One of my favorite things about her is that she’s a very enthusiastic fan of my assorted artistic endeavors, particularly when she’s the subject of them.
This complementary narcissism works out very well for both of us.
Today is her birthday, and it’s usually the case that when there’s an occasion upon which I can present her with a gift at least part of that gift will be a new picture of her.
Some time ago, in a conversation relating to the TV show Archer the two of us essentially wrote a piece of fan fiction featuring a character based on her, with said character being your typical sexy femme fatale (who is also a spy).
Back in August I began thinking about gift ideas for her upcoming birthday, and my mind kept going back to that conversation and a gift idea occurred to me: a comic book featuring that character.
It seemed like the perfect idea, except for one thing: I would have to actually write and draw the thing.
The writing part wasn’t the challenge, as I pretty quickly came up with a basic plotline.
No, the problem was with the drawing of it.
Over the years I’ve made various attempts at producing a comic book, whether for print or for the Web, and every attempt met with failure. And not just, “Oh, that doesn’t look as good as I would like,” levels of failure, but complete and utter abject failure. As my friend Jamie – whose birthday is also today – can attest*, I’ve had no luck in even completing a single page of finished art. And that’s not even taking into account the actual quality of the art. Hell, I haven’t even managed to complete a single page of bad art, or even just stick figure-style thumbnails, let alone an entire story’s worth of art that even comes close to approaching what I would consider acceptable quality.
I’m not giving in to false modesty here; I will go on record as saying that for certain things, I am often a very good artist. However, my skill at portraiture, or drawing what I see, at least when it comes to people, doesn’t really extend to things like backgrounds, or groups of people, or, really anything that would be necessary for producing anything beyond the cover of a comic book.
So I was inclined to set the idea aside. There was no way I could do it.
Except…well, she would love it, I knew. it would honestly make her day, and I knew that I would like that very much (cf. ranking high on the list of Jon’s Favorite People).
Beyond that, there would be the whole sense of…what’s that thing that’s the opposite of shame? Oh yeah, pride. The sense of pride in accomplishing something that I had heretofore proven incapable of accomplishing.
So I went back and forth on the idea, deciding that I just didn’t have enough time to do it – especially with all of the time wasted trying to decide whether or not I should even bother trying – before finally deciding that I would give it a shot.
I started out by writing the script, having downloaded software that was designed specifically for things like writing comic book scripts, and was immediately stymied by my previously-mentioned keyboard issues.
So I decided to set that aside for a bit and move on to the art, producing a cover that was some of my best work ever, and making an attempt, in Photoshop, to start sketching out the interiors.
That didn’t go so well, and Illustrator was no better. Ultimately, I bought a copy of Manga Studio 5, a program designed specifically for drawing, inking, coloring, and lettering comic books digitally, and I began to make actual progress.
To make a long story less long, after working pretty tirelessly on it, I finished it. I’m no Jack Kriby – hell, I’m no Jack Chick – but in the end it was amazing and unprecedented that I finished it at all, so it turned out better than I could have ever hoped.
I’ll write a follow-up post getting into the details of producing it, including the things I learned, the (many, many, MANY) mistakes I made, and what it potentially means for the future (if anything), but for now, we’ll get to the point.
In the end, I had a printed, bound, and trimmed comic book, with time to spare to get it sent to her for her birthday.
She received it yesterday and opened it today. She had this to say via text: “OMG. I have my own comic book. Coolest fucking thing ever.”
To which I say, all the work, self-doubt, and frustration was totally fucking worth it.
I’m not going to post it here for the world to see – after all, I didn’t make it for you – but I will give you a look at two of my favorite parts of it.
The first is a “Bonus Flashback Cover,” included on the inside back cover in much the same way that an actual comic might include a bonus pin-up image, or a galley of variant covers.
I went for an old-school, retro look – as opposed to the very modern front cover – and while I couldn’t find a way to incorporate a gorilla, I did at least feature a character crying and the color purple**:
And to ensure that she always remembers who gave her this amazing present, because, you never know, she might forget, I included this full-page “ad” on the back cover:
|Also: The sky is blue.|
*Years ago she asked me to put together a single comic book page featuring a character of her creation. I got to work on it pretty quickly, then hit a snag in the form of having to draw panels that include, you know, backgrounds, and more than one person, so… It’s always been my intention to finish it, but other, easier things have kept me distracted. With Manga Studio, and my newfound confidence, the odds of me actually finishing it for her, finally, have improved.
**During the Silver Age of comics, which is the era into which this bonus cover would fit, there was a common belief that covers that featured either a gorilla, a character crying, and/or the color purple would sell better than they would if their covers did not have those elements.