creative writing, graphic design, illustration, sequential art

underlying components of good character design vs. good writing

This is just a note to myself as regards the graphic novel issue.

I’m not entirely certain how deeply I should get into this, but I happened to check out a copy of X-Men:  Eternals a while ago.  Attempting to read this made it clear to me why the X-Men movie series was so heavy-handed and apparently one-sided.

I don’t have a great amount of literacy in graphic novels — I can recall reading Bone and Blade of the Immortal; and Generation X before the franchise-wide reboot of the X-Men series (which really ticked me off), plus a couple of more mainstream Japanese things like Fushigi Yugi (which I didn’t particularly enjoy, much as I didn’t enjoy Tenchi Muyo! [though I only saw the latter in anime]) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (which I got into because of the anime).

Then there are the series which I picked up even though I was at the time fairly illiterate in Japanese, like Inu Yasha and Bastard!, along with Yuu Yuu Hakusho (the flame-like banter in which I was not entirely aware of, until I happened to read some of it in English translation), and which I incidentally only got into because of the doujinshi (and because I was at the time learning to read Japanese).

What I’m thinking is that the same traits which can make a person a great character designer can also cripple them when it comes to good writing.  I’m not saying this is true across the board — it’s just something which has come up in specific regard to my own trials with trying to script establishing scenes in “graphic novel” formats, and I see it reflected in what I read going on with X-Men:  Eternals.

If you’re designing a character so that all elements of the character attempt to describe that character in a visual manner, that is fine.  But reality doesn’t work that way.  In reality, the way people look does not always (I would say often does not) relate to who they are.  This may not be quite as easy to see when the makeup of society is more or less homogeneous.

But when you have multiple minority categories in a society, and these minorities have strength in numbers and voices in regard to their own portrayal, it makes it clear that the thoughts which come to someone’s mind because of the way people look is not equivalent to who those people actually are.  This is especially clear if you happen to be one of those minorities and you happen to see how people constantly misread you (in addition to misreading your family).

This is a way in which my own philosophy diverges from what I’ve seen…whether we are looking at older American comics or whether we are looking at the less-complex graphic novel material coming out of Japan.  What people look like is not equivalent to who they are.  Of course there are materials coming out of Japan which acknowledge this (for example, in Legend of Zelda:  The Windwaker, in which the fairy who accompanies you acts like someone who would ordinarily be drawn as a big, tough male character who had the burliness to back up his language — but this is used to [actually, quite delightful] comic effect).

What I’m trying to get across is that in a good piece of writing, it’s very often the case that characters are not one-sided.  Characters are complex and have many different layers.  They’re often not surface-readable — you don’t immediately know what their role is just because you can see what they look like.  In graphic design, and I believe likely in character design, the goal is the opposite:  to be able to look at an image and glean a more or less solid idea of the intended communication fairly immediately, just from the visual elements of the composition.

I am not certain how to reconcile these two perspectives, but I wanted to make a note of the conflict.

calligraphy, drawing, graphic design, illustration

leaning toward graphic art

I meant to make this post last night but somehow got sidetracked…

I tried experimenting with my NuPastels.  What it’s told me is that I probably don’t want to be working with pastels so much at this point in time.  My first mistake was using vine charcoal.  It’s been years since I used vine charcoal, so while I was expecting it to smudge, I wasn’t expecting it to have no adhesion whatsoever to the paper.  Which meant that when I was trying to blend colors with my fingertips, the colors kept becoming dirtied with the charcoal, and I kept wiping white areas into the drawing by touching the vine charcoal areas.

After I left the NuPastels for another time…I started drawing in large format with a set of graphite sticks I have.  I believe their brand is Cretacolor Monolith.  I was impressed with these — the tin runs from HB to 9B, and even the HB smudged well, and using the 9B and my Pitt 9B graphite stick (which is slightly closer to black), I was able to attain a good range of tones from light to dark.  Basically, white to almost black.  It was also easier to cover large areas of dark value easily, by using the edge of the graphite stick.  And then I could highlight with an eraser, as the graphite — at least the HB — is very easy to erase, even when used heavily.

Plus then there’s the point of the stick for drawing in detail, and I have a set of freaking tortillons which keep squeaking on the paper and not blending very well (though I did learn how to grind fresh tips on one of these, last night).  The thing I’m missing is my triangular eraser.  I have no idea where my triangular detail eraser went.

I did end up doing a graphic-novel-style character drawing…which is one of my fallbacks when I don’t know what to draw.  I need to work on things which are not people, though, really.  That factor alone is a big reason I haven’t been doing graphic-novel work.  (Though I probably shouldn’t go too deeply into that.)

After I had experimented on these two counts, I used a white calligraphy ink that I had stashed, on top of a rubbed-in charcoal ground.  The ink was very thick and very white.  I used the glass pen that my late grandmother bought for me, which I normally don’t use anymore, because the nib grinds down every time I use it.  But the upshot is that it’s easy to clean — the nib is cylindrical.  I think, though, that that particular calligraphy ink might be best used with a brush, due to its thickness.  I didn’t want to use it with a metal calligraphy nib, because I didn’t want to ruin the nib.  (Calligraphy nibs are two pieces, and it’s difficult to clean the areas where the flats of the pieces touch each other.  I have a jar of Higgins Pen Cleaner, but I don’t know if it will work on an ink that may have some acrylic in it.)

But what that, and subsequent experimentation with a calligraphy nib showed me, though, is that I probably want to get back into calligraphy.  I should probably look for a better book on it.  There’s just a graphic quality to calligraphy that I really, really like.  I also wanted to note that I did also use my glass pen with Higgins Waterproof Black Calligraphy ink, which I believe is the blackest ink I have — and I really liked the results.  So I may be attempting to learn to draw with metal-nibbed pens in the near future.

Doing a quick search, I find a note from 2007 that says Higgins Eternal is fully pigmented ink, while the Calligraphy ink has dye…meaning that the Eternal is more likely to be lightfast.  I’m not sure that in the past I’ve run across a selection of inks where Eternal has actually been on the shelf (as opposed to sold out).

And at this point I believe I’m closer to an illustrator or designer than to a fine artist.  From my work yesterday it’s apparent that markmaking is one of the things I really find enjoyable, high-contrast markmaking in specific — which leads me to believe that drawing (markmaking) and graphic elements are one of the things that really get me going.  And calligraphy seems closer to graphic design than to fine art.  That, combined with my recent work with felt-tip pens and brush pens…also points me in the direction where it seems that I’m drawing with liquid media, not painting with it.

And that in turn really helps me narrow down my options to what I’d be most likely to enjoy.  And if we are loosely considering the possibility of one day going to art school (as I suppose could happen), it’s good to have some direction, prior to entering.

It was refreshing to be able to work on a large format again, and to be able to use my arm gesturally, and vary my grips on my drawing implements.  That’s something I’ve been missing while working in small-scale.  The work I did yesterday shows me where my interests lie, so I’m glad I did it.

calligraphy, illustration, writing

notes on materials and recurrence of a beloved character

Just a quick post here, as I’m running a slight fever and should get some rest.

I did some sketches and writing today. The sketch I was able to ink was just in HB pencil and gone over with my black Riso marker. The felt “medium” nib was what I was looking for, if I was going to be making sketches to reduce in scanning, and wanted bold black lines. But the “fine” felt nib wasn’t all that much finer than the medium one. Alternately, the Micron Graphic 1 makes about the same line width, but the nib seems more fragile, and I don’t know if the color is as rich. I think the final factor in this will be which one withstands the alcohol markers the best, or which one I can reliably buy.

I also did some practice writing in a Faber-Castell Pitt brush pen, with very light pressure. I don’t know how the nibs are going to age, but fresh, they’re pretty good for lettering. Which I suppose is good when you realize that they aren’t what you’re looking for as regards hatching, or at the moment, for things other than lineart. I think I have a black one of these (which is a very dense, warm black), but I’m going to have to look for it. This one would also be good for lineart, as it makes a bold and somewhat variable line.

Other than that…I have a certain older (aged) character whom I’ve isolated my psyche from in the past. This was mainly because I’d become somewhat ill at ease with older characters seeking the attention of younger characters — and this judgment is based on a certain acquaintance I’ve (unfortunately) made in reality. Not to say that judgment is accurate. Today, after the last week of looking over sketches…I realized that being older doesn’t equate to being the …to be succinct, “dirty old man” that I’ve had to deal with in my life. For all I know, this character — the written character, that is — could be someone of my generation who is still alive in the future. Which gives a very different outlook on the concept of being aged.

The person I know IRL was shaped by his culture and time. I heavily suspect him of being racist and sexist (at the least — what I know is that he interacts with people based on what he thinks they are, which is based on their appearance), but this is something which occurs when someone is inundated at a vulnerable age by a racist and sexist and heterosexist environment, and never really has the insight to question the messages they’re receiving from whatever limited quarter they think is worth listening to. An older male who both has more insight (and wider range) than this one and who has been inundated in a different environment may turn out much differently. Which then means that they would conduct themselves differently, and they would have more options when it came to social settings.

Of course, this then leads to worldbuilding questions and alternate history or alternate reality. What specifically came to mind was the level of ease of physical mobility (allowing people to be exposed to other cultures, beyond just the “ooh that’s exotic” titillation that I suspect said acquaintance has felt, as ease of travel leads also to potential ease of immigration) and the level of ease of communication outside of one’s home culture (as via Internet or IRL social settings)…because I think that these are factors which allow a greater level of sophistication in social development as regards dealing with people who are different from oneself. And that’s something my character is really, really going to have to have in order not to become like the guy I know, who I perceive as being attracted to a younger person because of what he psychologically associates with her appearance (and additionally, because he can manipulate her without her full knowledge).

I’m deleting some contents here because they’re controversial and I don’t need angry comments. I’ll keep them for my own records — I know what I’m meaning to reference; it’s probable that the text won’t carry the entire message.

I drew this character again today — and felt as though I could make him anyone again — for the first time in months.

book arts, calligraphy, illustration, writing

Symbols over realism

Alright, so the rest of this is just a note to myself about the uses of pictograms, ideograms, written language, and their relations to drawing.

(Apologies, I’m being distracted by something in the next room.)

My discovery the other night is that I realized that a lot of my draw to writing is because of the nature of using graphics to symbolize ideas. I discovered this partially via copying over the ideograms that I’d designed for this comic project (which, to be clear, I’m not as of yet set on illustrating in comic format — it could well translate to an entirely written, or written and partially illustrated work — only it would not be for children).

There are a lot of things in drawing that I haven’t been exposed to yet, and trying to realistically represent a place and give a sense of it is one of those things that I’m not sure I wholly enjoy. I get a lot out of it, in the sense of being pushed to visualize places I’ve never been; I know that. But I’m not sure I want to spend a lot of time on drawing a lot of irrelevant detail.

There’s something about the ideograms, though — I’m not sure if it’s their graphic simplicity and boldness, or if it’s because they’re representing an idea for which there are no words (the latter of which is very possible), but they appeal to me more than realism.

I suppose right now I’m just finding my place in the world of books, and that place is squarely not in the “realism” camp. I can see this from my last entry and from what I’m writing here now. I think I’ve just got to find a way to reconnect with it…what it was before college tried to train me away from mystical thought and to ground me in this reality.

Last night, I was thinking of creating at least a good number of pictograms and/or ideograms and incorporating them into my writing as text. I don’t know what publisher would go for that, though. Or how I’d do this, other than creating a font whose characters were my own symbols.

But it is pretty fun to try and use a calligraphic line while drawing kanji or kana. I ended up using rollerball and felt nib for most of the latter part of it, but I am slowly recovering my ability to write in Japanese.

book arts, illustration

On possibly getting (back?) into comics

Yesterday I was mostly going over my old sketchbooks. You know, the sketchbooks with the tiny, light, barely readable (sometimes unreadable) mechanical pencil writing in them. I also started a layout for a sample page of a comic, during which I drew a character who I don’t particularly know, but whom I’m interested in nonetheless.

I skimped on the background (particularly the stuff across the street) but I can fill it in, in the final draft. I imagined it as being like this downtown area. Right now the window looks out on an empty lot. ;) I know, Scott McCloud said not to think of them as “backgrounds” but “surroundings”, I know…

(For some reason, it’s easier for me to connect with my characters if I can see them and their surroundings. And it’s easier to imagine them as their own people — and not extensions of “me” — when I can see their faces and their expressions, and then wonder why it is they look like that; how they got to that point.)

It was a good thing I did this — it gives me some kind of clue as to what I’m getting into if I want to commit to a comic project. It also pushed me to think of some kind of action for the character I was drawing. And I hadn’t scripted prior to this, though I do know that some people script and draw at the same time, especially when it’s one person writing and drawing the thing.

When I was into fiction, my major hurdle as far as plot was concerned is that I’d write, but nothing physical would happen; it was more of a meditation. When I draw, it becomes painfully obvious that nothing is happening and that I probably shouldn’t draw out the scene where the character is staring into his or her cup, longer than necessary.

(And then you ask the significance of the cup, which I just realized would go over the heads of the majority of my audience…it has to do with the amount of tea leaves and twigs and their positioning, which are supposed to mean specific things.)

The project I was intending to work on — the world for it, at least — this lends itself pretty well to short comics, as the vision I’ve got currently is that it isn’t going to be clear when things are dreams and when they’re real. …That’s something I’ve had a lot of focus on, recently.

I think that when I was in college, everything was so focused around realism and grounding in literal experience, that it was easy to become disconnected from more dreamlike writing. That space you get into where the borders between fantasy and reality are blurred and you can’t recall if what you’re remembering actually happened in this world or not.

I’ve already got a device which will note to myself the temporal relations of the scenes to each other, and whether each is a dream or physical reality. As the reader moves forward in the series, it will become clear to them, if they’re being attentive, what these navigation keys mean — but my vision is, at least, that they’ll have to figure it out for themselves. Or have someone else tell them. ;D

So the layout I did in 8B Faber-Castell graphite pencil. I like the soft F-C pencils because of their expressive quality. They will also be easy to recognize with light shining through them from behind. This was just layout, so I wasn’t making extraneous details too complicated; I was focusing on what I wanted the reader’s focus to be on, and panel placement, plus room for word bubbles. I suppose later I can get into how to express all of this best on a page, so that the eye naturally moves to what I want it to move to — but I’m too new to getting back to drawing, period, right now, to think too much about that.

Besides, this is meant to be hand-drawn, not meant to be photographic. And if I’m mostly doing this old-school (like without using bases I drew once over and over and over again), I can actually play up the handmade nature of it (like marker going outside of the lines of a shape).

I am, however, now thinking about something which I noticed while practicing drawing kana in black and bright orange last night…that I might want to change font colors for the voices of different characters. I’d probably have to be pretty careful about that, so that the colors aren’t too similar or too hard to read — but I have noticed that it makes a big difference if you want to highlight a block of text if it is bright orange. This is something I’ve seen used to effect in the webcomic, “Kagerou”. And something that I want to use if I (as I dream) make a handwritten book.

I’m not making a spinoff of “Kagerou,” to be clear, far from it (unless we group all psychologically-based stories into one box), but it could be helpful to use color as a visual cue to differentiate when different characters are speaking (as in the case of multiple narrators [which could eliminate the problem of the one-narrator text box that McCloud alludes to] or mental dialogue).

And besides, it’s just fun to write in bright orange.

It may not be fun to pay for color copies for an occasional use of bright orange, though. “Kagerou” has the advantage of being online, where hosting something in color doesn’t cost anything extra. Another option is varying the font (as I’ve seen in the Japanese-language versions of “Yuu Yuu Hakusho”), but that could get ugly and complicated pretty quickly. For one thing, because in YYH, the font is varied according to characters’ tone of voice, not for which character is speaking. And we’ve still got to allow for bold, italics, special effects, etc.

I’m thinking of using legal-sized paper for my magazines — half of an 8.5″x11″ page is just too narrow for good-sized English dialogue, and I’m intending to use a lot of bleeds, so that also factors in. I believe the standard size of a magazine is 18 pages…that’s nine papers folded together and stapled or sewn, and 36 pages to work from, total. I suppose the other two (if we up it to twenty) would be the covers. I’m thinking that if I center my layouts after rearranging the files to print on the appropriate page, this would enable me to fold and staple or sew them in the center, and then just chop off the extra on the edges.

I was using the Pantone Universe markers this last time for a sample image…they work well with Borden & Riley Marker Paper, which I think is supposed to be bleedproof. But the Chartpak Ad Markers bled through it, anyway…of course that’s the xylene solvent base. The Pantones are alcohol-based, and much less strong-smelling than Prismacolor markers (which I think have something ammonia-based as an additional ingredient to alcohol). I have no idea how that image is going to scan or print.

I have had issues with the Pantones bleeding through my regular drawing paper (not printer paper), but on the marker paper, they’re fine. And note to self: do not use the “fine” Pantone Universe nib for hair textures, use the brush. Srsly. You don’t want round edges on strokes meant to represent shading in hair.

I need to either find or re-test my ink swatches, and put them in the project binder. I’m still not very good with metal-nib dip pens, but I can use a brush, which I have several of, not counting M’s stash. And I didn’t even think of this, but I can use diluted ink instead of markers for final pre-scanned copies. I think I heard that’s more difficult than it sounds, though, because scanners are more sensitive than people’s eyes…so I might have to color-correct with a software program if I don’t want mud.

I’m thinking of getting a program designed for manga, despite my strong desire to not have a fresh-out-of-the-package look to my stories. It could help with computones. Or I could go with a free image-editing program and see what I can do there (as a manga software program may not be able to handle greyscale at all).

Hm. Things just get so much more complicated when you start talking about reproducing images, eh.

I have more to add on the graphic qualities I tapped into for yesterday’s practice, but I’ll put it into a separate post.

book arts, calligraphy, illustration, writing

creative expansion

On looking for the binder which held my handsewing samples, I found a number of old notebooks. Two of them were sketchpads, to be more precise — and looking at what was contained therein and in some of the unused pages of my bound notebooks inspired me to work on my 2D art again.

This in turn got me to start reading Scott McCloud’s Making Comics again, and I went out and bought a set of markers today in greyscale (warm tone, not cool). I’ve been using these for a while since I got home today. They’re alcohol markers, but they’re a lot less smelly than the Prismacolors. They’re also a good deal more expensive than the Prismacolors, at list. As it was, it wasn’t so bad — about 50 cents more per marker than the Prismas, and I was able to customize what I was getting (instead of getting three black markers in with the Warm Grey Prismacolor set).

What I’d had before were Trias, but apparently Trias used to be good (which is how I first ran across them) and now a lot of people (including me) have problems with the newly designed markers drying out. I had to throw out three or four markers because they were unusable — to Tria’s credit, I got these a good while ago, but not everyone posting bad reviews with the same problem, had them sitting around for years.

Getting back into illustration…it’s brought up whether I want to write again. Due to factors I won’t get into here, it’s been easier for me recently to think of writing. As it is, I should have a good fund of material should I want to practice adapting prose or poetry to a graphic novel or “comic” format.

But I think that the most interesting thing to happen today was experimenting with one of my brush pens (I think it was a Staedtler Duo), trying to write nicely and more-or-less correctly, using kanji and hiragana. Then I started looking at the Japanese learning books I have here but haven’t been using, and realized what a short jump it was from drawing pictograms and ideograms to drawing pictures.

So I want to get back on the Japanese learning thing. I had a dream the other night about copying someone else’s handwriting to learn new ways of moving my hand in drawing. I do know that my own handwriting really only became very legible after I’d practiced writing in Japanese (not romaji).

Right now I’ve got several things going on: sewing, drawing, Japanese language study, the potential of writing again and possibly writing and/or drawing some short fiction. The religious study is still there, but fainter in import. Then there’s also the knitting and crochet, which ’til now I’ve been pretty dependent on for occupying my time.

I find it interesting how much more engaging drawing is when it isn’t just figures. As Scott McCloud said, don’t think of “backgrounds” as “backgrounds”; they’re your character’s environment. I suppose of course things would seem a little unhealthy if you subtract the character from everything surrounding them, and often the rest of their bodies from their face. ;) I tried adding an open window behind my test character, and the image was suddenly a lot deeper and a lot more interesting.

I’ve still got to practice with the new markers. But one more thing before I go to bed:

I really need to get some more of those Tombow markers. They’re freaking wonderful. I love the color. And they’re cheap and readily available. I figure the joy I derive from coloring with them, outweighs archival concerns over whether they’ll still be around in 20-30 years.

They’re just beautiful. I may be going back for more. Right now with the new markers (not Tombow), I’m just working with warm greys. But there’s more I can do, once I get my value studies down right.