A Bit Behind!

I'm sorry! I'm a bit behind in meeting my bi-monthly deadline. Act 1, Scene 2, at 33 pages, has turned out to be especially long. I have no excuse except that I moved to Paris this summer. I'm a busy bee, but I'm working as fast as I can. Look on the bright side, though: by mid-September you'll have a double issue! In case you're feeling withdrawal, though, take a look at these low-res preview pages of what's to come:

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Screw You, Apple!

In my last post I spoke to soon!

Don't get me wrong, I love Apple and their amazing products, but I have a major complaint with the way their iOS browsers handle mp3s. If you're viewing Success! on your iPhone or iPad (which is the perfect sized screen for viewing a comic) and you click on the mp3, a Quicktime window opens so you can't follow along with the music! This is a major drag. One of the points of making a musical comic is so that people can listen to the music while they follow along with the comic. 

Believe me, dudes and dudesses, I've scoured the Apple support forums, languished on hold with Apple support and endured lengthy chats with Apple geniuses, only to butt up against the same unfortunate inevitability: "It's just the way it is. Apple can't and won't change it." Bummer.

Nevertheless, I will continue to sink money into Apple computer products because, well, they're gorgeous, and they're the best made devices out there for quenching my creative thirst, but, like that sinister little bitter giggle underneath the taste of that fruity cocktail, I'll have to take the good with the bad.

So, if you're reading this and you have any idea how I can work around Apple's design flaw, please leave a comment. 

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Gregory's entrance into the story. I had to draw him many times to get him right. At first he looked like a warped John Lennon, but as I drew him more and more, he started to have a round, frumpy, kind of enduring little Tin-Tin-shaped face. I like how he ended up. That jacket, though! Whew! I must learn to pair down the details. Do you know how many times I had to draw the strings in his hoody? Or the loops on his buttons? Gad. First thing I'm doing in the next scene is having him take his jacket off!

The talk show host, incidentally, is supposed to be Charlie Rose. Whenever I used to interview myself in the bathroom mirror (Come on, admit it. You've done it!), I always fantasized that I was on Charlie Rose. He always had the fanciest guests: authors, artists, politicians, intellectuals. Gregory longs to be famous enough to sit at Charlie's big round table. Like he says in the scene: "What artist doesn't?"

Okay. See you in a couple of months. 

Thank you, Apple

It has taken me so long to finish the Prologue because I became frustrated trying to draw with a drawing tablet. I attempted to go back to drawing on paper and scanning, but it just took too long so I gave up. Salvation came when, at long last, those hip folks at the Apple corporation made it possible for me to ditch the drawing tablet and draw directly onto the screen of my iPad Pro with the miraculous Apple Pencil. I hate for this to be a blatant advertisement, but I swear, after trying out many styluses I went into an Apple store to try out the Apple Pencil. I was completely blown away. It felt like just like drawing on paper.

Hooked, I sold tons of books and electronics (Bye, bye, iPad Mini. You will always be my first...) and saved up for a month to buy an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil combo. I'm an almost complete set of Tintin books and a JAMBOX mini speaker poorer, but it was all worth it, because now, production on the Success! comic has sped up considerably. I can draw at home, in the library, in coffee shops, anywhere! Thank you, Apple!

Now, my process for doing a page goes roughly like this: I format the music in Finale, then upload the file to DropBox. From my iPad, I import the music file directly into Procreate and start drawing. When all the drawing is done, I use Photoshop on my Mac to clean it up and add the speech balloons. If, however, the page features a lot of dialog without music, I do the panel layout and text in Photoshop first, then do the drawings. It sounds complicated, but using this method it only took me a few weeks to finish this scene. I can almost guarantee now that, weekend warrior though I am, I'll be able to crank out a scene a month. 

This scene introduces Nicholas, the wily, sleazy, crafty, social climber of the two brothers who form the focal point of Success!. I had a good time drawing this scene, although the party scenes really stretched my imagination. I had to come up with so many different kinds of people. To get those right, I looked to my heroes Phil Foglio (Myth Adventures) and Sergio Aragones (Groo).

The challenges in this scene included getting the look of the gallery consistent, drawing the bricks (Oh, so many bricks!), doing the backgrounds through the gallery windows, and getting Nicholas's facial expressions and body language right. 

See you next month!

The Making of Success

Welcome to the blog. I hope you're enjoying reading Success!  Since the early 90s I have experimented with ways to merge drawings and music. I drew cartoon after cartoon with music integrated into the drawings, but the geometric lines of the staves and the organic lines of the cartoons always seemed at odds.

I was stumped until the summer of 1999, when I came across a copy of Erik Satie's Sports et Divertissements: a collection of short hand-calligraphed piano pieces paired with fashionable illustrations. Satie's funny instructions to the piano player worked together with his descriptive music to make the little pictures come alive. This was the closest example I'd seen of music fused with drawings. 

The music and an illustration from Sports et Divertissiments

The music and an illustration from Sports et Divertissiments

An early experiment from 2004.

An early experiment from 2004.

But I wanted to go further. I was searching for a way to visually show that the music accompanied the action in a comic, like a film reel with a printed soundtrack. I did some early experiments, but nothing stuck.

Then one afternoon in 2010 I was walking out of a comic store in Strasbourg, when a page from my future comic leapt out into my imagination. I imagined a piano/vocal score, but with comic panels in between the staves, as if they had their own staff line. The action in the comic panels could align horizontally with the musical events, fusing music and action. During the dialog scenes, the comic could just look like a regular comic.

I was afraid at first that this format might look inconsistent until I watched some classic movie musicals. It occurred to me that the comic format I dreamed up mirrors the structure of a movie musical, where  the camera pans out and floats around in long cuts during the musical numbers, then shrinks down again and cuts to the dialog like a regular film during the dialog scenes.

When I got home to my little apartment in Germany I made this sketch: 

My first sketch for the Success! comic: the opening five bars of We Did It

My first sketch for the Success! comic: the opening five bars of We Did It

I drew this sketch on pen and paper, with the staff lines cut and pasted in. I love the way this looks, but the lettering is unreadable, and it was time consuming. This sketch alone took me about 5 hours. Cutting and pasting the music for the entire score, which is 145 pages long, scanning the drawings, then cleaning them up and adding color in Photoshop would have taken me forever.

So I went to Media Markt and I bought a BAMBOO tablet to do the drawing. That made things much faster. I could import the music from graphics files taken directly from the piano/vocal score, cut and paste them in, and then draw the cartoons around them, all directly into Photoshop. The result is nice and clean. Now the whole comic will only take me about 10 years to finish, instead of 20.

I plan to publish the comic in monthly installments. The next installment is due this summer. Until then...

Reclinerland HQ, where the magic happens.

Reclinerland HQ, where the magic happens.