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Work In Progress Report: Sorceress Comic: Character Design Progress

posted July 7, 2018

Tags: art, comics, WIP report, writing

I'm officially behind schedule. There are several reasons for this, some of which may justly be called excuses or chalked up to poor time management on my part: There's the burnout I wrote about in the previous update, of course, as well as the mostly unrelated drawing I worked on to get over said burnout. There's the series of non-art-related projects I worked on for other people. There's also my work schedule, which has me spending a lot more time commuting than before, leaving me with little time or energy on workday evenings. Then, of course, there's my habit of getting bogged down in too many details.

First things first: I didn't get that other drawing finished, but I'm proud of what I have so far. I'll go ahead and share the WIP here:

Read the rest of this post in the blog.

On Buff Guy Sexualization

posted May 20, 2018

Tags: morals and ethics, sexualization, social justice

Lots of people attempt to refute, or at least deflect, criticism of hypersexualized female characters by pointing to all the equally exaggeratedly buff men. Feminists often respond by pointing out that these exaggerated male bodies are power fantasies for men, whereas the implausibly voluptuous female characters are sexual fantasies for… well, also for men.

Actually, let me address that bit briefly: A big part of the problem is the asymmetry of how the hypersexualized women aren't for the (dubious) benefit of the female audience in the same way that the hypermuscular men are for the male audience.

There's merit to the idea that both forms of objectification are primarily for men, but there's also merit to the idea that these exaggerated, unattainable male bodies are hurtful to the men they ostensibly benefit. This is an important issue with a lot to unpack, from the historical prevalence of misogyny over misandry, to the double-edged nature of sexism, to the various meanings of the phrase “male gaze.” I don't want to dismiss all this as unimportant, by any means, but it's also not the part I want to focus on in this post.

Rather, my focus is the rejection of the argument on the basis that the objectified female characters are a sexual fantasy while the objectified male characters are a power fantasy.

This seems like a good argument on the face of it, and I don't fully disagree. The objectified male characters are given attributes that are directly associated with power, with the ability to act on the world and the people in it. …

Read the rest of this post.

Work In Progress Report: Sorceress Comic: May Update

posted May 12, 2018

Tags: art, comics, WIP report, writing

The month of April has come and gone, and with it, my self-imposed deadline for finishing all my location designs. How did these designs turn out? The answer, a resounding "meh."

First of all, I'm not posting any of that design work here due to spoilers. That's not to say that the comic is going to have a ton of plot twists or anything like that, but I still think it'll be better to read it for the first time without knowing in advance what's ahead. Pretty much everything I did on the location front either spoils something or just isn't interesting enough to show.

Don't get me wrong: For those areas where the location matters somewhat, I managed to think everything through and come up with something plausible. But I realized that most of the things I was agonizing over were going to appear in no more than one or two panels, and that at the end of the day, this is only a seven-page story. It's not like I'm designing a recurring location for a series. Sure, I do have some vague ideas about what I'd like to do if I decide to make this an ongoing series (please don't hold your breath) but if that happens, I can always update the designs then.

So in that spirit, I made the choice that, while I wouldn't give up entirely on caring about set design and props, I was done worrying about them. As far as I got, plus one or two references I can easily look up, will suffice.

Consequently, I did not spend the majority of April designing sets and props. And it's a good thing, too, because the character designs are due at the end of this month, and it turns out I had no idea what my main characters actually look like.

Read the rest of this post.

Work In Progress Report: Sorceress Comic: Thumbnails Complete

posted March 23, 2018

Tags: art, comics, WIP report, writing

Thumbnailing is usually the easiest part of a project for me. I don't have to sweat the details and can focus on just getting ideas down on paper. Itís the most creative part of the process, and I havenít managed to ďcorrectĒ all the energy out of it yet.

So I actually got these pretty close to finished a couple weeks ago. I decided to wait awhile and look back over them with fresh eyes just to make sure I hadn't missed any big problems, and I'm glad I did! Once I stitched all my "final" thumbnails together and read through them as a single comic, it dawned on me that the reader doesn't get a good look at the sorceress—the ostensible main character—until halfway through the comic.

In a very early draft, I had intentionally not shown her face until even later, but I feel like that signals to readers that she's not the main character, except in the same sense as the title "characters" of movies like Twister, Volcano, and Jaws. I don't want anyone to feel cheated when it shifts to her POV. So I redrew the beginning of page 2 to give her a nice medium shot establishing what she looks like.

I also had to rework page 3 a little to improve its pacing. That probably doesn't mean anything to you since I'm pretty sure I haven't shown or mentioned anything from page three. Just trust me, it's an improvement.

As for page five onward, I tried cutting most of the page like I mentioned in the previous update, and I like how it turned out. I have the pacing of rest of the comic figured out and itís flowing pretty well. Itís still pretty much following the one-story-beat-per-page rule. I'm now at seven pages total.

My goal with the pacing is to achieve the kind of feeling I get reading MAiZ, one of my favorite Webcomics. Each page leaves you eager for the next one, but still feels satisfying because thereís something happening on every page. I canít remember a MAiZ page that felt like padding or an artificial cliffhanger. My one-beat-per-page rule is my (admittedly somewhat artificial) way of approximating that feeling.

Beyond the thumbnails, I've made some progress on the sorceress' costume design. Still have to research period-appropriate shoes, though. I've also more or less finished the design of one of the bigger bits of set-dressing, which is also one of the few pieces of scenery I actually have to invent from whole cloth.

The next step is to get cracking on the rest of the location designs and set dressing stuff. It should be fairly simple, mundane stuff, but there will still be some work and research involved. After that, of course, costume designs. Then come the hard parts: Nailing down the compositions, and hammering everything into final drawings.

Work In Progress Report: Sorceress Comic: March Update

posted March 08, 2018

Tags: art, comics, WIP report, writing

It's March now, and that means I'm more than halfway to my first deadline. So where do things stand?

Well, let's start with that first deadline itself: The thumbnails. The good news is that I have five pages pretty well nailed down. The layouts of some of them still need some work, but I've budgeted for that. That's what the separate layouts step is for.

The bad news is that I'm stuck on page 6. So far, every page has been a single story beat. Page one (of which I've already shown some draft thumbnails) shows the sorceress ambushing someone. Page two is a fight scene. Page three is a couple actions, but basically one story beat. Page four is another beat. Page five is a location change. Page six…?

It feels like mostly more connective tissue. Most or all of it would be devoted to moving the sorceress around the new location. But skipping it doesn't feel right, and without it, I'm not sure if things will line up right to get the last page looking the way I want. (I haven't nailed down how many pages will go in between yet, but I do have a fairly good idea of what the last page looks like.)

It just occurred to me as I was summarizing: Page five is more an establishing shot than a story beat. Nothing actually happens on that page other than the sorceress moving from one location to another. Perhaps that's the problem. I'm going to try trimming it down and combining pages 5 and 6, and see if I like that better. That might mean I can end the story on page 6. Or it may be page 7. I'll have to kill a darling, but maybe I can do a postmortem or something showcasing deleted content (or, if I get really ambitious, use it in a sequel).

As I said last time, this hasn't been all thumbnails all the time. I've also done a little bit of environment concept art. Sadly it was for that bit that I just decided to try to cut, so it probably won't be used.

On the bright side, I have put together a (more or less) proper model sheet for the main character. It's good enough to get the job done, anyway, despite some lingering anatomy issues. I had the bright idea to draw just half of the front-view, then mirror it in Krita/Photoshop/whatever. I hadn't noticed that the farther down I got from the head, the more the body sort of drifted away from the center line. It looked really weird after I mirrored it. I think I have it mostly fixed. Next time, I'll just do the front view all-digitally, so I can use Krita's mirroring tool from the start.

While working on that, I made some progress toward giving the sorceress an actual, recognizable face with plausible anatomy. A little reference turns out to go a long way!

The model sheet is currently a bit more, er, naked than I like to post, but I'll try to share it once I have a draft of the costume design. I've made a little progress on that front. The original design had a weird overlap in the front. This was my attempt to keep it from being a blatant Legend of Zelda knockoff, but doesn't really make sense either functionally or in terms of whether she could afford to waste fabric like that. So I'm working on a more traditional tunic design based (semi-loosely) on some pictures of actual medieval clothing. I'm also just going to lose those weird arm guard things. Given what we'll see in the comic, she doesn't really need them.

That pretty much wraps up what I've done so far. So where to from here?

I'll give you another report when I reach the first deadline, unless something cool and share-worthy happens in the meantime.

Work In Progress Report: Sorceress Comic: Tentative Schedule

posted February 11, 2018

Tags: art, comics, WIP report, writing

I think I've come up with a tentative set of deadlines for completing my comic. I'm giving myself the whole year. This may seem like a long time, but if you've seen my blog and art gallery, you know I'm not exactly Mister Rapid Content Creation. Besides, I'd rather give myself a lot of time and be able to get ahead of schedule than fall behind a shorter deadline.

Here's the breakdown:

Thumbnails/page breakdowns March 31
Environment designs April 30
Main character designs May 31
Minor character designs June 31
Page layouts July 31
All pages pencilled October 31
All pages inked November 31
All pages flat colored December 31
Shaded colors I'll get back to you…
All pages posted January 7

These are soft deadlines, of course, subject to change. Also, I'm not planning on doing all this one thing at a time; there will be considerable overlap. These dates are just when I plan on finishing up a step. Think of them more as milestones than a step-by-step procedure.

For instance, I'm not going to wrap up the thumbnails and then do a solid month of environment designs before I touch the character designs. I've already done some preliminary work on both, even though I'm only a little over halfway through the thumbnails.

I'm doing this partly to keep myself from getting bored. If I'm stuck on the layout of a page, I can go work on a costume design or start the pencils on an earlier page. This does have the capacity to backfire, though, as it permits me to get all the fun parts out of the way early in the project.

Another risk is that, by giving myself so much time, I'll be tempted to slack off until the last minute, when I won't have enough time left to get everything done before my self-imposed deadline.

Hopefully, the milestones throughout the year will mitigate both problems. It's harder to get behind schedule and say, “Whatever, I still have six months” (or however long), when I have a deadline approaching in March, and another in April, and so on. It also limits the things I can put off: I can't ignore that last page layout I'm stuck on when the thumbnails are my first deadline and the detailed layouts are due in six months.

I mentioned research in the last post, but you'll notice it's not on the schedule. Instead, it's built into the other items. Costume research is part of character design, for instance. Fighting style research is part of the thumbnails/layouts/pencils for the fight scene. (Fortunately, the fight scene is short.)

Finally, I've decided that coloring is going to be optional. I figure flats won't take too long, assuming I'm on or ahead of schedule as I near the end of the year. If I'm behind, that will have to be sacrificed. Shaded colors will be more of a stretch goal, which I'll try to accomplish if I get way ahead of schedule.

I think that's everything. I'll try to have another post out in the next month or two detailing what I've gotten done so far.

Work In Progress Report: Planning a Comic

posted January 18, 2018

Tags: art, comics, WIP report, writing

Last summer, I said I wanted to update this blog more with works-in-progress and the like, to give myself some motivation to finish things. Since then, of course, it's been radio silence. Turns out I'm not good at finishing things.

So this year I've set myself a goal. Call it a New Year's Resolution if you want. I have a project that I've been sporadically chipping away at for the better part of the last two years, or maybe longer. This year, if at all possible, I'm going to finish it.

The project is a short comic featuring the sorceress lioness character from the drawing I posted at the end of 2015. Not everything is nailed down yet, but here's what I do know so far:

Of course, there's a lot I still have to figure out:

Where does the project stand right now? I've done some of the thumbnailing for the opening page, and after discarding some old Ideas I think I know roughly how it should flow, but I'm nowhere near done with it yet. I've also started on the costume research. I figure I know all I need for one of the background characters, and I've cut another because some things I learned made the character not quite work.

I'm fairly happy with where I am, but I need to get that project breakdown and tentative schedule done soon. I'll post it (or at least parts of it) when it's ready. In the meantime, here's a peek at some of those thumbnails. (Sorry, they're kind of messy.)

thumbnail 1 thumbnail 2 thumbnail 3

Managing Projects and Site Inactivity

posted July 30, 2017

Tags: art, site, writing

You may have noticed that this site doesn't update very much. Every year I say I want to post more, and somehow it never happens.

It's not like I'm not doing anything. Let's look at the projects I have going right now:

And maybe that's the problem? I have so many projects on the back burner. I mean, on top of those listed above, I have all the ones that have been sitting back there, untouched for months or years:

And that's not couting the things I need or want to do that have little to do with this site:

Have you noticed that most of those are just media consumption? Yeah, that's why getting out more is the first thing on the list. But when I do that, I'll have even less time for everything that's already on the list. That's not to say it isn't a worthwhile tradeoff, but it still doesn't help me here.

So what's my actual problem? Well, I think there are a few of them:

I don't know what to do. I've tried making lists, but maintaining the lists became yet another chore to manage. I've tried deadlines, which have worked in the past, but they end up just increasing the pressure, making everything even more of a chore. I've tried making up schedules of which days I'm going to work on which projects, but I never even got started with those.

I suppose one thing I could do would be to post works in progress. That wouldn't necessarily help the overall problem, but it would at least give me something to put on the site. Having the unfinished versions out there would give me more incentive to finish, so I don't let down anyone who wanted to see the completed works. If I can get feedback on the WIPs, that would be a big help in keeping my enthusiasm up, and in deciding which projects aren't worth the effort and should just be canned to make way for better ones.

I also need to be less of a perfectionist. As I learned years ago from that post-a-day challenge, Focusing on getting things done rather than polishing them forever can still yield good results. Of course, that wouldn't do much for my lacking the energy or inclination to keep at a project.

I'm sorry if you were expecting a more thought-out blog post or something with some actual advice for those having the same problems I have. I guess I'm just thinking out loud, more than anything else. Well, that, and just telling anyone who cares that I'm not dead and letting you know what I've been up to. Oh, and ensuring that I don't have another year missing from my blog archives. But mostly just thinking out loud.

Thanks for listening. Er, reading.

Sonic, Comics, and Me

posted December 07, 2016

Tags: comics, Sonic, video games

I apologize for the length of time it's taken me to get this post out. This spring, after a series of Sonic-related misfortunes, I decided to take a hiatus from all things Sonic for the duration of Lent. You can read all the details in my earlier post on the subject, so I won't recap them here.

Since then, a few things have changed. For one, I started getting Sonic Universe again. It turned out that the reason I didn't get part 4 of the Silver arc was a delay on Archie's end, so no subscribers got the issue. After a couple months, it did show up. It was also a huge disappointment, like the finales of SU arcs usually are, but whatever. I continued getting SU issues until my subscription ran out, which includes all of "Eggman's Dozen" and the first three parts of the next arc starring Knuckles, Amy, and Team Dark. I never did get the issues I missed from the start of the subscription, or any STH issues.

Another thing that wasn't really a new development, but was news to me, was that Archie Comics is, well, still Archie Comics. I'd hoped that perhaps, after the Ken Penders kerfuffle and replacing their legal team, they might have cleaned up their act with regard to how they treat their talent, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Then there's the firing of Jon Gray, which is probably unrelated to a lawsuit he was involved in against one of Archie's co-owners, but still looks shady for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

I've also seen general complaints about the quality of the comics I'd missed. According to fan complaint, the main series has fallen back on a pattern of introducing a Freedom Fighter group in a new, exotic locale, then dashing off to the next one without really developing the new characters. As much as the series was hurting for world-building after the reboot, I don't think anyone was really asking for a return to the mid-90s mode of empty lore-creation without compelling stories and character development.

For that matter, now that I think about it, the comic has never really been as good as I've wanted it to be. It's had its moments, but it always seems to fall flat at the last minute or settle for being just okay. I've given it more chances than it really deserves, and it's clear now that things are not likely to change any time soon.

Enough about Archie. What about the games? Another Boom game came out and it's...less bad. I still don't care about Boom, but credit where it's due: It's an improvement. Sonic Mania was announced, and it looks fantastic. Finally, someone gets what fans actually mean when they say they want something like the Genesis games. Another announced Sonic game that may or may not be a de facto Generations 2 looks like it has potential, at least.

Sure, the franchise still has its problems, but things are looking promising.

On the fandom side of things, I'm still checking in on the forums at Archie Sonic Online every so often. It's a nice little community with a lot of former BumbleKing members. I've also found several Archie Sonic blogs for when I get nostalgic for that side of the franchise: Bonehead XL has a full-fledged review blog Hedgehogs Can't Swim that nicely fills in the hole left by the retired Drazen. The reaction blogs Thanks, Ken Penders and Robotnik Holmes' Sonic Blog of Archie-ness are also interesting, if a little negative (and the former just recently returned from hiatus). On the game side, Blazehedgehog writes about Sonic periodically at The Hotdog Laserhouse, and if I really want Sonic news that I can't get from him or from the forum, I can always just check TSSZ, Sonic Stadium, or Sonic Retro.

Finally, in non-Sonic news, I'm finding other things to keep me busy. There are many wonderful Webcomics I've been reading that offer me things I kept wanting from the Sonic comic but never truly got, or at least never got consistently. I've gotten back into game development, a hobby I've been trying to start for over a decade, and I'm finally making progress. Thanks to Inktober, I'm also a little more confident in my artistic skills.

So all this points me to one thing: I need to ditch the comic and be done with it. Archie is too incompetent to do business with and too sleazy to support, the comic itself shows no signs of ever being as good as I keep wanting it to be, and I have other sources not just for good entertainment in general, but to indulge my emotional attachment to the characters. The comic, not the franchise as a whole, has been the source of most of my Sonic-related frustrations, and I don't need it anymore.

I'm still a little sad to let go, but mainly I'm glad not to be so invested in something that gives me more stress than enjoyment. Either way, I'm still a Sonic fan.

Tag Search Update

posted April 21, 2016

Tags: programming

After about two and a half years of being "temporarily down for maintenance," the Tag Search function of this blog and that of the art gallery are now back up and running.

I had taken them down in September 2013 when I found an XSS vulnerability. While I'd meant to get them back up quickly, I ended up confusing myself into thinking that the code was beyond repair and abandoned it in favor of writing a new tag search from scratch. (Throwing out your whole existing codebase tends to be a terrible idea, but as with most terrible ideas, it seemed like this time, it was a good idea. It wasn't.)

One roadblock led to another, and I kept setting the project aside in favor of other things. Eventually, I got fed up enough to ask whether that old version was really as irreparable as I'd thought, and it turned out that the bug that looked so daunting was actually fairly trivial to find and fix once I knew where to look.

Here's where things currently stand: The old search is now online again and functional, with a few bugfixes and a cosmetic improvement or two over its previous live version. You can search for one or more tags, and it will return a list of all pages tagged with all the given tags. It ignores search terms that no pages are tagged with.

What it doesn't do, unfortunately, is sort the results. I'd like to have it display the most recent pages first, but currently it doesn't do that. Instead, it's displaying the results alphabetically, according to filename rather than title. I have yet to comb through the code to determine if it's even trying to sort anything, but in any case I'll have to make some bigger changes to enable it to grab post dates in the first place before it can use them for sorting.

Meanwhile, for the "new" version, I have an SQLite database schema mostly hammered out, though I now realize that I'll need to add the post date to that as well. I also have a data-access class that is capable of setting up the database, but doesn't have methods to query it yet. The latest hurdle was deciding how to store dates (since SQLite doesn't have its own specific date/time data type and will let you stick any data of any type into most fields) and updating the schema and database-creation logic to match. Now, of course, I realize that this schema didn't have a place for the post date either, so it would have the same bug as the current version.

So while I'm going to keep that in my back pocket (in the spirit of "don't throw away code that works") so I'll have a starting point if I ever decide to migrate to SQLite, I'm going to keep the current version as the canonical version for now and (as Joel Spolsky recommends in the article linked above) just keep making incremental changes to it until it does what I need and stops being ugly. One day, it will be glorious. In the mean time, it will still work.