Thursday, June 19, 2014
My new comic book, Leaky Timbers, is out (and for sale). It's done. All 72 pages. It took me over a year... but it's done... and here's how I did it:
My first step, was to quit my job.
That’s a bit of a dramatic statement (it sounds so cool though) but it’s partly true. Back in January of 2012, I left behind 10 years of steady graphic design employment and started my own illustration studio. Since then, I’ve gotten to do exactly what I set out to do, which was to become a full-time illustrator, mainly focusing on designing characters for companies and brands.
Often times, I’m hired to draw a single character in one pose. If I’m lucky, I may get asked to put that character into a singular setting. Then, I hand over a few finished character assets and that’s it. I never see that character again, and I’m off to the next project. I needed to change that. I wanted to show that I could create an entire world, and that my characters could exist beyond a single pose.
The First Wolfie
All I needed was a conductor for my train series.
One of my first orders of business when I started my own studio was to promote my services. I produced a series of postcard mailers that featured a train being driven by monsters. The project was a lot of fun to work on, but one nagging problem was creating the conductor. Since this would be the first postcard customers would see, the lead monster would have to be really appealing. No pressure, right?
The first drawing of Wolfie.
Since the train itself was already so far along in the design process, I decided that whatever monster I created to conduct it would have to fit in the existing composition. Also, blue would look really nice against the orange, so, the little blue monster was born. I like big, simple, sweeping shapes. They’re easy and fun to draw.
Wolfie's early vector design (top) was more gremlin than monster.
The final blue monster was given a conductor’s hat and elongated legs so that he could walk around easier. Whenever I design a character, I always try and imagine the longevity. Much like you would design a logo to be able to exist and adapt for years to come, a good character has the same traits. At the time, I designed this character to exist only within the postcard series, but when the entire project was completed and produced, I decided to keep using him in other projects. I just thought he was a funny little character.
An early version of Wolfie appeared in a poster for Help Ink.
A few months after wrapping up the monster train postcard, I had the opportunity to create a poster for Help Ink. I was allowed to draw whatever I wanted, so I drew monsters driving things. In the driver’s seat, I drew the little blue monster again, but this time, instead of vector, he was drawn as more of a cartoon. After wrapping production on this poster, I knew it was time for me to tackle doing my own comic book.
Rough sketch showing "Woolfie's" simplified form.
A few months later in April 2013, I started collecting all of my ideas for my comic book project. The first place I started was with the main character and that main character would be the little blue monster. Out of all of the characters I had designed for myself, the little blue monster was the funniest. I wanted to tell his story.
The World Takes Shape
Writing, for me, is collecting ideas and piecing them together. I wish it was more linear, (first there was this, then this, then that, and the end) but it feels like a lot of swirling ideas that begin to stick to other ideas and so on and so forth. I knew I wanted my little blue monster (who I was now calling "Woolfie") to have a family, but I wanted him to be old enough to be able to get into "real world" trouble that kids can't really get into. So, the concept was that you'd have this little monster who kept getting into trouble, you'd have an older brother who'd protect him, and another brother who would clean up the mess. Roy and Jackson were born.
The one and only sketch of Roy.
Roy was easy. Anyone who bought my Sketchbookery book had seen Roy before. I wanted the older brother to be SUPER laid-back. Not necessarily lazy, but someone who didn't worry too much about things and just lived one day at a time. I did one sketch of Roy and was happy. That never happens.
Jackson was one of the more difficult characters to "get right".
Jackson's design, on the other hand, took a lot more work to get him right. He needed to look mature, but not like a father. He also needed to look like Roy and "Woolfie" but also be distinct. He's also very angry, but not in a scary way... more like a Fred Flinstone kinda way. Just irritated with everyone and everything. The solution to Jackson's design was to make him look more like me. WHICH IS SO IRRITATING.
Final design for the brothers.
Finally, after a lot of frustration and bad drawings, I had the stars of my comic book. Now the problem was... I needed a comic book to put them in.
I don't know where the idea for "Leaky Timbers" came from. I guess it's an evolution of Sesame Street. If you believe in the Sesame Street universe, then there must be more monsters living elsewhere in the world. They probably live together and they probably struggle to make their way in life.
You'd have depressed monsters and homeless monsters. Monsters that got frustrated and monsters who wanted to sleep on the couch. Monsters that were satisfied eating garbage. I wanted my characters to be old enough to have jobs and drive cars and go on dates etc. so I figured the best setting was to have an apartment complex full of monsters.The comic book could focus on each one and tell a story or two with each character. That way, I wouldn't have the responsibility of creating a huge, singular story (since I had never written a full story before) and could break it up into small chunks.
Rough drawings showing when the brothers meet the wizard.
I started writing. I started flowing ideas from one page to another. Writing down dialog, mapping out panels... doing as quickly as I could without thinking too much. While writing, I kept asking myself "what do I want to draw" and wrote the dialogue and story to match. One page turned into three pages, which turned into more pages, and soon I had over sixty or so pages I could begin to edit from.
You don't have to be "good enough" to write your own book. You don't need permission. Just do it. Start making whatever it is you want to make. If it's not "good enough" then it will just fade away while you move onto something else.
Deleted scene with Time Machine explaining his origin to Jackson.
While I wrote, I didn't worry too much about what things would look like yet. I would rather get a rough story put into place, then go back and focus on designing the world and the rest of the cast . Otherwise, I'd end up with a stack of drawings that didn't belong anywhere. Plus, I felt more accomplished if I was designing FOR something, rather than just drawing for the sake of drawing. Once I felt confident that a story wouldn't change too much, I'd begin designing the characters and scenes.
"Enjoys his roof hole."
I'm still not clear on which one is Urp and which one is Durp.
Stubbs is a design that I've been kicking around for years. Glad to finally give him a home.
Note the layout of the apartment complex. I like the one called "mysteriously vacant".
Good ol' Halvsie.
Time Machine's original design was more trash-can like.
This character is named "Fridge" because I'm a genius with naming.
Scatters multiple pages across desk. Takes B&W picture. "LOOK, I'M AN ARTIST."
First sketch of the apartment complex
Jackson's car. A 1989 Hinda Civoc.
I really wanted to get the design of that phone right.
Remember that TV show? Yeah. Me neither.
Sketch of "wizard stuff". Are all wizards hoarders?
There aren't a lot of "people" in Leaky Timbers, which is something I'd like to address in the future. The monsters were a lot of fun to design, but using so many of them was certainly a crutch for the first book. Now that I’m more familiar with producing a book with a much larger scale, my next project will include more diverse characters.
Working on large sheets of newsprint was a tremendous amount of fun. Larger paper feels less restrictive. I tend to experiment more. Newsprint is also cheap, so I highly recommend grabbing some for ideation.
These conceptual drawings weren’t exactly linear. I’d write a few days, then go back and design things in other scenes that hadn’t been written yet, then go back to writing another scene, then go back to designing characters. Switching gears can help improve various areas. It’s always healthy to leave a piece and revisit it later on. You’ll see things that need improvement.
Final ink and color study of Roy, Wolfie and Jackson.
I did several color studies of Wolfie, Roy and Jackson, and ultimately ended on a similar palette. Each one has their own primary color, but they each share some colors from the other brothers. I wasn’t confident enough in my skill set to produce the entire book in color (something I’d like to address in future projects) and was worried that producing a full-color book would destroy any kind of production schedule I wanted to keep. However, solving the colors for the 3 main characters would be critical as I knew I would produce things outside of the book… which I’ll explain about shortly.
Final designs for all of the Leaky Timbers characters.
At this point, the characters all had final designs, the plot was in a solid-enough state and I understood the tone of what I was creating. It was time to dive in and begin production on the final art for Leaky Timbers.
Drawing the Book
I didn't know what I was doing, so I had to experiment a lot.
Since this was my first comic book I had ever produced, I had to figure out simple things like scale of the book, line weight, how big to write etc. Not exactly the most exciting thing, but if you want your book to be consistent, you've got to start here. I designed my own blue line grid in Illustrator (blue lines are cool because they'll eventually vanish during production), printed on 9x12 paper and scaled the final artwork to 8.5 x 5.5. Working large and scaling down always provides a bit of magic and helps my drawings feel more refined.
Typical workflow of sketching out panels (left) and doing a final inked page on 9x12.
The photo above is pretty typical of my work flow. I'd come up with a joke, quickly map out the script and panels (so that I understood the timing), then redraw on my final 9x12 paper, then ink, scan in to Photoshop, and finalize the page for production.
What I used to draw the book.
I don't own a Cintiq (yet) and while having one probably could have sped up some particulars of production, I decided to use my budget on other aspects of the Leaky Timbers project and draw the book by hand. The photo above shows the pens and pencils I used to draw the book. The green Zig pen is actually a calligraphy pen that I really enjoy drawing cartoons with. Probably not the best pen in the world, but I was really comfortable with it. To each his own. The Faber Castell pens were okay. Steer clear of the brush pens... they fray too easily and the rest of the series would occasionally gunk up with pencil residue. The Staedtler blue line pencils were amazing. Rich lines if you like a lot of construction lines in your drawings. I think the pencils came from Zeus himself.
Pages before they're inked
Pages as they're being inked.
Kenneth tries to sell Wolfie some comics.
The brothers arrive somewhere in the past.
The wizard shares the "Tome of Legend".
I have a really big work table in my studio. It's such a blessing to be able to spread out while drawing. This is obviously not an issue for people drawing digitally, but if you're doing traditional drawing, I highly recommend working on as big of a surface as possible.
Early design for the cover.
I redrew the cover several times. I underestimated how hard it would be to create the cover for the book. "Oh, it will just come to me." Nope. I got through 40 or so pages of the book before moving on to the cover, and struggled with it for days. The photo above shows my "almost there" version. I was pleased with the composition, but felt the characters were too static. They were just standing... they should at least be going somewhere. So, for the final design, I had the brothers walking. HOT WALKING ACTION.
Paper dummy I made once all the pages were complete.
Making a paper dummy of the final book is essential. It's SUPER BORING AND TEDIOUS but its really the only way to understand the flow of your book. You can pay your printer to create one for you, but it's more costly and not time efficient. I took a day, fired up Netflix, got my glue stick, Scotch tape, X-Acto blades and made one myself. I always operate under the rule of "no surprises". If there's a step I can take during a project that will give me a clearer understanding of what I'm producing.
Leaky Timbers Logos
LOOK AT ME. I AM A TYPO-GRAPHER.
Originally, I wanted the Leaky Timbers mark to be a script, similar to a lot of apartment complex signs in the 1960s. Unfortunately, none of my concepts evoked the feeling I was going after. I tried very refined ones, and very furry ones (like the ideas shown above) but ultimately, they didn't fit the tone of the book.
Evolution of the Leaky Timbers word mark.
The final direction for the Leaky Timbers logo was far more chaotic. All of the letterforms were different sizes and everything was placed haphazardly, yet everything seemed to coexist together... much like the apartment complex itself. Plus, the final design was very silly and energetic, as if Wolfie designed it himself.
Initial sketch of the Magik Cheez Pizza mascot "Lil'Cheez".
If Magik Cheez Pizza really existed, it would be closed within a week.
Series of logos used in the Leaky Timbers world.
I love fake brands within a story. The Simpsons were a big influence here. I loved Duff Beer and Krusty Burger and Troy McClure and wanted a similar joke woven throughout Leaky Timbers. Wolfie and his brothers live on their own, and needed a place of employment that would allow them to continually screw up, yet still draw a paycheck. While "Magik Cheez Pizza" doesn't make much of an appearance in the first book, the groundwork is complete for future stories. Other "companies" included "Mister Gravee", "PUS" and "Stinky's". As the world expands, so will the brands.
The Real Wolfie
Wolfie hamming it up.
At this point, I knew I'd be taking my book to Kickstarter. As the project grew, so did the production budget, and I wanted to be able to offset that cost as much as possible. Researching Kickstarter comic book projects, I began to see that the most successful ones are the projects created by popular, existing comic book creators... of which I am not one. So, in order to make my project stand out, I knew I'd rely on the video to make a big impact. I needed someone to help make my video memorable, funny, irrelevant, and give people an idea of what Leaky Timbers was all about. I needed Wolfie.
For me, puppetry is the only way to bring a character to life. No matter how rich the animation, or how realistic and detailed a 3D model is, you can’t touch the character. That character doesn’t physically take up space. I want to perform my characters in real time. I want them to be able to interact with real people. Puppetry provides for all of that.
The Wolfie puppet version featured a longer torso (to cover up my muscles)than the comic version.
Roy's design comes with real human hands inside.
Working with Roy. He's already bored with all of it.
I worked with master puppet builder Phil Hatter to bring both Wolfie and Roy to life. The process was very exciting, but I learned that you really have to put your faith in other people to bring your ideas to life. Making a 2D character into 3D requires some changes to your original design. Things that work in a 2D world may not work in a 3D world, so having someone like Phil on board to understand the vision and appreciate the detail was vital.
Wolfie explaining what a chicken is.
Wolfie designs a computer.
Wolfie and his homemade girlfriend, Crummantha, who are no longer on speaking terms.
The puppet forms of both Wolfie and Roy do have some differences from their printed version, but that’s okay. Let the book be the book and let the videos be the videos. That’s what has been so great about Leaky Timbers. When I get tired of working in the 3D world, I can switch over to the 2D world and vice versa. It’s a great creative playground to be in, and each version helps with the development of the other version, yet neither feel redundant. My hope is that both versions will continue to evolve for years to come.
Exploring Wolfie’s range of emotions with puppetry has been like creative jet fuel. There are so many happy accidents that occur. I may draw 1000 Wolfie poses and never capture a reaction like the puppet can. I also think Wolfie can explore a much wider range of emotion, like anger, fear or depression, while still being “cute”, whereas in a printed form… these emotions could come off as grotesque or unappealing.
Once I had gotten comfortable enough performing with Wolfie, I recorded the first Kickstarter video (and a ton of subsequent Backer videos) and launched the Leaky Timbers Kickstarter page.
Not too shabby for someone who has never produced a book before.
You can see the full Leaky Timbers Kickstarter page here.
I never set out to make money through Kickstarter. I knew going in that there was a very good chance my project wouldn’t reach it’s funding. I’ve never made a book before, let alone a comic book, so it would be a tough sell. I knew the book I wanted to produce would be expensive. I knew it would be a disaster if I produced the book completely out of pocket, only to sell 10 copies. So, I used Kickstarter to see if there was an audience for my book idea.
I spent 3 months or so (off and on) really focusing on writing the project. I had vague ideas of what I wanted to have for my budget and rewards, what I wanted the video to say and spent a lot of time looking at successful and unsuccessful comic book Kickstarter projects. If you’re interested in doing a Kickstarter project, do your homework. Make it simple. Right to the point. Be clear. Have simple rewards. Don’t worry about over-sharing during your 30 or 60 day timeline, because no one pays attention to you as much as you think they do (I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to have people tell me, the day AFTER my project finished, that they weren’t aware I had a Kickstarter).
OH MAN! Check out my pie chart skills, bank people.
$136.72! Now, out of that has to come my taxes on the income from Kickstarter, legal fees, video and production on and on and on... so that $136 was long gone before I ever saw it. I don't mean for this to be a sob story, since I knew going in I wouldn't make any money. I share this information so that people understand what kind of production budget you need in order to do a project like this.
One number I’d like to draw your attention to is the $1260 in Kickstarter fees and dropped backers. This is money that I never saw. I knew there would be fees with Kickstarter (overall, it’s roughly 10% of your funding) but what I didn’t know was that there’d be backers that would never actually pay what they pledged. Luckily my dropped backers (after a bit of hustling) were limited to a handful of people, but this is why it’s so important that you try and sell your project to anyone you can up to the deadline (rather than coast, like I foolishly did). Here’s why:
Let’s say you have a project with a funding goal of $5000.
You get 5 people to pledge $1000 each. Yay! You’re funded!
But not so fast.
When the project closes, Kickstarter says “Funded!’ and your 5 backers are charged. 4 out of the 5 backers pay on time and have working credit cards, but that 5th backer used an expired card (or even a stolen one) and Kickstarter is unable to reach them. After 7 days, Kickstarter automatically drops that backer, and you’re left with $4000. You can’t open the project back up, and because it’s “successful”, you owe $5000 worth of rewards.
One more bit of advice. It will take a solid month to collect money from your backers. This includes all of the “bank holding” and financial mumbojumbo that suits put in so everyone makes as much money off of you as they can. You need to make sure you include this time in your estimated delivery, so that you don’t get yourself into a bind.
Anyway, after all of the details of my Kickstarter project had finalized, I moved on to producing the final pieces, and they all turned out fantastic.
The final book. So nice and smooth.
The final sketchbook, hand-stamped with real hands.
The super-shiny Wolfie Monster pin.
The Wolfie Monster sticker makes any car 17% faster.
Each envelope is hand-stamped to make it extra fancy.
nom nom nom nom nom nom
When it’s time to fulfill your Kickstarter orders, make sure to plan ahead. I used the Endicia system which saved loads of time on customs forms. Endicia also prints out stamps/mailing labels for you, (if you use your own printer, grab some half-sheet sticker paper) which saves a ton of time. Shipping is expensive. You’ll want protective envelopes and bags to hold all of your customers’ rewards, so plan ahead and buy well in-advance. (ULINE will become your friend). That way, once your funding has come through, and you’ve got all of your rewards produced, you can ship everything out in a very timely manner. I had to ship out 300+ books, which took about a week to process, so plan accordingly.
IN TO THE FUTURE!
Roy and Wolfie pack for HeroesCon.
Come meet Wolfie and Roy in person at HeroesCon!
If you're in Charlotte on June 22, then come by HeroesCon where you can meet Wolfie and Roy in person! (Also spend a ton of money on Leaky Timbers merch). We'll be at table AA 1405 so please come say hello! Not planning on going to HeroesCon? No worries. We're beginning to mark our calendars with all of the comic book conventions around the nation, selecting which ones would be a good fit for the Wolfie Monster world tour, so hopefully we'll be in your neighborhood soon.
I have so many plans for Leaky Timbers. I want to make more books. I want to make silly videos. I want to make movies. I want to make all sorts of cool stuff moving forward that everyone of all ages can enjoy. There's a lot of pans in the fire or birds of a feather on the stove or whatever old people say... I can't wait to show you what's next for Wolfie and his friends.
Be sure to grab your own copy of Leaky Timbers and be sure to sign up for Wolfie's email newsletter!
Thanks for reading!