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For Good or Evil, Illustrator Is My Tool

When I decided to create my comic book, I knew it was going to be totally digital. Not completely my choice, but out of necessity. At this point, I have neither the dexterity or close-up vision to do what I did 30 years ago with traditional tools. But I knew that this could be accomplished with the drawing program, Illustrator.

There would be problems, I knew that for a fact. Digital doesn't react as cleanly as my pin, brush, and ink would. But after my last paint project showed me, keeping a hold of the paintbrush without dropping it was a chore. The only solution would be to go full on digital. After five pages, the frustrations are on slowly receding. Not disappearing, but making me less frustrated.

The main frustration is also the key to being able to do this digitally in the first place. The Bézier curve. A line doesn't have to be perfect when you initially lay it down (it rarely is) and can be fixed by adjusting the position of the point and curvature with the handles. And that's a good thing. Fixing lines after the fact is not very easy when working with real ink.

But the problem occurs with nearly every line drawn that when the stylus is lifted from the tablet, it's mostly a surprise where the end of the stroke will point. the slightest tilt of incorrect pressure on of the stylus affects that final point which can cause the entire line to become undesirable. It's then I make the decision to wither delete it and try again -or- start fiddling with the points and handles.

Tutorials for the Pen Tool

I mistakenly thought that I would quickly find a tutorial that would show me the error of my ways. I found lots and lots of tutorials but not once did the answer to my problem revealed. Most said, "Set this and this and this, and you will get perfect ink-like lines." After doing the settings as I was told, my lines looked nothing like theirs. Obviously, there was something else they had done which allowed their lines to work which was not in the video.

It wasn't until last week while watching yet another tutorial that the vidder/artist made an offhand remark when creating a shape with the pen tool. 1) Click a point making sure there are no handles visible. 2) place a second point just slightly past the next curve. 3) pull the handles until the line goes where you want it. 4) (and this is the important part) click the new point to remove the second handle. This way you begin with a static point for the next segment.

Ever since, creating shapes has become ten times quicker and much, much cleaner.

Alas, I am still searching for a tutorial to assist me making my brush strokes cleaner. After fiddling with the brush settings of Smoothness and Fidelity, my lines behave themselves much better but there's still the errant tail which I need to go fix.

So I solved my shape creation problem with the pen tool but still need to work on fixing the brush tool problem.



Took in the SteelCityCon last weekend and it was a breath of fresh air. My main aim was to talk to the various artist at the booths. Visiting the merchant booths and listening to the celebrity speakers was fun, but it was the artists which I needed to interact with the most.

Questions I had ranged from techniques for working with the Wacom tablet to getting a book printed. I got answers to all my questions, although one of the answers concerning the Wacom tablet was there is no good way to prevent those bezier handles from spiraling off in random directions.

I met up with Mike, an engineer whom I worked with at BCSI. Mike's secret identity is Steel Man. Mike has been going to cons for quite a few years and introduced me to many people he knew there including a few of the artists.

I will be getting in touch with a few of them in the days to come.


One Multiverse Among Many-04

First, the link Multiverse story: Link to One Multiverse Among Many.

Slight Delay

Slight delay caused by running into something that Illustrator didn't like and I had no idea how to find it other than the brute force method. It took some effort but the problem has been neutralized.

When I started this project I wanted to recreate only the effects that would have been found in books from period. No fancy filters, transparency, and the like. In my research into the halftones and Ben-Day dots, I tested what I wanted an effect to look like with a transparency. After I have created the effect with Ben-Day dots, I forgot to remove the transparency from the layer. Saving the file as .ai had no problems. It was when I needed to save as an .eps file, Illustrator got very indigent. After waiting for the file for 10 ten minutes to get past 8% while saving told me I had to locate the errant object. This has also delayed the character sheets for the new characters, Echo, his brother Dr. Doom, and his sister Cora. Those are on the agenda for this weekend.

My workflow is becoming smoother and drawing and coloring methods I thought would work well (and didn't( have been replaced. I can see the time saved with these changes.

The Ben-Day dots (and work on the halftones) will enable me to expand my coloring system. Since there is no Ben-Day filter in Illustrator, this all needs to be accomplished manually. First devising the dot patterns in various sizes and spacings, saving these images as patterns, and saving them all to a single library. Although it would have been much faster to have that built into Illustrator, dredging up that printing information from the back of my mind was a wonderful exercise. It's a good feeling knowing I've developed an old printing technique on a computer.

Ben-Day Dots vs. Halftone dots

Ben-Day dots differ from halftone dots in that the Ben-Day dots are always of equal size and distribution in a specific area. Wikipedia

Ben-Day Dots

Halftone Dots

Page 4

Page 4 continues the story by introducing more new characters.

Echo, a rich socialite who wears an invisibility belt, has a radioactive ring (no kidding) that gives him paralysis vision, and he's a ventriloquist to boot!. Dr. Doom, Frail of body but brilliant of brain, carrying on the science research of his dead father! Inventor of the invisibility belt and radioactive ring. Cora, their sister, Sad, but steadfast, living only to see justice done on her parent's evil destroyers. Her sole talent was wearing a different red dress in every story.

When I started this project, i knew that Dynamite Comics had their own storylines using these Public Domain characters. Since there were hundreds of characters, I knew I could find other characters and create my own story. I created a database and pulled all the information from the Public Domain Super Hero wikia, and sketched out my storyline. While work progressed on the story, I created the first two pages of the prelude. This gave me the opportunity to test some techniques to learn what would work and what would need revamped. Found out quite a bit was going to need work. Inking and coloring on the computer is completely different than using traditional materials.

It picks up the story from Dynamic Comics #13 as they are investigating a neighbor's erratic behavior. But as with The Purple Zombie's story, things go a little different. Seems to be a trend.


What I've Learned About Computer Art

It's really what I've learned about drawing, inking, and coloring in Illustrator. The answer is, quite a lot. IN my initial decision to use Illustrator instead of the standard Photoshop for my coloring seems like an odd choice at first. But keeping within the bounds of the 1940s/50s style of artwork meant I wouldn't need much of the effects that are available in Photoshop. It wold also keep a little more honest.

The biggest thing I'm learning is the difficulties in inking in Illustrator. Attempting to lay down lines without an extra curl being added before or after the stroke can be frustrating. And it's compounded by the fact I am unable to find and assistance with my searches on the web. I've picked up an occasional tip here and there but not one good tutorial or video on Illustrator inking techniques.

And I can say the same thing about coloring in Illustrator. Everything is either Photoshop or using Live Paint function in Illustrator. The Live Paint functionality is very much like the effects in Photoshop. Designed for ease of painting sections but mostly for shading sections with lighter or darker colors. Again, not a function I use with the style I'm creating. My biggest problem with the Live Paint function is the necessity of turning all the strokes you've laid down into shapes. I prefer to have my black lines stay as lines.


Probably the biggest discovery in Illustrator I've made in a while is getting those half-tones correct. No, it's not the Color Halftone in the Effect menu. I have tried (unsuccessfully a few times) and not been able to make it do what I wanted. What I did find was a tutorial on How to Create a Pop Art Avatar with Adobe Illustrator. Instead of the intricate modeling of halftones, it takes a different path to the effect. It does it with Patterns. Design a repeating dot pattern with various sized dots, select a shape, and fill it with the dot pattern.

I'm also experimenting on varying the size of the dots as well as the size of the pattern. Everything affects the final look. The experiments will continue until I have a full set of patterns in a library that can be pulled up for use on every page.

I am working toward creating various flesh tones with multiple dot patterns, exactly how I've seen it done on older comic books. On the page I'm working with (which will be revealed in a few weeks) I've put three different flesh tones down. I'm still tweaking the process but it looks like it will work just fine.

There really isn't a good choice for caucasian skin in the 64 colors palette available—unless you use a halftone. and it's ten-fold when trying to make the yellow, brown, or black skin-tones.

Funny thing is, this is similar to the way a printer would have created these tone on a four-color press. Guess those odds and ends that were floating in the back of my brain actually became useful.


Schedule Change

While sifting through my reference books for characters, I discovered that maintaining the books in their original order made looking up material quite difficult. Some books contained as many as eight different characters and stories. And most of the stories in a book were 4-8 pages long. To read the whole story meant going through each individual book and finding the story you were reading. Very time-consuming.

If this was all being done with paper editions of the comics, that would necessarily be the way it would have to be done. But workmen with .cbz and .cbr files makes it possible to convert them to their original jpg files and sort the stories out into folders for each individual character.

So that's what I did this past week.

But that means I did not have the opportunity to work on a new page last week. So much of this process it new and I find out that when things are getting behind, it's usually due to needing to tweak the production process.Most tweaks are small and only cause small setbacks. This, on the other hand, took a week. It was a necessary measure. It doesn't matter than I missed getting a page out this week. Fo that, there are never any good excuses.

As a consolation prize, I present a few ads I found while taking apart the comics to form my art folders.