the steps in the order of how much I enjoy them:

  1. The first step is also my favorite. It’s a rough sketch with bare text. I often do this Wednesday or Thursday. Unless I’m worried about time, it’s my first night’s work. I go through each panel, draw a very rough drawing that gives me a bare idea of the layout, and – my favorite part – I save the panels. I’m very focused on judging myself by numbers. I get a rush when I save a panel to a file, and it’s a higher number than it’s evern been before.

  2. It’s a big jump for my second favorite step, and it’s the only step I like more the more challenging it is. I love shading. Shading is subtle and really powerful. I didn’t respect it enough to start with, doing a separate layer of 25% opacity with a few quick strokes. It’s now half an hour with airbrush and smudge. The image gets better every moment. I typically do this Sunday.

  3. My third favorite is pushing. My image from five weeks ago is already in the directory. I make a new manifest (index of images for the navigation), copy the images and manifest to staging, check staging, move the images and manifest to production, invalidate the Cloudfront cache (I’ve only had to do this since I started Cloudfront) and check that it looks right. One of my next tasks will be to automate this. I do this Sunday.

  4. Talk bubbles is next. I’ve pretty well automated this step using my webcomic script fu (I’m not being cute. Scheme plugins in GIMP are called ‘script fu’.) I make circles and rounded rectangles with one plugin. I make the ‘tails’ with the path tool, and then I fill them in with the solid bubble plugin (for Green Skull or Centaurs) or the outline bubble plugin (for everyone else). This used to be half an hour. It’s maybe ten minutes now. It’s typically done Sunday.

  5. Color is meditative, and that’s nice. It’s the only step where I switch out tools often. I use the mouse with the bucket tool to fill in inked regions. If a region isn’t ‘watertight’, I pick up a graphics tablet and use the pen tool to plug a leak before going back to mouse/bucket and filling it in again. It takes about ten minutes for all the panels. The only thing is that, after color and before shading is probably the worst the panel looks. After rough sketch, I see potential. When I color, I’ve made my compromises. It’s maybe ten minutes, typically Sunday.

  6. We’ve gotten to things I’m not crazy about. Refined sketch is where I really hit my limitations as an artist. One time in eight (up from never), I’m kind of happy with the quality of the sketch. Sometimes I screw up so badly I scrap it and try again. When I do this four times, I throw up my hands and go with whatever the hell I’ve got. I’m really aware I’m publishing something I’m still learning, but I do learn, and I enjoy that. This takes about 30 minutes-2 hours per original panel. It’s sometimes done Saturday night, though I’ve spent five nights doing sketches on complex panels.

  7. “I add depth and shading to give the image more definiton. Only then does the image truly take shape.” This line plays in my head while I ink. I try to start the stroke where it’s light and end where it’s dark. I like my inking very, very rarely. I really enjoy the character of sketches, and ink feels like vandalism. I should watch youtube casts of people inking to get a better feel. It takes fifteen to forty-five minutes. I do it Saturday or Sunday.

Web development isn’t here. It’d fit at about step 2.2. I enjoy it a lot, and it’s very satisfying when the comic does something it didn’t do before. Cloudfront and HTTPS were the least fun parts of that, since it had a lot of downtime and I spent some time trying to figure out websites instead of writing code, and that was still really good to accomplish.