Sunday, December 26, 2010

Illustration Friday: "Winter"

For Illustration Friday's theme, Winter. Stella the polar bear discovers the joy of leaving pawprints in the snow. An illuminated panel from my comic, The Last of the Polar Bears.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Last of the Polar Bears pgs 30-31

I updated with pgs 30-31. Who might those mysterious paw prints belong to?

Other mini-announcement: I’m currently working on a short Fraggle Rock comic for Archaia. :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Finding the Right Pose - Archie Character Designs

Recently, I put together some Archie character drawings to try out for a penciling position.

Archie Character Sheet (inks). Pencils by me, inked by Jared Hodges.

Finding the Look
Working with pre-existing characters is different than designing your own. I first had to familiarize myself with nuances of the "house style" to draw the characters on-model. I did this by sketching the characters, while carefully studing the spacing and proportions of their features, especially their faces.

Finding the Pose
Once I felt comfortable drawing the characters, I did some thumbnail sketches for each character's pose, searching for the best character-appropriate gesture for each. It's worth noting that when I'm doing gesture sketches like this, I'm working small and fast. I'm not worried about proportions or details--that comes later. This is all about finding the pose.

Veronica is the rich girl that pretty much gets what she wants. I decided to give her a hand-on-the-hip pose that emphasized her confidence and stylishness. For her outfit, a cute flirty dress, clutch handbag, and a bit of bling. I briefly entertained the idea of a more illustrative shopping scene for her (with bag carrying Archie in tow), but decided to stick with standalone poses.

Veronica poses
To contrast Veronica, I went with a sportier pose, and jeans and jacket outfit for Betty. I got pretty far in the drawing when I realized the pose was a bit too similar (hand-on-hip again) to Veronica's.

Betty - pose and rough pencils, next to finished Veronica for comparison.
Keeping the keywords "cute" and "sporty" in mind, I started over. Of these, the first two I did (upper middle, upper right) weren't right at all for Betty -- too sexy; too cutesy. After that, I stopped and reconsidered the character. Sweet and sporty. I liked the gesture of Betty twirling a finger around her hair to showcase her ponytail, so I kept that in the rest of the sketches. I ended up going with my third attempt (first sketch on the top left).

More Betty poses
Archie's your average, nice guy character that everyone gets along with. For his pose I decided to show him "just hanging out".

Archie poses
Jughead's the goofy comic relief character. To capture his cartoony mannerisms, I tried to push his poses towards the extreme (without going too far). I thought it would be funny to show him tossing an entire burger in his mouth the way you might with a piece of candy.

Jughead poses
Polishing the Art
Once I had my poses selected for each character, I printed out the sketches at a larger size with blue lines so I could do a clean pencil pass over them with their proper details and proportions.
And here's the finished results!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Under the Influence of Manga

Comics editor Tim Beedle discusses on his blog whether or not it's necessary for manga-influenced Western artists to change their style in order to find work.

I chimed in with my experience as a professional manga-influenced comic artist. My full reply is below, but you should also go read Tim's post and the proceeding comments. The whole discussion is very interesting.


As a creator who was part of the OEL movement, this topic hits close to home. For me, manga had a heavy influence on my artwork during my formative teen years. My manga-influenced art style wasn't something I quickly adopted as a moneymaking scheme to dupe the manga-reading public, as some naysayers of the OEL movement believe, but simply a part of me, a natural expression of the material I grew up reading. An art style that was natural to me, intuitively picked up from years of reading manga, mixed with other influences, and personal touches.

For a while, it looked like the possibilities for manga-influenced artists were on the rise, until the manga market/economy collapsed. Then Tokyopop stopped taking chances on creator-owned properties, other companies followed suit, and the movement more or less died (save for the small handful of licensed properties -- good opportunities, but nowhere near enough to support all of the talented manga-influenced creators out there).

Following the completion of Peach Fuzz in 2007, I went from being a successful creator with a growing career, back down to the ground level, scraping around for jobs, painfully discovering that outside of the Tokyopop bubble, there are very few opportunities for comic artists heavily influenced by manga.

The year or two following Peach Fuzz, I received my fair share of rejections: art agents telling me that while my art is professional and solid, it's unmarketable due to a lack of jobs calling for a "manga" look; publishers and literary agents enjoying a story premise, but turning it down due to, again, the "manga" look. Eventually the message started to sink in: adapt or die.

The last couple of years, I've been working to tone down the manga influences in my artwork, but it's been a painful process. Some good has come from pushing myself in a new direction - I've definitely grown a lot as an artist because of it. For example, I've developed a new approach to comic pages that I'm very happy with (see Last of the Polar Bears). But it's also depressing to look back at Peach Fuzz, and the art style that came very naturally to me, that I've had to sweep under the rug and hide.

The thing that gets me the most, is that even though mainstream publishers are apprehensive about comics with a heavy manga influence, the kids and teens adore it. The amount of times I've had kids come up to me at conventions to tell me that they loved Peach Fuzz, or even that it was the first "manga" they ever read (!!) are too numerous to count. The kids don't have any innate prejudices against the material--all they want is fun, appealing stories to read. Give that to them, and they're happy--who cares whether your artistic influences are eastern, western, or both?

Given enough time, I'm sure more publishers will open themselves to manga-influenced  comics again... In the meantime, should creators have to alter their style to make a living? Sorry to say, but at least for this creator, it was either that or find a new career path.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Last of the Polar Bears pgs 28-29

I updated with pgs 28-29. Stella discovers the joy of leaving pawprints in the snow.

If you're relying on my blog for updates, pgs 26-27 will also be new to you. :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NYCC + Limited edition book!

Hi everyone, I wanted to let you know about a couple of exciting things happening next month.

First, I'll be attending New York Comic Con next month (October 8 - 10, 2010 in New York City). You'll be able to find me in the artist alley with the usual array of books, stickers, bookmarks and other goodies. If you're attending NYCC, be sure to stop by the table and say hello!

The other exciting thing is that I've been working with a small press printer to produce a limited edition book collecting the first half of Chapter 1 of The Last of the Polar Bears, and it will be ready in October. It's always been my intention for The Last of the Polar Bears to be viewed in print, so I'm really thrilled to be making it a reality.

I'll be bringing the book with me to NYCC, where I'll be alternating my time between my artist table, and showing Last of the Polar Bears to publishers. Hopefully something good will happen from reaching out to publishers, but if not, I intend to continue self-publishing Polar Bears online and in print on my own.

To do that though, I'm going to need your help. If you're interested in seeing Polar Bears in print, be sure to pick up the new book. If this first book is a success (i.e. recouping my printing costs), future collected editions will follow. By supporting the printed edition, you'll also be helping me continue making pages for the online web comic version.

For those of you who can't attend NYCC, the book is available for sale through my website. I'm currently taking pre-orders and will ship them the second week of October. Each book will be hand-numbered, and those of you who pre-order will get the earliest numbers. :)

Follow the banner for more details about the book~!


Monday, September 6, 2010

The Last of the Polar Bears pgs 24-25

I updated with pgs 24-25. Stella is ready for adventure. Nanook isn't.

If you're relying on this blog for updates, pgs 22-23 will also be new to you. :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Last of the Polar Bears - now up to page 21

I updated with pgs 20-21. Mama Bear is awake, and she's not happy.

Enjoy, and please leave a comment on the site if you have a moment. I'd love to hear your thoughts!


P.S. If you know anyone who might also enjoy the comic, please pass along the link to them! Thanks!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coffee Break!

Time for a coffee break! This is a pinup I did for Chandra Free's upcoming graphic novel The God Machine, which you can pre-order on Amazon right now for a great price. I will caution you that it's NOT an all-ages title like my books, but if you're a mature reader, I recommend it. Those of you familiar with Chan know that she creates beautiful artwork, and every page is lovingly crafted.

So about the pinup. Chan and I decided that since her other pinup contributors were doing drawings of Good God and other main characters, it would be best if I did something else, like the adorable Angel Kitty and Devil Kitty. So here they are, preparing coffee and consuming creamer. :3

Pencil with coloring in Photoshop CS3, and several layers of textures.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Illustration Friday: "Double"

Double vision of Frostbite the arctic fox for Illustration Friday. <3 This is a set of panels from this week's update of my comic, The Last of the Polar Bears. See the full two-page spread here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last of the Polar Bears - now a webcomic

Hi everyone,

I wanted to let all of you know that I've started posting pages of The Last of the Polar Bears online as a web comic. I plan to post a new double-page spread every week, on Mondays, as well as write about the process of making comics as time allows. You can read The Last of the Polar Bears comic here:

Why the webcomic format?

I started working on The Last of the Polar Bears a year ago, researching, plotting the story from beginning to end, designing the characters, and working on the sequential art. After storyboarding the first chapter, I determined the complete story would be around 500 pages--meaning it could take years before the book would be ready for publication.I strongly believe in The Last of the Polar Bears and its message, so rather than keeping the project hidden for the next several years while I continue to work on it, I've decided to make the pages available to readers as they are created. I'd love to hear your feedback. :)

P.S. If you know anyone who might also enjoy the comic, please pass along the link to them! Thanks and enjoy! :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Last of the Polar Bears - pages 1-3

It's been a while since I last posted any tidbits about The Last of the Polar Bears graphic novel am working on, so here's a quick update. The proposal is currently making its rounds with agents. In the meantime, I'm continuing to work on more comic pages. I wanted to share the first few pages with all of you. A sweet little scene showing Nanook and Stella as itty-bitty baby polar bears!


(Something fun to note is that all of the panel borders on these pages are "hand-drawn", that is, without the benefit of rulers. I wanted them to have a very organic, rough quality to them. That's why they have little squiggles and imperfections. Requiring a very steady hand, they take a lot longer to do, but I love the effect.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Last of the Polar Bears - Unveiling the Characters

During the last 6 months of development on Last of the Polar Bears, Jared and I have worked hard to dig deep and really get to know the characters. Now, as the story moves towards production, we're ready to share these characters and a glimpse of their story. I hope that you find the cast as interesting and lively as we do, and look forward to leaning more about them. :)


The stronger of Ursula’s twin polar bear cubs, Stella is energetic and brash. She uncritically adopts her mother’s philosophy that strength and determination can overcome any obstacle. Though she loves her smaller sibling, Nanook, her teasing and rough competitive play drive a wedge between them. When he finds another friend, Stella is left to struggle alone with her growing concerns over survival.


The smaller and weaker of Ursula’s twin polar bear cubs. Nanook is an exceptionally curious and contemplative cub, eager to explore and learn about the world. However, Nanook tires quickly during play and is unusually susceptible to the cold, requiring special attention from his mom. Along their journey, Nanook befriends Frostbite, an arctic fox, much to his family's disapproval.


Ursula is a firm, but loving mother polar bear. Protecting Stella and Nanook, her first litter of cubs, is her top priority. Following in the paw prints of her mother, she takes great pride in preparing her cubs for adulthood. However, she's finding that strength, the core value of her teachings, is no longer enough to survive the changing Arctic landscape.

A rebellious young arctic fox that craves adventure and independence, but is ill-prepared for life away from home. Once carefree, Frostbite is learning that the Arctic is a lonely place filled with hardship, and scarce on food. When a hunt-gone-awry brings her face-to-face with Nanook, Frostbite quickly forms a bond with the cub. Chatty and sociable, she takes solace in their budding friendship...but also has other reasons for tagging along with the polar bear family.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Creative Lettering in Comics

There has recently been a lot of scrutiny over the quality of lettering in the Twilight manga adaption. From what I've seen, I don't disagree. The lettering is lackluster, difficult to read and feels like an afterthought-- word balloons seem to be transparent and awkwardly placed for no other reason than simply because there wasn't any space allotted for them when the artist made the page. For example, the second panel of this sample page shows two hands touching over a microscope, but a word balloon has been plopped over top of it, covering the primary focus of the panel with dialogue.

I've read a number of blog posts listing lettering mistakes in the Twilight manga. But while there are basic guidelines for readability, lettering is not an exact science. As with other art forms, the art of lettering is subjective. Some of the techniques that have been identified by some bloggers as "wrong", such as word balloons bridging multiple panels, transparent word balloons, and overlapping word balloons, can actually be used to good effect under the right circumstances.

Here are some examples from various manga to show you what I mean:

Word balloons bridging between two panels - This can be an effective and interesting way to transition between scenes, or tie two panels together for a greater emphasis of their connection to each other.

In this scene from Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden by Watase Yuu, we see Takiko's change in reaction over two panels as another character gives her insight into the reasons behind an earlier event. The bridging word balloon makes the transition feel smoother and her reaction immediate, as the other character is speaking. Breaking up the dialogue into two separate balloons would have changed the timing of her reaction.

In the Suikoden III manga, Aki Shimizu raises the tension of an opposing army charging forward by connecting Lucia's word balloon to the adjacent panels. This gives us a sense that the enemy's war cry is ongoing (*and* getting louder - note the increasing size of the "aaaAAA" sound effect) as she instructs her son, Hugo, to make a critical choice.

Transparent word balloons - Used sparingly with thoughtful application, transparent word balloons can allow text to greater integrate with the imagery contained within the panel.

In these examples from Fate/stay Night, the transparent word balloons have a piercing effect, as if the words are going straight through the character as they are told something confusing, shocking, or unexpected.

Naoko Takeuchi uses transparent word balloons often in her Sailor Moon manga. I suspect that the effect is used more for aesthetic reasons, to integrate the balloons with the artwork in an attractive, non-intrusive way, like in this page featuring a full body illustration of Usagi. But it has the added effect of giving us a sense of being within Usagi's psyche as she reacts to information about a legend (the balloons contain voiceover dialogue from Rei).

In all of these examples, there's plenty of room where balloons could have been placed without obscuring the artwork, so I think it's safe to assume that they are intentionally transparent for effect.

Overlapping word balloons - Effective for indicating that a character is responding quickly, talking over, or interrupting another character.

Here's two examples from Nana by Ai Yazawa, one of my favorite mangaka. Showing the nuances of character interaction is one of her specialties.

In this panel, Yazawa uses the proximity of the word balloons to contrast between Nana's explosive outburst and Takumi's quick but cool-headed reaction.

In this panel, Junko's boyfriend Kyosuke adds detail to Junko's comment. The overlapping panels here give the impression that these romantically-involved characters are working together to build upon each other's thoughts.

Finally, here's an example from my own book, Peach Fuzz (volume 3, pg 56). This page utilizes all three techniques:
Edwin and Peach are ferrets that don't see eye-to-eye in their needs, so while Peach is concerned with status and entitlement, Edwin is quick to get distracted by the presence of food. As Peach explains the layout of her kingdom in the first panel, Edwin perks up at the mention of food and interrupts her with an overlapping word balloon. His word balloon flows uninterrupted into the second panel, as we close in on Edwin's drooling face. Peach's response bridges the gap between the second and third panels as she explosively wrestles control of the conversation again. Finally, in the fourth panel, Peach's assumptions that Edwin has a kingdom of his own blend seamlessly into the sparkly background through the use of a transparent word balloon, showing us that she's caught up in her own fantasy.
In all of these cases, the style of the word balloons helps express the tone and intent of the character without ever sacrificing readability -- that's important. These techniques should not be used on every page, only when there is a need for it. To use word balloons effectively, I find that it's essential to plan out the word balloons at the same time I'm composing the actions and layout of a page - during the roughing stage.

There's a *lot* more you can do with word balloons and lettering to enhance the story. I'll cover more of the basics and other creative techniques in a future post.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Breaking into Comics

One of the questions I'm frequently asked is how to go about "breaking into" the comic industry. It's a tricky question to answer, because there is no direct path. The comics industry is a tough business to break into. There's a lot of competition. And even once you're "in", every new assignment or project still requires effort to get (though publishing credits do help!).

The most important thing you'll need are strong, stand-out sample comic pages that demonstrate your skills in sequential art. The ability to draw characters consistently on-model and capable of expressing a gamut of emotions, backgrounds in perspective, clarity in sequential storytelling, dynamic action, clear but exciting panel layouts, and so on. The best way to get that is to keep working at it. The more you draw, the better you'll get. Challenge yourself to draw outside of your comfort zone. Draw everything, not just people. The ability to draw human characters is, of course, essential, but comic artists should ALSO be able to draw whatever the script calls for: backgrounds from busy cityscapes to dense forests, cute puppies to ferocious beasts, racing cars to horse-drawn wagons.

Depending on the publisher, the way to get your work seen is to take it to a convention where an editor is doing portfolio reviews. They can give you the feedback you need to further improve your pages, or if your work is good enough, hire you on the spot.

The way I got my start with Tokyopop was through their 2nd Rising Stars of Manga competition. (I'm not sure if they're still doing the Rising Stars of Manga, but nowadays there are also other competitions running such as Kodansha’s Morning Magazine International Comic Contest, in which Jared's and my entry, Last Dance, placed as a finalist, and DC's Zuda Comics, which I have not personally entered).

For RSOM, I followed the guidelines, and sent off a short self-contained 20-page comic that landed me grand prize. The editors loved it so much that they asked me to put together a full three-volume version of the series. You know how that turned out. The series was Peach Fuzz. :) From there, I had the credentials and work behind me to get a job as a penciler over at Archie Comics.

If you're interested in writing and drawing stories, the steps are similar but somewhat different. You'll need to put together a comic pitch based on your desired publisher's guidelines. Every publisher is different about what they want. It helps to be aware of which publishers are looking for submissions, and what they want, so that you can tailor your submission to their needs. Check publisher websites for guidelines. But in general, it amounts to about 10-15 sample comic pages, a short (2-3 page) synopsis of how the story would play from start to finish, character designs and bios, and a persuasive query letter. I'm working on putting together one of those packages right now for the new graphic novel story I've developed. :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Comic Page Layout Template

Here is the page layout template (larger version here) I'm using for Last of the Polar Bears. You're welcome to download and print it out for use in your own comics.

The template is sized for printing on standard letter-sized paper. There's a space for you to draw your comic page, a place to keep track of the page number, and a place to indicate starting date. I find marking the date useful for keeping track of my daily page output. The empty space has a purpose as well. This is where you can break down panels, write notes, and try out different ideas for panels configurations, poses, and expressions before you commit to them in the actual layout. See my previous post for examples.

I originally created this layout for use on Peach Fuzz, so the trim and bleed sizes are suited for a standard 5"x7.5" "manga"-sized graphic novel. The black bars on the top and bottom are there as space fillers because the dimensions are intended for penciling on a traditional 11"x17" comic page.

Book sizes vary, as do individual publisher's designated trim and bleeds. For example, I use a different page template for penciling comic pages for Archie Comics. Think about your desired final output size and plan your rough layouts accordingly.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Making a Graphic Novel (Part 1)

My Creative Process

I've finished scanning and compiling the roughs for the first chapter of The Last of the Polar Bears! 67 pages total. The full story consists of seven dense chapters chronicling a polar bear family's journey and struggle to survive in the changing Arctic. I'm working from a detailed 40-page synopsis of the story Jared Hodges and I wrote together. So far the breakdown is working out to about 10 pages of comic pages per 1 page of synopsis, so I estimate that the complete story will end up being around 400-500 pages.

Because I am both the writer and the artist, I decided to bypass the step of writing a traditional script for The Last of the Polar Bears, and work straight from synopsis to rough thumbnail pages. This allows me to be very flexible with my roughs. I read over my synopsis, then visualize the look of the pages as thumbnail drawings while I'm breaking down the actions panel-by-panel. In this way, I can quickly discover whether scenes that are easily described in text work visually, and make necessary corrections.

Here's page 17 and 18 from synopsis to rough thumbnails, in which the twin polar bear cubs Stella and Nanook experience the outside of the den for the first time:


Stella asks Nanook what's up there. The next panel is his point of view. Endless white snow, and arctic twilight. Frostbite (an arctic fox) is also in the shot, but she is well camouflaged. Her tail is wrapped around her face so that she looks unremarkable, like a lump of snow. "Nothing. Everything's white!" A cold breeze sets his teeth chattering. "It's cold up here!" Shivering, brother cub tumbles back into the den, and falls on top of Stella. Stella protests and goes into battle mode, but he just huddles against her for warmth. It's no fun to play with an unwilling partner, so she gives up and calls him a wimp . She asks him if he saw "it". He shakes his head no. "Just lots of snow."

I breakdown this description into a list of panels, each with a short description of what I want to bring to the attention of the reader. My thumbnail page layout (template here) measures 4"x6" on an 8.5".x11" page and contains pertinent information such as trim and bleed so that I can plan out the overall look of the page along with composition, actions, and word balloon placement.

Sometimes the pages come together in a very straightforward fashion. Sometimes I'll end up trying multiple panel configurations. On page 17, you can see that I've come up with alternate takes for panels 1, 3, and 5.

Once the thumbnails are drawn, I scan them into the computer and assemble the pieces. Here's how 17 and 18 currently look.

These thumbnails are my roadmap for the next step: penciling the pages at full size. With composition and content of the panels figured out, I'll be able to turn my focus to drawing the characters tighter, cleaner, on model, and anatomically correct (to name just a few of many things I'll be keeping in mind as I work through the pages).

I'll continue to delve further into aspects of my comic creation process (with more Last of the Polar Bear sneak peeks!) in upcoming blog posts, so stay tuned for more.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

365 Days of Manga

Here I am in front of my manga bookshelf, holding five new additions to the collection, courtesy of Jason Thompson (writer of the excellent Manga: The Complete Guide, and upcoming graphic novel, King of RPGs) and his 365 Days of Manga contest. The contest is still ongoing over at, so be sure to check it out. All you have to do is fill in your name and address on the left side box, and you're entered to win five books from Jason's extensive manga collection.

Jason sent me Gon, Kiichi and the Magic Books, and Chikyu Misaki v1-3. The artwork in Chikyu Misaki, by Iwahara Yuji, is adorable -- very cute characters in a unique sketchy inked style. I think the stand-out book in the pile, though, is Gon, which I can only describe as mix of mascot character cuteness with over-the-top hard-boiled action in the vein of Battle Royale. Strange, I know. Gon is this tough little dinosaur (set in a time after all the other dinosaurs have gone extinct), who is not above beating up other animals to get what he wants. There's no dialogue in the book--the story is told through actions alone. It's so well drawn that it's still very easy to follow. It's masterfully done. Very inspiring.

Thanks, Jason!