To all the readers who have kept up with this comic, thank you very much. Here are some samples from an upcoming set of strips:
As I am sure some longtime readers may have noticed, I have elected to change coloring styles for the time being. I have found that using the lasso tool in Photoshop to select colored areas and shade them is much more efficient than doing a lot of guess work with my old gradients and brushes.
The colors have a smoother quality that is more akin to an animation cel, which is something I really appreciate.
What kind of comic coloring do you appreciate more? Let me know in the comments section.
Spring break just started at my university, and I finally have a bit of time to give updates on my project.
This motion comic has forced me to use just about every skill I have, including audio editing and video editing, as well as my art and writing skills.
Adapting the motion comic from what began as a script for a short film has changed the way I plan on producing work in the future. I have found that my visual narrative has developed in a much more organic manner than what I have previously been used to. Perhaps I will write future scripts by creating a vague description of what happens, along with dialogue ideas, then pinning down the final version in thumbnails and the final page.
I have come to understand that making comics is a process--one that is not to be rushed. Each artist has his or her own process, as well as their own quirks and unique creative needs.
TBThis has been a hectic and enlightening experience--but I can't wait to get back to the regular grind of making my traditional Gen Why comic strips.
I also can't wait to get out of grad school and finally enter the real world. All I'll have to worry about is being a salary-man and doing this stuff on the side.
I'm taking a break from the retrospective to give updates on the ongoing project.
By the end of this semester, I will have completed a "Generation Why" motion comic as well as a short animated companion piece featuring the five main characters.
TEllison, Sarah, Frankie, Indigo, and Daniel will all appear in this upcoming story. The project will be in-continuity with the ongoing comic strip, but it will also represent a new approach to storytelling.
Eventually, I'd like to learn enough to become a decent animator as well as a better cartoonist.
I'll be posting more updates pertaining to this process, as well as a new comic strip here and there.
As I have begun to mature as a writer, one of the things I enjoy most is being able to write Sarah as an older character. As I discussed in the previous post, I think that Frankie (and, to a certain extent, the other members of the cast who are close to Ellison's age) represents a kind of youthful idealism. This feeling is only possible during that period when one is vacillating between the late stages of adolescence and the early parts of young adulthood.
Sarah is refreshing because she can be honest with herself and the people around her--even in situations where a younger character might be vulnerable to anxiety or bouts of self-delusion. For instance, Ellison is slightly prudish, while Sarah speaks frankly about the more hedonistic aspects of their relationship. The conflict isn't enough to create an imbalance in their bond with one another, but it creates just enough tension to keep things interesting. It forces both of them to be dynamic, and from this comes the kind of humor that people seem to enjoy most in my work.
However, Sarah's pathos isn't just there for the sake of humor or the proliferation of dirty jokes. Her honesty reveals truths that can also be painful to fully discover. Not only does Sarah have a more realistic idea about what makes her happy, but she also has a very deep understanding of the sources of her life's woes. An abandoned storyline from Existentia detailed Sarah's struggle to quit smoking. The drama of that story didn't only come from that struggle, but also from Sarah's attempts to explain it to Ellison.
In all her appearances, some readers have persisted in telling me how they see Sarah as a monstrous archetypal projection of femininity and feminine sexual power. In response to this, I say that, if Sarah comes across as monstrous in some way, I think it makes her seem less intimidating. You see, unlike the people we see in our day-to-day lives, cartoon characters like Sarah have their quirky traits integrated into their visual designs. The "monster," in effect--the avatar of a person's fear or anxiety--lives on the outside.
That wraps up this installment of the retrospective. I've been slugging my way through making character designs in Adobe Illustrator for the animated version of "Generation Why." I will probably post at least one comic next week, despite the partial hiatus.
Next week, I will share some forthcoming examples of my fledgling talent with Illustrator's Pen Tool.
Thanks for reading!
I apologize for the delay in producing this newest blog post. The holidays and the start of a new semester kind of got in the way of things.
Getting back to Existentia Academica, most of the pieces were coming into place on the game board.
I had an especially interesting character in Sarah Jessup, and one of my primary goals was to start to explore the things that made her character unique. Like Ellison, she is kind of a geek--but in a different way.
What would Sarah's backstory be? If Ellison was going to be hanging out with her a lot, then what would the two of them have in common with one another? How seriously would I portray their relationship? Would it be a romance? Were they simply "friends with benefits"? Or did those kinds of labels even apply to the bond they shared?
After the initial few jokes about Frankie Greene's political views, I also began to realize that I had to step up my writing game with her as well. It is definitely true that I often use Frankie as a means of satirically evaluating the stereotype of the socially conscious Millennial.
However, the material for Frankie's character development not only comes from certain young women I met in college, but also from my own reactions to the world around me. Though I am now a few years removed from them, I can still remember those adolescent feelings of righteous indignation at the injustices of the world around me. I can remember how I wanted to change things, and how I used to care a lot more about my status as a racial minority.
I think that these things happen in stages--cycles, if you will. My desire to portray Frankie as a "social justice warrior" stemmed not only from my desire to criticize her views about the world, but also from my awareness that I had once held similar views. In a way, criticizing Frankie was a means of criticizing myself.
The next post will pick up with talking more about Sarah Jessup's development, and how I began to transition her from being Ellison's fun, sexy girlfriend to the role of an experienced older woman with her own emotional baggage.
Finally, after years of being too afraid to really try it, I was making comics!
At this point in the narrative, my characters were created and my format was (mostly) set up. Ellison was my main protagonist. Frankie and Indigo provided both a great way to have secondary plotlines and a more efficient means of discussing the social issues I wanted to write about.
The problem I had was that, based on the responses I received, readers believed my work was a little too esoteric. I had been so consumed with talking about "the issues" that I had neglected to actually make things entertaining for the audience. Ellison in particular functioned as a kind of bland cartoon re-creation of myself. The comic needed new blood--something that people could think of as a mascot, or a symbol...some element that could be easily recognized and connected to my work even for people who didn't care about the minutiae of the plot.
The solution to this problem came about purely by accident. I had a gag where Ellison is standing at a bus stop one day and finds himself standing next to this very large, slightly butch-looking woman. She would be smoking a cigarette, which he would find repulsive.
From there, Sarah popped up periodically, and Ellison would notice her, but they would never interact with one another directly. The comic above was a little longer than what I had been used to doing per page--nine panels rather than the usual six. In every appearance, Sarah's clothing would feature some kind of combination of red and black, and she gave off a sort of "dominatrix" vibe. I think this contrasted nicely with my other two female characters, who, by comparison, were much more demure and traditionally feminine--particularly Indigo Brown. I think that Indigo (as well as Sarah, if you count her status as a black woman in the current reboot) represented conscious attempts to avoid the stereotype of the "strong" black woman who is loud, obnoxious, and angry all the time.
Eventually, Sarah and Ellison would talk to each other, and he would treat her with the same kind of mild distrust that he showed at the bus stop:
I think the thing about Sarah, regardless of whether she is portrayed as Caucasian or as a woman of African descent, is the fact that she is a foil to Ellison's character. He's reclusive, while she can be very outgoing.He is a man of few words, while she delivers one-liners that are full of sly double meanings. In terms of height, he is fairly average, while she is quite tall. Sarah's visual design has always been brought up to me by readers, even from her earliest appearances. As with her later design, I used a female bodybuilder as a starting template:
I suppose Sarah represents a lot of things to different readers. Some see her as a symbol of female empowerment. Others find her dialogue to be very funny. [sarcasm]There are even those who find her visually appealing, though for the life of me, I can't fathom why. [/sarcasm]
Next time, I will continue with this chronicle of "Existentia Academica" by discussing more about the beginnings of the Ellison/Sarah relationship, as well as some changes I made to Frankie Greene.
An idea that I had early on (and may use again) was Ellison's buddy/roommate Daniel Barrett having a crush on Frankie Greene. The jokes would come from the fact that Frankie, with her supposedly refined ways, would see herself as being above someone like Daniel.
He was a blonde here--not a redhead like he is now.
I still think the art here is kind of lame, but I remember feeling incredibly excited at this point. I was beginning to build toward something, and I saw the comic as a means of true expression, rather than simply using it to make a discourse on my ideas about identity politics.
Shifting gears now to the current iteration of this comic, I will say that the ongoing development of Sarah as a character has been part of my new creative strategy. In this week's comic strips, readers will learn a little about the current version of Daniel Barrett.
Comparing this to the work I am doing now, I realize that, as interesting as some of the social issues are, the characters are more important. At some point, "Generation Why" will end, or, at the very least, it will evolve (or mutate?) into something different.
When that happens, I will be forced to evaluate it as a finished piece of art. How will the characters have changed? What arcs became the most important? What about the relationships? Did the comic have any literary symbolism? Was any of it actually funny?
The answers to those questions remain to be seen. In the meantime, I will continue this retrospective next time with the introduction of the earliest version of Sarah Jessup.
As I continued writing "Existentia Academica," I decided to try to build some more concrete interpersonal relationships between characters. Frankie and Indigo were the first characters I tried to do this with (as I mentioned in the post before this one).
The "debate" Frankie mentions happened here, in the previous installment:
The influence of "The Boondocks" was very strong here. However, I'm also a student of other comic artists like Jaime Hernandez, Howard Chaykin, and Bruce Timm. I wanted the art to be sexier, the character dynamics to be more organic, and the stories to be a little larger in scale. The slight angst and feelings of self-righteousness that came from writing about social issues gave way to a desire to weave a more complex narrative.
I knew that I had my cast, but was trying to figure out just what to do with them. In the next post, I'll be discussing some early romantic developments with two of the characters.
I apologize for the delay between posts. In the meantime, I hope that the comics I've been posting every week have been interesting. I've been finding a lot of new ways to define Sarah's character. I definitely think she's the most challenging to write out of the whole bunch.
Moving back to the retrospective, here are the first published images of Frankie Greene and Indigo Brown:
As you can tell, my artistic skills were not quite as as advanced three years ago. Instead of her current gray military jacket and slacks, Frankie often wore a purple dress shirt with a white tie. When Ellison started wearing his yellow shirt, I wanted him and Frankie to visually resemble each other in their manner of dressing. It visually implied parallels between them. Initially, I wanted the conflicts between Ellison and Frankie to define the strip in an ideological sense.
I had the crazy idea that Frankie's love for "diversity" meant that she would have an unrequited crush on Ellison. Perhaps this could have been a bit of commentary on how blacks can feel fetishized by white people who champion "the cause" to the point of putting their black acquaintances on display. However, the eventual tension between Frankie and Indigo served this purpose much better. Also, with the creation of more female characters, there were others who seemed more likely to try to date Ellison--like Sarah, for instance.
I really liked this joke--so much so that I didn't hesitate to reuse it when reboot time rolled around.
Unlike the current strips, which each use half of an 11" by 17" piece of paper stock, these early ones were drawn on a whole piece of unlined paper. Looking at them now, these look incredibly amateurish, and Ellison looks way too old to be a guy in his 20s. Nevertheless, they do set the template for what was to come.
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