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<   No. 3321   2014-03-02   >

Comic #3321

1 {sketch of St Peter's Basilica, Rome}
1 Caption: Sketch

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31/365 Drum lesson
Me practising on drums. (Taken at my music school.)
So last week I mentioned that I had an idea for a new webcomic. I've actually been sitting on this idea for a while, since ideas are easy - it's the finding time to execute them that is hard.[1] I'd been considering the logistics of how I could make this idea a reality, and wondering how worthwhile it would be compared to everything else that I want to do.

(I also just joined a "School of Rock" program at my music school, in which I'll be learning the drum parts for several songs over the next few months with a bunch of people I haven't met yet, with the goal of playing an actual gig later this year. As someone who had never picked up a drumstick - or in fact played any musical instrument competently - two years ago, this is somewhat scary, but I'm sure it will be fun. My first rehearsal is later on the day when I'm writing this.)

Anyway, the idea for this comic is not one that I could very easily apply my usual alternative art techniques to. This comic would need to be drawn.

For a long time I have wanted to be able to draw more competently. I really want to draw better. And I'm a firm believer that I can if I just get enough practice. Unlike the people who end up drawing comics or other art for a living, I never really got into the habit of doodling. Whenever I drew something, it was a deliberate effort with a specific goal in mind. I never allowed my drawing hand to just do whatever it wanted across page after page. Perhaps I paid too much attention in mathematics and science at school, when people destined to be artists were scribbling and doodling and sketching in the margins of their notebooks.

I have tried sketching in the past. Carrying around a set of pencils and a sketchbook, and taking "snapshot" sketches of the world around me. But I never managed to make it into a habit that lasted more than a few days. What you need is discipline and a love of drawing. A lot of one can make up for less of the other. I like drawing, but it wasn't enough to overcome my lack of discipline when it came to making sketches.

Sketching in St Mark's Square
See the lady in the bottom right corner? I would love to be able to find the time and discipline to do what she's doing while on vacation.
This is where this new comic comes in. If I give myself a schedule, with a regular deadline, I impose that discipline on myself. I know that once I have a deadline, I am the type of person who will shift mountains to meet it. If I commit to publishing a drawn comic once a week, I will publish a drawn comic once a week. The quality of the drawing may not be great to start with, but the drawing will happen. And when it happens, over time it will get better.

So if you want to know what my new comic will be about, this is what it's about: It's about improving my drawing skills.

Okay, that's really a meta-level answer. I'm not prepared quite yet to reveal the genre or story or characters or anything like that. I still have a few weeks of prep work to do before I launch, and I want it all revealed then. What sort of prep work?

Well, the first thing I want to do is get some moderately consistent looking character art. To that end, I am planning on spending maybe a couple of weeks just sketching the characters. Over and over again, in various angles and poses. I've started with just one of the main characters so far, and have now filled five pages of a sketchbook with this (about 20 repetitions per page), developing the look by tweaking little things as I go. I'm still not sure I have the final look right yet, so there may be a few more days of this before I move on to the second main character. And then there's a third one to do in the same manner.

My normal drawing style is rather haphazard. When drawing people I have tended to start with the eyes, then fill in the face around them, then finally add the shape of the head. The results can end up a bit random. (You can see the effect of this if you look at my comics in Lightning Made of Owls.[2]) This time I am starting with a rough oval for the head, pencilling in contours to show the three dimensional shape, then filling in the facial features.[3] This, I've discovered, makes it far easier to show the head looking in various different directions, since it is now more like a three dimensional object depicted on the page, rather than just some flat scribbles.

On the train
Sketch by me.
Repetition helps with consistency. My first efforts had small (or large!) deviations of line shape and position all over the place. And even though some of these deviations were small, they make a big impression on the appearance of the character. Some of them, you really can't even tell it's supposed to be the same person. Clearly this is not ideal for a comic strip!

After I'm happy with my characters and am reasonably confident that I can draw them so they are consistently recognisable, I will sketch up some test strips. And only then will I launch into making the first strip for this new comic. I plan to publish one strip a week. Hopefully I can achieve that rate of output. But I won't be publishing the first strip the moment it is completed. If you want to launch a new regularly published comic, this is generally a very bad idea. Instead, I plan on drawing at least the first four strips - a month's worth - before publishing any of them. This gives me a starting buffer.

I have found the strip buffer to be an essential part of publishing something regularly, at the advertised interval. I most definitely do not want to be in the situation two weeks in when I have to scramble to draw a strip the night before it is due to appear. Another thing the buffer will provide me is a chance to look at the first four completed strips before anyone else sees them, and check that I am achieving some level of consistency. (I'm not sure what I'll do if I decide I'm failing at that - I don't plan to fail!) That will (hopefully) give me the confidence that I can stick with it long enough to make it worth your while as potential readers before I throw some half-arsed attempt at you.

So this is quite a serious project, with some careful thought, planning, practice, and lead time.

I'm not announcing a solid launch date just yet, because the first few strips may well take me more than a week each to produce. In fact, that's another thing the buffer gives me: a chance to build up to once-a-week production speed and make sure I can do it. But tentatively I'm planning another week of character study sketches, maybe a week doing strip sketches, and then perhaps four to six weeks of production to get my initial buffer of four completed strips. Let's say, around the start to middle of April.

It's a moderately firm deadline. I definitely want it out the door by the end of April. Anyway, I'll keep you posted.


[1] At least for me. For some people it is the finding the motivation to execute ideas rather than sit on the couch watching TV or reading a book that is hard. That bit is easy for me. Almost too easy - which is why I rarely ever watch TV or read books these days.

[2] Which, by the way, if you weren't aware of it, is another webcomic project I run, which relies on user submissions. If you want to have a go at creating a comic and would like to see it published but don't have the time or commitment for a regular schedule of your own, you can submit one-offs to LMoO. Please do so - we need more contributors!

[3] I actually bought a "how to draw comics" book which teaches how to do this in its first lesson. I kind of knew it already, but this is the sort of externally imposed discipline I need to get myself to draw better. There are lots of "how to draw comics" books out there these days (when I was a kid there weren't). I won't recommend any particular one - instead I suggest you do what I did, which is to browse through the "how to draw" section of a book shop, flip through some likely books, and pick the one that "feels right" to you.

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