The Following Syndrome

A few months back I had a conversation with one of my Daughters who is also an Artist and has her own art account on Instagram. The conversation mainly revolved on how hard it is, even in today’s internet driven social media society, to get your work noticed by people. I’m going to show my age here but, things were never really easier back when I was beginning because we didn’t have the open wide web like we do today and social media sites like Twitter or Facebook weren’t even a thought on anyone’s minds. So when we did art, we shared it with those around us- our family and friends. That’s it.

In contrast, today we have the ability to share our work with the entire world. Well, with those who have internet access. So theoretically speaking, it should be easier to share our work with thousands if not, maybe even, millions of people right? Well, here’s the thing, it isn’t.

When I began with Twitter and YouTube and later Instagram, there was a drive in me to get my art and videos out as much as I could so that my follower counts (in YouTube terms-subscribers and views) would grow to astronomical proportions. I tried hard. Every day. Every night. I was a Man on a mission. My Twitter account slowly grew. From 10 to 50 to 100 to 1000+ followers. My Instagram account, which took a bit more time to grow, surpassed my Twitter account gaining me 5000+ followers. And YouTube? Man, I hit 8000+ subs. So theoretically speaking, I shouldn’t have a problem promoting my work right? I mean, come on, 1000+ Twitter followers + 5000+ Instagram followers + 8000+ additional YouTube subscribers and all I should have to do is post an image for a product or book I’m selling and bamo! Instant sales. Instant success. Instant views. Money in the bank.

Reality check. While I am grateful for those follow and subscriber counts… they really haven’t made anything easy. And that’s the point I’m trying to drive here. I was under the impression that with my follower growth would come success. And success hasn’t shown its mug. Here’s the thing that becomes an unhealthy addiction when it comes to social media and the need we have to gain followers. We start out with 10, then strive for 100. Once we reach 100, we move the goal post to 200, reaching 200 we now desire 500, reaching 501 we now desire 1000, and the vicious circle of desire continues. Want proof? Look at you tubers that have reached landmark subscriber counts. YouTube sends them a plaque to commemorate their success and you will always hear them say-without fail-lets try and reach the next goal post. I have yet to see anyone whose reached 10,000 or a million subs on YouTube say thank you, that’s more than I could ever dream of without following up with let’s go for the next 10,000 or 2 million or 3 million or whatever. To no fault of their own. It’s just an addictive thing. I know. Because I was caught up in this addictive game for a long time, to the point that when my follower and sub counts stayed on the same number for months on end, I got depressed.

Nothing I was doing, nothing I could do, nothing I did, would make the numbers grow. What happened? Did I reach a plateau? or maybe I just wasn’t working hard enough? Yes, that had to be it. I wasn’t working hard enough so I would work even harder. Churning out an image a day without fail. Cross promoting my work on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. And I made sure to jump on those new shiny social network sites that vainly promised to kill off Twitter or Facebook. Remember Google+? You don’t? Ok, that probably proves my point.

But seriously, no matter how much I tried, I could not make my follow counts grow (Although I need to be honest and say that, yes, my YouTube subs continue to grow even with little content). And there’s one more thing I noticed. This was the big one. The wake up and smell the coffee moment.

I looked at Instagram in particular when it comes to this one. Remember, I had 5000+ followers. Even at one point 6000. But here’s the thing I noticed, nothing I posted ever really reached beyond 300 likes… hmm…

Let’s look at the math. 5000 followers and each post barely broke 200 with some very rare occasional posts reaching 300 (very very very rare). Shouldn’t those numbers be a bit higher? I’m thinking, 5000+ followers and out of those 5000 followers I should, at least, be getting 2000 to 3000 likes per images. No? I mean, 5000+ people at one point tapped on the follow button because they like my work. Ok, ok, you’re right. Some of those could easily be spam bots or whatever they’re called nowadays. So let’s take those 5000+ and humbly lower it to… I don’t know… 3000? Ok, we can work with 3000 genuine human folk who at one point in their lives said, hey, I dig this guys work, let me follow him! 3000. Now, let’s say, out of those 3000, 1000 stop using Instagram because they move on or end up not liking the platform. So now, we’re left with 2000 followers still on the platform still following my work and I’m still barely getting 200 likes per images. Regardless how you spin it, the math is off. Something is off. Is it Instagrams screwy algorithms? Yeah, that’s probably a big part of it. But we can’t put the whole blame on it.

So what I’ve seen is that as a whole, we artists can’t put emphasis on follower or subscriber numbers. Those are just numbers. And I get it, we’re a numbers driven society. We need to see high numbers to feel any worth especially when it comes to our work. We need that validation. But to what extent? To the extent of saying that if I don’t have more than 200 likes on my work my work is trash? Because it seems that’s what a lot of artists are getting at. If they don’t have more than 1000 followers on Twitter or Instagram they are trash. Really? I grew up in a time where I only had 3 followers. My Mother, my Cousin and my best friend. They were the ONLY ones who saw my work. They were the only ones I could show my work to. There was no internet. There was no social media. There was no way to get your work in front of hundreds of people unless by luck and hard work you got picked up by a publisher. And even then your book and art had to be stellar in order to grab attention. It wasn’t easy then. It’s easier now but that doesn’t mean instant success. Especially when it comes to follower counts.

I encourage you to not focus on numbers. Be glad if you have them. But having over 1000 subscribers or followers doesn’t make you better or less. You are you. Your art is your own and it is for you to share on social media or on your website or blog. Drive people to it. Sell it. Promote it. Promote the hell out of it. But don’t ever, ever, let numbers dictate your worth. Because in the end, the ones who benefit from those numbers really isn’t us, it’s the machines and suits behind these platforms. So create. Regardless the numbers. Work hard to show your work. To better yourself as an artist and a human being. And for once, free yourself from the chains of addictions that is social media follower counts. Trust me, I did and I’m so happy for it.

Real Freedom

As a young Artist in the 90’s and with the emergence of super star Artists like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, one of my biggest dreams was the opportunity to get picked up like they did by one of the big comic companies at the time. I would go into these countless daydream sessions where I saw myself drawing Wolverine or Batman professionally and my adoring fans cheering me on. Ahhh. The innocence of being young and clueless.

As companies like Image comics gained unprecedented ground in the industry and I got more and more into Indy comics, those dreams shifted and now I no longer desired to work with the big 2 only, but I desired to be able to eventually branch out and draw my very own creator owned comic series for a living. Spoiler alert, non of those 2 things happened the way I hoped they would.

Yet it’s never too late to realize your dreams right? After all, look around and you’ll find countless stories of creators who at their 30’s and 40’s have been able to break into comics professionally. It’s not impossible. But it’s not something I crave the way I used to when I was young and willing and ready (at least in my mind) to conquer the world.

What does 40+ year old me want now that I’ve had time to age like fine wine?

Freedom. Plain and simple.

A sketch of Frank Rain for one of the pages of the first book

I just want to write and draw comics. The comics I want to write and draw. Sure, it’s nice to have a contract with a major company to draw one or two of their big titles. That’s awesome. But that’s not freedom. And I don’t say this as a criticism against anyone in that position. So please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying. Anyone in that position is there through hard work. And I mean hard work, because comics isn’t an easy industry to be in. So I’m in no way undermining or belittling any comics professional.

But even they will tell you that having that contract, well, let’s be realistic. Having that contract means that you are now working for a company and you have to play by said companies rules. Having that contract means that, while you’re working in the field you’ve always dreamed of working in and doing what you love the most, you’re not really free to do what you want.

This is why a lot of professional artists who have worked in this industry for years eventually move on to the creator owned arena. Not only to work on their ideas, but to have 1. Control and 2. Freedom

As I move forward with work on my own creator owned book, I find myself weighing the pros and cons of working with a publisher. Sure, there are tons of publishers out there that will pick up your book and let you go to town. The 2 publishers I have in mind are a great example.

Here’s the thing though, if any one of those 2 publishers decides to carry my project to print I will be a happy camper. But what does it mean, or what will it mean if they don’t? Well, I’m hoping that if they decide against it I will at least get a reason why. Was the story confusing? Was it boring? Was the story good but the genre is not something you’re currently looking for?

Whatever the reason(s) I can either give up and move on to another project or I can be stubborn and go at it on my own. This is the power of Indy comics. The ability to move forward despite what a publisher may think about your work. There are probably a good deal of stories of creators who were shot down by publishers yet they decided to go at it on their own only to find success. Some major success. Others, while not success at super star levels, it’s still success.

I don’t mean any disrespect to the publishers I will eventually submit my book to, but being honest, I don’t see it as a privilege or honor to have them look at my book and decide. I see it as me extending an opportunity to them. Because in the end, if they pick up my book, great, if not, well, too bad. The book(s) are getting published either way.

That’s real freedom. The freedom to tell a publisher this is my idea and I’m inviting you along with me on this journey. Not the other way around. I’m inviting you to partner with me. I’m trusting my baby under your umbrella. I have you in such high regards that I’m knocking on your door to ask if you’d like to come along with me on this ride. If in the end, they decide it’s not in their best interest to do so, no hard feelings. We’ll catch up again on my next project. But I will have not lost or gained anything because in the end, I will have freedom on my side.

Thanks for reading!

The Rebirth of Frank Rain

In 2010 I created a character and began to post pages from the book I was creating based on that character online as a webcomic. I posted for a month or two but decided to end the comic when I realized the story wasn’t there yet. It was yet another project I started but didn’t finish.

To be honest I hit myself hard about it for a long time. But now I realize starting and having the foresight to stop when I did was actually a good call. My ambition to write and draw my own books was there but the ability to do so, as far as writing is concerned, wasn’t. Simply put, I just wasn’t ready.

It wouldn’t be until years later, this year to be exact, that I wouldn’t write a story where I felt it was solid enough to start over. This new story is based on that character and book idea I tried to do in 2010.

So as promised, here is the book I am currently working on

Not too many people will know who the character is or even remember the online comic. But he’s been around for some time. I truly had fun working on this idea back in 2010 but I wasn’t confident or prepared enough to really go at it. I really hope this time around I can get to the finish line and share with you all what I’ve come up with.

A little about the character and story without giving too much away.

A lot has changed story wise from the 2010 version to the current story line. But a lot remains the same. For one, the character is hardly unchanged. The premise isn’t changed either. As a fan of Sci-Fi I really wanted to do a detective noir’ish book set in the future à la Blade Runner. And Frank Rain was/is the answer to that. Some story elements I have kept in place from the original and some new ones have been added. Fans of the 2010 webcomic will pick these things up when they finally get to read the book but hopefully, I hope it’s a book people will be able to enjoy.

In terms of movie ratings, this book would qualify for a PG-13 rating for action violence. There’s no graphic violence but there is action. So I believe most everyone out there, young and old, will eventually be able to pick up the book and read it without any worries.

And as far as what my plans are for publishing, well, as mentioned in my previous post, I have a publisher or 2 in mind to pitch the completed first issue to, but I’m not keeping my hopes up that they will pick the book up. So in case they don’t, I plan on going at it alone. It will cost money but we’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.

This is an exciting time for me. For years I’ve been trying to get the stories in my head out and share them with the world but for years I’ve felt I didn’t have the ability to do so. Something just kept blocking my path. I used to hit myself extremely hard for starting projects and never finishing them. I used to see myself as a failure for not doing so. Now, I have come to realize it was never about failing or finishing. It was a process I had to go through to find my way to this point in time. I had to learn my style of writing and working. I had to learn how to get the ideas in my head out on to paper. I’m not saying I’m this amazing writer. For all I know I can put this book out and everyone will call it trash. But how will I know if I don’t put it out?

My Daughter asked me about this. She asked how I would feel if after working on the book no one likes it. My answer was simple. As long as I am having fun working on it and doing my best to do a good job, that’s all that matters. Of course I want you all to love the book. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care. But in the end, if my writing stinks and this fails, at least I had fun getting to that point. And then, then it would be a matter of learning from my mistakes and trying my best not to repeat them.

So I hope you like the reveal and teaser image. Here’s hoping I get to the finish line soon enough.

Thanks for reading!

The Big Reveal

I’m excited.

If you follow me on Twitter then this is not a surprise. Because I’ve been going on and on about my excitement to be working on my very first fully fleshed out creator owned project. But in case you’re not on Twitter (and these days I do not blame you for staying away), I want to use this post to give you an update.

First of all, I started with a page count of 52 pages. That has grown to 60 pages. While I wanted to cap it at that, I am going to be adding more pages to the book so that number will eventually grow. Just the other day I came up with new story elements to add which I believe will make the story better and will allow me to continue telling this story beyond this first arc.

Speaking of story arcs, this current story will be a single self contained story. So you’re getting a beginning and ending. But I have a plan in place that will allow me to continue the story beyond this story arc. It’s something I didn’t plan in the beginning but developed later on and I’m super excited about it.

With that said, I have decided to do a 2 issue mini series instead of a single book. It’s what I set out to do but ended up with a longer story that at the time seemed to be calling for a graphic novel treatment. However, after careful planning, I will be able to break up the book into 2 issues which will be more financially feasible for me. I will eventually do a kickstarter to collect both books into a single copy in the future. But right now, I’m excited to work on these as single 2 part issues.

And finally, the big reveal. Exactly what am I working on? What’s the name of the book? Is it a fantasy book? Sci-fi? superhero genre? What is it?!! While I did plan on revealing those details after I finished thumbnailing the entire book, since I am now doing 2 comics, I will be revealing the title and book details as soon as I’m done with thumbnails for the first issue. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at a panel from one of the pages.

Thanks for reading!

Finishing Even Though I’m Not Finished Yet

I’m excited. I’m completely thrilled, and I’ll tell you why.

Last night I finished the 1st draft of a comic script. This isn’t the first script or story I’ve written. In the past couple of years I’ve done a few short stories as well as my latest fan comic, Kenobi. But this is the first creator owned comic project I’ve managed to fully write from start to finish. And that’s exciting.

Today I woke up, inspired, and wrote 7 new pages for the script and made a few changes and additions to tighten up the story. I set out to do a single 32 page comic but after today, I’m counting 52 pages in total, putting the project into graphic novel territory. And those 52 pages are just an estimate. Meaning it can easily go into the 60 page range once I’m done with thumbnails for the book.

What I haven’t decided, and quite frankly it’s way too early to even think about this, is whether I’m going to be printing 2 single issues or going for a full on graphic novel. Printing 2 single issues is a bit easier and cost effective but I do like the idea of a single book with the entire story. But, I’ll decide that when the time comes.

Right now, I’m just excited to have made it this far into the process. As for the name of the project and any other details, well, I’ve decided that once I’ve completed the thumbnails for the entire book and I’m ready to go into the penciling/inking stage, I’ll make an official reveal of the title and book details.

Until then, thanks for reading. Looking forward to sharing this thing I’m cooking up with you all.

Light And Shadow in Comics

You might have seen a lot of Artists, in particular, Mike Mignola and myself, use a method of adding pyramid like shapes at the edges of our hard blacks and probably have wondered, why do they do that or, what the heck is that? If you’re a pro comic artist then you’ll pretty much know what it is, but if you’re just starting out in comics and getting familiar with inking, it might confuse you a bit. Well, fear not, I’m here to explain the simplicity of it all. And believe me, it’s not complicated at all.

First, just to make sure we’re clear on the subject, let me show you a few examples of what I mean in my own work

At first glance it may seem like a stylistic thing, something we do to make the art look “cool”. I admittedly do it because it looks cool, however, it’s not the main reason. Those lines, pyramids, sharp things, points, feathers, whatever you want to call them (the correct term is feathering), are there for a very specific and valid reason, they are there to show the transition from light to shadow or, shadow to light.

Let’s take a look at the illustration below. I’ve drawn a simple sphere and separated the light (everything that’s white within the sphere) and shadows (everything that’s solid black within the sphere). But you’ll notice that between the light and shadow, where they meet, I’ve added those “cool” pointy things. This is meant to break up the point of contact between the light and shadow, so instead of having one solid line dividing both, we have what’s called a transition. In reality, we don’t get hard transitions from light to shadow or shadow to light. There’s always a transition of shading that occurs at the point where light and shadow meet.

Let’s look at a smoother more realistic shaded sphere to see what I mean

You don’t necessarily have to do this in your work. It’s something Artists like Mike Mignola are known for. Me, I do it occasionally when the style I’m using calls for it as in this Batman image I recently did.

Mike Mignola usually uses a mixture of both, going from hard solid transitions to using feathering as seen in the image below.

Frank Miller, on the other hand, preferred to do heavy solid transitions during his famous Sin City style as seen in the image below.

So now you know and knowing is half the…

Ok, ok. I couldn’t resist. But like I said, you don’t have to do this in your own work, but it’s good knowledge to have especially when starting out. When creating this feathering effect, I tend to do it in 1 of 2 ways depending on the look I’m going for, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Till then, thanks for reading!

The Tools I Use to Conquer The World

The title of this blog is obviously an exaggeration. I’m not really trying to conquer the World… I’m trying to destroy it! Bwahahahahahahaha! No really, all joking aside, it’s meant to capture your attention and if you’re reading this far, It’s accomplished it’s goal. Now, since we’ve established what this post is not about, let’s talk about what it is about. The tools I use to create my comics and illustrations.

I’m writing this post because I often get asked, what tablet am I using and what app am I using. So this will not only inform you but also give me a way to point people towards the answer without having to repeat myself every single time. Let’s begin with the tablet.

I used to use a 12” Wacom Cintiq tablet connected to my iMac Apple computer. The Cintiq was my first encounter with a tablet with a screen and it was amazing. I did two 150 page graphic novels on that thing. For software, I was running a program called Manga Studio. That program has since been renamed to Clip Studio Paint. I also had an iPad and on occasions I’d dabble with drawing on it but, it wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t as fun. Until the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil arrived. Then, everything changed!

I got the 1st generation iPad Pro and Apple Pencil and immediately loaded an app called Procreate on it. The rest, as they say, is history. Since then, however, I have used different apps. But the tablet has and continues to remain the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.

As for apps, I’ve used a lot (I have a YouTube channel and I’ve reviewed a few of these apps). But if I had to pick my main apps I go back to each and every time, I’d have to say, Procreate, Clip Studio Paint, Affinity Photo and ComicDraw. Of all of these, Procreate is my go to for everything, but if I had to illustrate a comic for myself or a client with as minimal effort as possible, I’d probably go with Clip Studio Paint since it’s basically made for creating comics.

Affinity Photo I use the same way I used to use Photoshop. As a matter of fact, it was the main reason why I dumped Photoshop. And basically that’s just to batch export images or fix things up here or there. I do, on occasions, sketch and ink in it, but mainly I use it for minor things. And ComicDraw, like Clip Studio Paint, is specifically made for creating comics on the iPad. However, if you’re looking for power, I’d go with Clip Studio, yet if you’re looking for simplicity, I’d go with ComicDraw.

And that’s it. Those are the digital tools I use to create comics and illustrations on the iPad Pro. On occasions, I also do traditional art and I have another set of tools I use for that, but I’ll leave that for another post in the future.

Thanks for reading!