Friday, March 30, 2007


Come on down to see Shad, Vincent, Tim and a bunch of great artists and designers from Minneapolis screen print over top of each other's stuff.

There is also a cool gallery show with BTA spin-off PUNY showcasing blunders and music..and booze:


Influences: Eastman and Laird

In the tradition of the Socratic dialogues, Kevin and I will jointly proclaim our reverence for Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Zander: I was first introduced to the Ninja Turtles by my neighbor, Mike McKenna, who said that 1) they were awesome, and 2) that the first issue was already worth something like three hundred bucks. By the time I started reading the issues, the black-and-white comics and mini-comics boom of the 1980s had begun, and there were tons of imitators and spiritual descendants of the Turtles on the racks. What grabbed me about TMNT was the roughness and rawness of their art style, and the way that you could kind of see how they were done (though the toned paper that they used was awfully mysterious to me). I liked the idea that with some art supplies, some imagination, and fifty years of monster movies, samurai manga, and other comics to crib from, you could create an entire world.

Kevin: I honestly can't remember how I got hooked on TMNT. My earliest memory is of sitting on a bus in New York and reading the "book 2" graphic novel. I'm flipping through it right now (not having done so in ten+ years) and every quip and sound effect is coming back to me. I think what hooked me on these turtles was that they were so REAL, at least compared to your standard superheroes. Flying guys in tights were a joke compared to these reclusive, aggressive thugs who bled when cut. So anyway, once I got the bug, my whole world revolved around the TMNT franchise. I spent a lot of my money on the toys, but I still remember being a snob about the comics, even at age ten. Actually, I don't remember knowing anyone else who read the comics; they all just seemed to be into the TV show and the movies. The thing that moved me about the comics was the perpetual dance everyone was always in during the fight scenes. No one could stay still. And there were so many weapons flying around, there was constant danger. I think that as a reader, I want a visceral connection to the action. So reading about fights involving guns or lasers never did anything for me because I couldn't relate to it. But watching sticks and fists and dirt flying around -- that pulled me right into the action.

Zander: I read somewhere that the paper that Eastman and Laird used (a special paper that would reveal one hatch pattern when painted with one chemical, and another, perpendicular to it, when painted with another) was so expensive that they cut the big sheets in half to save money. The result in the earlier comics was a chunkiness to the art and a slight inconsistency to the lettering that to me gave it a certain special vibe. Its lack of polish made it seem that much more wonderful; basically, it wasn't a quirky but average comic, but rather the very best minicomic that had ever been made.

Kevin: I wasn't savvy enough then to appreciate how the comic was made. But I did appreciate the stocky muscular structure of the turtles. My first ever anatomy lesson was simply drawing those figures over and over again.

Zander: In addition to the fact that it was so accessible due to its amateurish surface, what I appreciated about TMNT was that within the art you could really see a solid understanding of light and shadow, as well as anatomy, architecture, etc. I loved that, like a lot of the other artists we've talked about in the Influences posts, these guys created a solid, weighty, deep world that you could imagine people (or mutated turtles) living in.

Kevin: Speaking of "these guys," I guess we should say a few words about Eastman and Laird themselves. I still to this day can't tell the difference between the two. "Eastman N. Laird" is one man as far as I can tell. Obviously I can see style changes as I flip through this stack of comics, but I can't tell what's Laird, what's Eastman, and what's simply changed over time. In 2001 I traveled with Zander to the San Diego Comicon and he, knowing I grew up with the Turtles, pointed to a guy wearing a black leather coat and said "That's Kevin Eastman." My jaw dropped for a few seconds and then I suddenly realized, "Hey, he's just a normal guy." But of course, I was still too shy to go up and say anything to him, at least nothing that he hasn't heard four billion times already.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Chapter 99: Heartbeeps

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Wish Someone Would Invent: Earphones for Cool People


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tips and Tricks: Atmospheric Perspective (Inking)

Continuing on Kevin's theme from last week, let's talk about atmospheric perspective as it relates to inking.

This will be a little similar to a previous post on Spotting Black Areas, but a little more particularly pointed at dealing with distance in the daytime. Doing this effectively will make your panels look wonderfully deep and rich, and doing it poorly will result in your panel looking flat, boring, and worst of all, confusing.

This is a little different from the coloring lesson in that inking is kind of a one-shot step-- you have to do things right, because you can't erase or tinker with levels like you can when you're coloring on the computer. Of course, if you're inking on the computer, you can. But we're not at that level yet 'round these parts.

Here we have our starting image. Basically, there are three layers: the cockpit of the plane in the foreground, the middleground plane, and the ground in the background. Right now, this panel looks pretty flat, although we can tell what's going on. The steps in making this panel look deeper using atmospheric perspective will be attached to each layer.

Step One: Foreground Layer

First, let's just pop the layer out a little bit. Thick lines around the main shape start to make it seem a little closer and more vivid. Even though this is kind of an abstraction from real life (things don't really have outlines, I hate to tell you), it reads like an increase in contrast, and, like the atmospheric coloring lesson, the basic concept is that contrast on objects is high close to the viewer, and lower as they recede.

Then, let's just decide that the inside of the cockpit will be dark. It adds a certain weight to it, and makes things simpler and more contrasty. I also thickened up the lines around the cockpit, as well as the bars or whatever they are that go over the canopy. I haven't gone in to work on the pilot yet, but notice that I didn't thicken up the lines ON the wing or around the nose. Those are seams in the surface of the plane and they should seem very flat-- they don't cast shadows, so they should stay as light as possible so as not to detract from the overall shape of the plane.

Then I went in and added some more stuff to the pilot. Shadows behind his head, under his chin, and under his arm make him look more like a physical presence, and darkening his eyebrow brings a little bit more focus to his face.

Finally, I was thinking that the foreground didn't look distinct enough, so I added some directional shadows on the near side of his helmet and arm and the outside of the plane. What this does from a logical point of view is establish the light source and give the foreground more contrast, but also, from a compositional point of view, it clusters a bunch of dark areas over into a relatively unified clump in the lower left corner, which helps focus the reader's eye on the main subject of the panel.

Step Two: Middleground Layer

For the upcoming layers, you'll find that treading lightly is your best bet, as less black helps a great deal in making each layer look distant. But we do have to make the middleground distinct from the background, so...

The first thing I did here was thicken the lines of the middleground plane, making certain that I don't make them as thick as the foreground one. You'll see that I screwed up on the nose and wing, and it kind of hurts the illusion. Oh well-- maybe the next step will fix it.

As we've established the direction of the light, let's put some shadows on the near surface of the middleground plane. Restraint is admirable here-- at a glance, the reader only needs to know that something is there, not necessarily every detail of its appearance, so a few blobs of black will work well enough to establish the plane's presence. I also dropped a few blobs into the cockpit to give that a little weight.

Step Three: Background Layer

By the time we get back to the background in these sorts of pictures, we're pretty far away, so I don't want to really add any solid black areas, or we'll start flattening things out. The background, particularly in this panel, is like the equivalent of a matte painting in a movie-- it's pretty, and it adds atmosphere, but it isn't something that you can interact with, so there's no point in distinguishing individual physical objects within it. So I just added some windows to the building, and hatched out a shadow that has no solid black in it, then added a little more detail in the distant background to fill in some of the white area, which was starting to look a little flat. If the illustration is going to be in color, you might choose, instead of hatching for the shadow, to just use a thin pen to outline the shadow and then drop in a very slightly darker color into it. Hatching or crosshatching in color work can sometimes look sloppy, and a color shadow in the distant background might look a little nicer.

With that, we've got a relatively effective picture that has depth and weight to it, despite being drawn quickly, and in a very simple art style. Questions? Comments? Join us in the ...comments.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Big Time Attic: The Comic

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Far Arden: Chapter Six


Well, here we are at the halfway point. 144 pages in the can ... and so much adventure and intrigue yet to unfold!

A few things have changed since the beginning of the process. I'm no longer doing the monthly 24-hour marathons, as it was starting to kill my hand. Plus, pulling an all-nighter was also affecting my day job by making me spend nearly one week out of every month in a groggy haze. So I work on nights and weekends, usually doing a chapter within a one-week period. But I'm still cranking out a page an hour, so it'll still be a 288 hour book at the end of the day.

Alright, after I hit "publish" I'm going to make some lunch and sit down and read this thing from the beginning. Hopefully it'll make some sense...

Read Chapter Six.
Start from the beginning.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Into the Wild -- the film!

I just discovered that Jon Krakauer's 1996 book "Into the Wild" is currently being made into a feature film.

Fans of "Johnny Cavalier" may remember that my weekly college strips were heavily inspired by Krakauer's book. "Into the Wild" is the true story of a college kid named Chris McCandless who burns his car and his money and hitchhikes to Alaska. He lives for several months in an abandoned bus in the wilderness until he eats some bad seeds and dies.

The backstory of the "Johnny Cavalier" strips is that Johnny and his friend Dean Caveat find the bus in Alaska, fix it up, and drive it down to Grinnell, where they park it in a corn field. Wow, I can't believe that strip is almost a decade old. I feel like a really old man.

Here's Sean Penn and his buddies in Alaska:

Friday, March 23, 2007

Influences: Kieron Dwyer

I've always liked Kieron Dwyer's work on things like Captain America, but I kind of lumped him in with a lot of other good artists whose stuff I would only pick up occasionally. But when he came out with Torch of Liberty from Dark Horse in the mid-90s, I felt like he hit a stride that made me look at every single panel with a laser-like intensity, wondering, "How does he do this sorcery?!"

*Click on the image to bring it up in more detail*

These are the first two panels of the story, an homage to Red Scare paranoia, and they do a beautiful job of establishing the scene (New York City), the characters (acrobatic WWII-style patriotic heroes), and the tone (dark and grim, though the campy writing by John Byrne undercuts that somewhat, to good effect). The thing that made me so fascinated with this work was that he used deep black shadows and imprecise, brushy inking that nonetheless gave a great sense of panel depth and texture. The buildings are distant in the first panel, without using any tricks or cheats, and the way he spotted black areas moves the eye around the panel with perfect precision. The brushy inking also allows the artist to suggest detail without having to slave over every last architectural decoration in a panel that will be read in only seconds.

I find that the thing that thrills me when reading comics is when artists create an image that communicates everything they need to communicate and nevertheless shows the reader the mechanics by which the drawing was created. That is to say-- we see what the subject of the panel is, and the panel has depth and dynamism and weight, but we also can tell that the image is a drawing; we see the brushstrokes, we can see that it is just lines on paper. That little switch that our mind makes between logic-- this is just ink on paper-- to emotion-- "that man just jumped through a glass table!" is one of the fundamental thrills of comics. It is particularly clear in Dwyer's comics; even the sound effect in this panel, which would usually be done by the letterer in a nice clean font, is integrated into the artwork, and its sloppiness adds to the power with which the Torch of Liberty hits the floor.

Dwyer also uses an impressive range of "shots" in his comics (recalling the 5 Purposes of Panels), and shows in this comic how a broad range of panel types makes for exciting reading.

I should mention that Kieron Dwyer is a friend of mine, and I told him all of this (in truncated, and drunkated, form several years ago). He continues to make awesome stuff, and you can check it all out at his site: Kieron Dwyer dot com


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Chapter 99: "Can't Catch a Break!"

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Wish Someone Would Invent: An ingredients-based recipe website

Have you ever thought about an invention that maybe YOU can't make, but it sure would be nice if someone else did?

Right now I'm going through an "Eat Everything in My Cupboards and Freezer" phase to save a little money and use up some perfectly good food before it goes bad. The problem is when I get down to the homestretch and I'm left with a can of cream of mushroom soup, ketchup, maple syrup, and these crispy dried onion things (I think they're some kind of casserole topping). I know that all of these things are edible, but I'm not smart enough in the kitchen to make a good meal out of 'em.

I wish someone would invent an online database where you can enter the ingredients in your kitchen and it will spit out a bunch of recipes. Over time, I could see it turning into a YouTube-like site, where users can submit their own recipes. Also, like YouTube, users can give each meal a rating and you can read strings of comments. Photos of the final product could accompany the recipe, as well as videos of preparation.

But all that community and human interaction stuff is extra in my opinion. I'd really just like a site that tells me: "You've got tuna, hot peppers, half an onion and some soy sauce? Mix them up this way and heat them this way for this many minutes."

And hey, I've done no internet research on this idea, so if it exists already and you've used it, please let me know! (Before dinner tonight, preferably.)

So, you want to invent it? Already know about something just like it? Got a reason why it would never work? Got some suggestions? Got your own "I Wish Someone Would Invent..."? See you in the comments!


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tips and Tricks: Atmospheric Perspective (Color)

Atmospheric perspective is the effect that you see when looking at objects of varying distances from you. Namely, the farther away you are from an object:

1) the hue of the object becomes increasingly blue, and
2) the contrast of the object decreases.

You can read about the science behind atmospheric perspective at Wikipedia.

As a cartoonist, you can mimic the effect of atmospheric perspective in order to create or accentuate depth in your drawing. Because atmospheric perspective is universal (among earthlings, anyway), you can use this trick in pretty much any context without confusing the reader.

Here is a generic drawing of a small street in a mountain town.

The objects in the drawing all suggest that there is a great deal of space between them. Using logic, we know that the mountain range is very far away. We see the street narrow as it moves up the panel, suggesting that it is moving back in space. We also see buildings layered on top of each other, also suggesting that they are moving back in space.

So why does the panel still seem so flat?

Trick #1: Hue to Blue

Watch what happens when I put a blue mask over the objects in drawing. The opacity changes from 10% to 100% as the objects move back in space.

Trick #2: Decreasing Contrast

Here I'm messing with the lineart layer, changing the black lines to gray as items recede.

You can also create the illusion of distance in black & white drawings, which Zander will talk about in an upcoming "Tips & Tricks" post.


Monday, March 19, 2007

144 Hour Graphic Novel Challenge

Session Number Two of the 144 Hour Graphic Novel Challenge went down on Saturday at the MN Center for Books Arts. Zander was out of town and finished his chapter remotely and I left early after my brush pen crapped out. But Steve marched on, as did a host of fresh faces, there to begin their first chapter.

Dank!, Stwalley, Sievert, Schlosser, Square-Briggs
Not pictured: Petosky, Konrardy, and Lappegard
Update: See the comments section for more info on who showed up...

Hopefully these brave soldiers will host their chapters online. In the meantime, you can read the continuation of "Heck" and "Oceanis" by clicking on the images below:

Read the stories here.

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Big Time Attic: The Comic

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Influences: Julie Doucet

Alright, so it's a little hard for me to say that Julie Doucet is one of my influences since I only discovered her last fall, but even in that short amount of time I've fallen in love with her work, and kick myself for not seeing it sooner. I lived in NYC for a short period after college and having Doucet's "My New York Diary" would have been a welcome companion insofar as it would have been nice to glance at it whenever I thought my situation seemed frustrating.

Doucet's panels are rich mazes of black scratches, making them seem more like German Expressionist prints than comics panels. Doucet rarely bothers with establishing shots. Instead, she dives right into her world of medium-close square panels, each of which can be generalized as "Julie surrounded by crap."

I'm amazed by the level of detail she puts into each panel -- toys leaning against the wall, empty cans of soup and dirty plates, and cockroaches everywhere. Her constant clutter definitely enhances the voyeuristic nature of her work. I mean, It's understandable that she'd depict her art school's hallways as bastions of trash, but you'd think she'd try to pick up her own apartment just a little bit. ... Of course, a spotless apartment would take away from the "Look at me, I've got so many problems and I can't spell and I'm late on my deadlines and all my boyfriends are losers" vibe that is seemingly proof of her being a legitimate artist. The bottom line is that Doucet has put the intimacies of her life on public display, and regardless of whether that is born out of self-love or self-hatred (or a healthy mix of both), I'm happy her work exists. Most raw, risk-taking autobiographical comics that I've seen are done by well-intentioned cartoonists who can't draw, while the talented artists' stories about themselves are soft and weepy. Doucet is the best of both worlds.

Top five ways that Doucet rules: 1) Heavy blacks on everyone's faces. 2) Adorable Canadian misspellings. 3) Gratuitous nudity. 4) Flexibility with perspective. 5) Complete, seemingly unedited self-disclosure.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chapter 99: Tacitown

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I Wish Someone Would Invent: A Desk-Size Tablet

Have you ever thought about an invention that maybe YOU can't make, but it sure would be nice if someone else did?

This is more about technology than about no one thinking about it, but I wish someone would invent a floppy pressure-sensitive sheet that could roll out on a drafting table and input drawings into a computer. Like the Wacom tablet, it would be a simple way to draw directly into a computer program, and skip the scanning step.

In this case, the tablet would be (obviously) much larger than the 4x6 to 9x12 area that most reasonably-priced tablets offer, and allow the artist to be more expressive with his or her arm movements.

Now, in the wake of the Cintiq tablets (large rotatable monitors that you can draw on with pressure-sensitive pens), there's the thought of making a sheet like the one above that doubles as a monitor as well. I'm sure people would make it if they could-- I can't imagine a graphic artist that wouldn't at least want to check it out.

You could use it as a regular desk as well-- it would keep your spreadsheets organized, and your desk could be laid out like mine is now ("I think that's in the upper right hand corner, under the tape dispenser") but with the help of a computer processor to keep everything organized behind the scenes.

Again, I know that people would invent it if they could possibly make it work and make it not cost ten million dollars, so don't worry, guys. I'll wait.


The Most Bestest Toy for Nerds...

... is a card catalog widget:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tips and Tricks: How to Make a Minicomic

Stop drawing in your sketchbook! It's time to make something other people can read!

Making a minicomic is how I started realizing that there is more to being a cartoonist than drawing characters in cool poses (or the only poses I know how to draw) in your sketchbook. You have to break out of your old, bad habits and actually draw the same character forty times in a row, and make him or her look the like the same person from every angle.

So let's start. You'll need the four Ps (pen, paper, photocopier, and pagination guide)


Any old one will do, of course, but here are some recommendations:

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen

We've recommended this before, and it's great. You can buy them online at Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN. It does take some practice to get it to do what you want, so if you're just starting out, you might want to use something a little easier to work with.

Pigma Micron pens:

These go from really thin to really thick. Your best bet is to use between an 03 and an 08. 03 is good for lettering when you're working print size. 08 is good for drawing panel borders. 05 is an all-around good pen for drawing.


Any old paper. We like to use Xerox Color Xpressions, which is a slightly glossy laser paper. But especially with the Micron pens, any kind will do.


Kinko's. They're everywhere. They'll do the photocopying for you, behind the counter, but if you don't want to wait every time, and if you want to have some control over what the final product looks like, you'll want to learn the tricks of the self-serve copier.

One big thing is figuring out how an image oriented on the glass relates to the image on the paper. Does it come out upside down? Look at the paper as it comes out of the copier. Open up the paper tray and draw an arrow on the top sheet showing where you think is up, and what side you think the image will print on. Copy a page and see if you're right. Then-- REMEMBER that. It will be important when you run the pages through to print on the back.

Pagination guide:

Here's one for an 8 page comic, with page 1 being the front cover and page 8 being the back cover.

You can figure these out logically, but this guide should help you get started. The important part is that you just remember that each page should be on the back of a consecutive number.

Okay, let's start drawing.

When you finish drawing, it will be hard to read your comic. When you draw according to the pagination guide, your pages will be (seemingly) all out of order, and people won't easily be able to check out your story. Better go and print it, quick!

Some of the things I like to do with minicomics:

1. Make the cover and back cover story pages. Minicomics to me are all about substance, not style. They aren't color, they aren't printed on particularly nice paper, so let's make this all about the story, and cram it full of as much content as we can. Other people look at minicomics as art objects, and print them on nice paper, and add color with a silkscreen or some other process. That's cool too.

2. Try different sizes of paper, and different configurations. With 11x17 paper, you can have a few cool sizes that you might not otherwise think about. These are some of my favorites.

This one is made by dividing an 11x17 sheet into sixths, which creates a 12-page minicomic that is almost perfectly square.

This one makes an 8-page mini that's WIDESCREEN.

The Cartoonist Conspiracy has created a minicomic about how to make a minicomic. You can download it and print it out here. Now get out there and make one of these, then REJOICE! You are a published cartoonist.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Big Time Attic: The Comic

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Influences: Matt Feazell

I first read Matt Feazell's work on a recommendation from the comics shop I frequented as a lad in Lakewood, Ohio in the 80s. It was a minicomic, probably 80 pages all bound together, and it was the adventures of a stick figure with two dots for eyes and a straight mouth that went off the side of his head named Cynicalman. He didn't want to fight crime; it was his day off.

Even at the time, I was very much into art. I loved the really detailed artists like Brian Bolland and Michael Golden, and I really appreciated complex, multilayered comics like those done by Bill Sienkiewicz. But there was something about these little stickfigure minicomics that fascinated me. They were easy to read (they couldn't have been THAT difficult!), and more to the point, they were funny and fast-paced. Since they were stripped of all the noodling around that you have to do to make complex, realistic artwork, they HAD to be funny, and they HAD to be fast-paced, otherwise what would be the point?

The stories were also something that appealed to my young self in that they were parodies of the standard notions of comic book superheroes. Cynicalman wasn't even really a superhero, except that he had a superhero name, and so everyone kept asking him to help them. The scope of the stories would range from tiny (getting up in the morning, or eating at the vegetarian restaurant) to huge (making a quiche in the Metrodome to satisfy an attacking Godzilla), and the ever-increasing cast of characters really made me feel as if this universe of little stickmen and -women was a worthwhile place to spend time.

Click for image for whole sequence

Stupid Boy, CuteGirl, Antisocialman, Dr. Pweent, Spud and Ernie (Cynicalman's fan club), and Mr. Spot were as real as any fully-rendered character at DC or Marvel Comics to me. The fact that the comics were small also meant that I could read them in different places than other comics. There was something about how personal reading them became-- particularly since not many of my other comics-reading friends could really get into stick-figure comics.

Now, years later, I run into Matt Feazell at practically every midwest convention and after having told him how much I liked his minicomics as a kid, he told me that that kid was the reason he made the comics. He wanted to make comics that didn't have to be elaborate affairs that depended on years of classical illustration training. He wanted to make comics that were quick, easy, and fun, and hoped that by that example, other people would make comics that were quick, easy, and fun, too. Sure enough, after reading Cynicalman, I started making my own 25 cent, 8 page minicomics and selling them to my friends. Now that's what I call an influence.

Click image for whole sequence


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Chapter 99: Franky Punjob

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I Wish Someone Would Invent: a more "in touch" iPod

** UPDATE **

3/13/07: has a write-up on a commercial biosignal reader from g.MOBIlab. Now all someone has to do is make it play music!

Have you ever thought about an invention that maybe YOU can't make, but it sure would be nice if someone else did?

People have made a big fuss over how their iPods, when on shuffle mode, can play exactly the right song for the moment. This is merely coincidence, of course, and for every Coldplay song you hear right as you are looking at a photo of an old girlfriend, there are thirty Aerosmith songs that play while you think about the grocery list.

But why leave it up to chance? Technology is currently available that can tell what our bodies are thinking. Maybe this technology can't tell exactly which ex-girlfriend is on our mind, but it can at least detect when we're sad and mopey. If someone could just hook these gadgets up to an iPod you'd have a pretty sophisticated little jukebox, able to play just the right song for just the right moment ... every time.

With a little computer programming on the front-end, this smart iPod can read your matrix of body cues and pick the right song. For example:

HIGH heart rate + HIGH cortisol =
I'm being chased by a tiger and I want to stop believing.
inTouch iPod recommends: "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey

HIGH heart rate + HIGH dopamine =
My significant other and I are "getting busy."
inTouch iPod recommends: "I'm Qualified to Satisfy You" by Barry White

LOW heart rate + HIGH dopamine =
I'm sitting on a beach and someone's feeding me grapes.
inTouch iPod recommends: "Good for Me" by Amy Grant

HIGH heart rate + HIGH cortisol + HIGH GSR =
The boss I hate found out I keyed his Hummer.
inTouch iPod recommends: pretty much anything by Gwar

So, you want to invent it? Already know about something just like it? Got a reason why it would never work? Got some suggestions? Got your own "I Wish Someone Would Invent..."? See you in the comments!


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tips and Tricks: How To Write A Passable Action Story

Basic Idea:

Think about character, concept, and plot. The Story Triangle identifies these as the three things that you must keep in mind at all times. When you are conceiving the idea for a story, you have to come up with a new combination of these three things, even if each one of them isn't new. The important thing is that the combination is new. So you can say, "I want a team of robots to rescue a kidnapped heiress in a world where the Roman Empire never fell." Keep in mind, this conceptualizing is a delicate balancing act between bizarre and familiar. If you have a very strange concept, you may want your character to be more familiar, or at least perform the actions of a familar action hero type. If you are creating a new kind of hero, or antihero, you may find that by putting him or her in a more familiar setting will help you highlight the nuances of his or her character more effectively.

Story Progression:

Before you start, you should have a general sense of what the payoff to this story should be. The story needs to hit a climax that hopefully encompasses both the necessities of the plot and of the main character. Think about every story as having a logical storyline and an emotional storyline. While the logical storyline may be that, say, the heroes must pick their way across the devilish world of Blaaarg, the emotional storyline will be about the cynical wizard who only trusts himself having to learn to rely on his friends. A climax in which everyone has to do their part while the wizard battles his arch enemy to destroy the great black castle is one that ties up both stories nicely.

First Scene:

Introducing the world, the characters, and the plot can be a tough balancing act. Take care not to rush into things. Is your hero a capable, smart, brave action man? Then he'll have to sail through an opening action scene with flying colors. Don't put him in mortal danger with the wimpy first villains. You have to make sure people know he's awesome before you raise the stakes. Try to make the challenge that he's up against relevant to the plot, and based in the concept. He's going to eventually defeat the ElectroKnight in his underground lair? Then the opening scene he should not be fighting street punks. He needs to fight something pseudoscientific in order to get the readers ready for where the story's going. When you're writing a story, you only get one suspension of disbelief. You use it, then everything has to proceed logically from there. Could be that this is in a galaxy far away, could be that someone was given superpowers. In any case, hit that disbelief here so that no one says, "oh, yeah, right" and throws the book across the room in chapter 6.

Story Triangle:

As has been mentioned before, while writing, keep in mind the story triangle and relate as many things as possible to plot, character, and concept. Think about all these things as you move the story along. You're going way off the rails if you ignore your concept, or your character, or your plot. You need an challenge for your Warrior Princess of Mars? Don't make it cancer. Need a way for your science hero to get through the vault where the bomb is? Don't just make him so happen to be a safecracker, have him train twenty years to be the best safecracker in the world because his brother drowned while he was frantically trying to free him. Looking for a way for your antagonistic goddess and powerful mortal to fall in love? Don't just make it a dozen roses and a romantic movie-- make them kill her former legions of death and slay her tyrannical father (and save the world) together.

This should be enough to get you started on something that people will call, "derivative," "by the numbers," and "uninspired." Making it good is up to you. Good luck!


Monday, March 05, 2007

Big Time Attic: The Comic

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Influences: Quentin Blake

Quentin Blake
I came to Quentin Blake's work because as a young boy I was reading (or being read) Roald Dahl's work practically every week. The first Dahl books I read, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach were not editions illustrated by Blake*, but when I continued on to newer books, they all were, and that's when I read The Witches.
*and I admit it's odd now to see those newer editions in which he does.

I love every word Roald Dahl has ever written, and in this book in particular, Blake's linework was the perfect fit for it. As an adult, looking back, I can imagine what the book would have looked like without his illustrations-- possibly darker, or more realistic, but it would have been awfully off-putting for someone as young as I was to read a story that was already pretty scary (witches were murdering children!) if it had drawings that were frightening as well.

As a kid, I didn't really realize that I liked Quentin Blake's work. I thought it was too sparse, that people and things looked too weightless, and that it had the "why, anyone could do this" sort of look to it if you were not a cartoonist. But as I grew older, I came to tolerate, then like, then love, the way he would use a truly minimal amount of lines to communicate what he was after. And like Wallace Tripp, I appreciated his unabashed use of exaggeration to serve the purposes of his drawing.

I also loved his ability to draw very appealing looking people with those same very few lines. Mere dots for eyes were necessary to make someone look like a kind, affectionate person, and three more lines around it made them look like a horrible brute.

Finally, I appreciate now the fact that it looks like many of his drawings were done in about five minutes flat. I'm sure the truth of it is that he did twelve of them working up to it, but that the actual drawing you see is the result of great long years of practice, a keen mind for envisioning the final product, and a burst of creative energy. The final result has more vibrancy than could be achieved by slaving over every last line, and it draws you into his world all the more than one in which every last lamppost is meticulously rendered.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Chapter 99: Brewtime

* Click for Larger Image *

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