Demon of the Underground
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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fellow Freelancers: Don't Go Without Health Insurance

Wow, it's been awhile since I posted a Demonblog entry!  I've been making most of my comments alongside each page update, so I haven't had much else to say.  But I just wanted to take a quick moment to talk about something boring and practical.

If you're self-employed, paying for health insurance can suck big time, especially if you have preexisting conditions.  Since leaving my job, I've been paying over $400 a month for individual insurance through COBRA, and my preexisting conditions make it impossible to find an alternative, much less a cheaper alternative.

However, because I was no longer at my previous stressful job, a lot of problems I often had with my recurring illness no longer bothered me.  I began to get frustrated with how much I was paying for insurance I wasn't even using, and likely wouldn't need since I was feeling much better.  I almost considered stopping my insurance while I looked for something new, but thankfully I decided to be reasonable and not go without a safety net.  After all, I wasn't struggling with my finances.  I was just being a brat about having to hand over my money.

Last night, I had a pizza delivered for dinner because I was working an urgent freelance project and didn't have time to get groceries.  Doesn't sound particularly risky, right?  I didn't even leave my house.

Well, about an hour after eating, the left half of my upper lip swelled up to about double its previous size, my throat was kind of tight and made it difficult to talk, and I was feeling dizzy and lightheaded.  I looked it up, and as I suspected, I was having an allergic reaction to something I'd eaten.

I called my dad, who's a doctor, and he told me I had to go to the ER.  I wasn't thrilled, but I listened, and my sister was kind enough to get up at 1 in the morning and drive me.  It was a mild allergic reaction, but the ER doctor did confirm that anything involving swelling of the mouth or throat really did require a trip to the ER.  They took care of the problem, and by five in the morning, I was back home and no longer looked like I'd been punched in the mouth.  (Yes, it was a loooong trip.)

Thanks to my insurance, I only had to pay $150 out of pocket for the ER visit and prescriptions combined.  Now I have to follow up with my doctor and see an allergist to find out what caused the reaction.

The moral to this long-winded story: no matter how healthy or careful you are, you have no idea when you'll find yourself in need of insurance.  I cringe to think about how much money I would have had to drop if I had let my insurance lapse.  It's better to have a recurring expense you know is coming than a huge sudden unexpected expense.  There was nothing I could have done to foresee this ER trip, as is usually the case with young, relatively healthy people and emergencies.  I'm in my late twenties and have never had a food allergy before, and none of the ingredients on the pizza were new to me.

Colleen Doran made an excellent post on health insurance resources for freelance artists. I highly recommend checking it out!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

End of a Great Weekend

For those of you who didn't know, we just wrapped up the Dreamspinner Press workshop in New York this weekend. I flew in on Thursday, and I got to enjoy a steady stream of awesomeness from then until today. I'm hanging out in the hotel for a few more hours in the lounge, working on my next DOTU page. At 3pm, I'm going to stay at my aunt and uncle's house, where I may or may not have internet access. I'm thinking probably not. If I don't finish the page and queue it today, I'll post it tomorrow at the airport once I track down their wifi. Worst case scenario, I'll get it up between 8 and 9:30 after I get home. I'm kind of winging it.

The weekend was full of crazy adventures including a drag show and two-step dancing, and a lot of laughter. I didn't meet a single person who wasn't wonderful. I'll write about it all in a little more detail later on, once I have my head on straight again.

Anyway, I hope you all have been doing well! Hope to talk to you guys soon!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

10/7/2011 Incentive: Synchronized Sleeping

One of my favorites! These are all my old ferrets engaged in "synchronized sleeping.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

More Old Incentives

I keep forgetting to upload my old TWC voting incentives. Here are two of them:

9/19/2011 - First Day on the Job (very much an alternate universe...)


9/30/2011 - My Weasel

And I gotta point out that this is probably the one time Pogo actually *didn't* mean anything dirty. But this is what happens when you're "the boy who cried 'weasel.'"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Interview at Shades of Sentience

Alanna Horgan interviewed me for the wonderful website, Shades of Sentience. Check it out!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

20 Freelance Tips From an Art Director's Perspective

I'm not the best artist or art director since sliced bread (who, by the way, was so successful he was practically rolling in dough), but I have been lucky enough to have worked on both ends of the art director/illustrator spectrum. For four years, I was an art director to illustrators, sculptors, retouchers, and graphic designers for a large corporation. For the past three months or so, I've been a dedicated freelancer.

I learned more about how to be a good freelance illustrator from being an art director than from any other source. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to share some tips from an art director's point of view on what to do and what not to do as a freelancer. And now that I'm a freelancer, these are all things that I myself intend to live by.


1. Ask questions. If there's any ambiguity in a job, check with your art director. This is much better than guessing and sending in something incorrect. And don't feel stupid for asking questions either. Often, art directors have been at their jobs for long enough that they take certain bits of information for granted. If it's your first time working for them, they may forget that their company's jargon is unfamiliar to outsiders. And unless they're particularly surly characters, they'll appreciate that you're making an effort to get it right and do a good job.

2. Be as resourceful as possible in finding your own references and coming up with your approach. Art directors love freelancers who are problem solvers and don't need their hand held at every turn.

3. Don't let yourself get lonely. I could always tell which freelancers didn't get out of the house enough, because they'd keep me on the phone forever. A bit of fun conversation with an art director is great, but don't become someone that people have to make up fake meetings to get away from.

4. Send your invoice in a timely manner. Different companies work in different ways, but to me, the best time to send your invoice is within three days of completion of the job. Some of my freelancers would send their invoices along with their finished work, but I preferred those who gave me a chance to confirm that I didn't need any revisions. Waiting too long is disconcerting to an art director; it's another loose end that they can't tie up.

5. Don't be a pest about your invoice. Respect the terms of your payment schedule. If you're supposed to be paid within 30 days of the job's completion, don't start calling after a week to check the status. There were plenty of art directors at my previous job who wouldn't even work with certain illustrators because, even though they were talented, they nagged too much about their invoices. On the other hand, if a repeat client is taking an uncharacteristically long time paying an invoice, don't be afraid to give them a nudge. Sometimes paperwork slips through the cracks, and they may have forgotten or lost your invoice.

6. Have a good attitude. I was one of the many art directors who would not work with illustrators who were jerks. There were always plenty of talented and pleasant alternatives to choose from. I remember one illustrator in particular who laughed at me and talked down to me when I told him my project's tight deadline. I never contacted him again. I chose someone less skilled but more pleasant. When other art directors asked me about him, I told them that he was rude. A lot of other people had their own unpleasant experiences with him and avoided him as well.

7. Do remind your clients that you exist. If you haven't heard from an art director in awhile, feel free to give them a nudge and let them know that you're available, and perhaps send some new samples. But don't send out mass emails, and don't nudge your art director too frequently, or it becomes an annoyance. Once every few months is generally enough.

8. Don't procrastinate. Work on your assignment as soon as your schedule permits. You don't want to have to turn down any new incoming jobs because you procrastinated on an old one and no longer have spare time.

9. Whenever possible, send in your job a few days before the deadline, in case any changes are needed or if there are any technical difficulties with the file.

10. Do a good job every time. Imagine you do a crappy job on an illustration and send it off, and the art director says "Thanks, it looks great!" Are you thinking, "Yay, this art director is a pushover!"? News flash: sometimes art directors lie! They might just not have time to go over all the revisions with you; they might be planning to send it out to someone else or fix it themselves because they don't have faith in your skills anymore. And if you do a bad job the first time working with a new client, you may never hear from them again. You may be screwing yourself out of a repeat client. I sent far more work to the illustrators who did a good job every time than the ones I felt were "hit or miss." Give yourself the best chance possible by never sending in work you know is subpar.

(But don't worry; a lot of times "It looks great!" actually DOES mean "It looks great!" If you put in a solid effort, have faith in your skills and take the art director at their word.)

FYI: art directors absolutely do talk to each other! I worked in a building with maybe about 30 art directors, and there were no secrets. We'd often go to each other for recommendations on who would be good for a job, and we'd complain about the freelancers who were being a pain. One freelancer sent me a drawing for an angel figurine that was supposed to be feminine and elegant. When the angel turned out more buff than anyone on Dragonball Z, I showed everyone on my team, and we all had a good laugh. Some of us even had a "wall of shame" for bad illustrations. I know it sounds cruel, but it was a way to make the best out of a bad situation. Again, this is why it's so important to do a good job every time.

11. Don't miss a deadline. Seriously. Just don't. I was more forgiving about this than some other art directors; many of my colleagues would never work with someone again if they missed a deadline.

12. Take very good notes. (This applies more to direction given over the phone than through email.)

13. The last thing you should do before sending your completed work back to an art director: REREAD ALL THE JOB SPECS and all of the instructions the art director gave you, and make sure you covered all of your bases. This is probably the most important thing on the whole list, because it's the thing the most people seem to forget. It is SO important to be able to follow directions; an art director should not have to ask for the same thing more than once.

14. If you can't fit something in, be honest and decline the job. Don't miss your deadline or do a poor rush job (unless the art director has explicitly told you that they're desperate and will take anything you can possibly give them).

Just FYI, if you turn down jobs too frequently, art directors will give up and stop contacting you. (Hopefully you're turning down the jobs because a higher-paying client is keeping you too busy! If that's the case, good for you!)

15. Don't dump your personal baggage on your art director. It's not their problem that you're struggling to pay your bills, that you have a mortgage, health problems, etc. They can only give you as much work as their job allows, and they can only pay you as fast as their job permits. Sob stories only make things awkward and uncomfortable.

16. Clean up your work before you send it out. This applies mostly to stuff like pencil sketches. Adjust the curves, remove scanner burn, crop out the edges of the paper, etc.

17. Don't throw anything away. Keep all your old projects. You never know when a client might have a hard drive crash and need you to resend it. Also, components from old projects (like textures and references) can often be used as resources for future projects.

18. Don't lie or exaggerate about how much time you spent on a job or how difficult it was. (I've had illustrators do this in hopes of getting more money, and it was annoying.) And don't underestimate an art director's intelligence. True, some art directors may not be familiar with oils or Photoshop or whatever you use to create your work, but a lot of times they are. Often, they're not outsourcing a job because they don't have the skill to do it themselves, but rather because the parameters of their job don't allow them time to do it themselves. Don't claim to have spent all night lightening up your Photoshop illustration if the truth is you just played with the curves tool for thirty seconds. (And if you actually did spend all night lightening up your Photoshop illustration? Next time consider spending thirty seconds with the curves tool! Time is money, dude.)

19. If an art director asks for something that seems ridiculous, don't assume that they're wrong or stupid. They know what's acceptable to the higher-ups in their company, and they know what sells best to their customer. I've had to ask illustrators for things that went against my own artistic tastes all the time. Sometimes these were things my boss or general manager requested. Sometimes they were licensor requirements or technical requirements. If something really doesn't make sense, respectfully ask the art director why they want it that way. They may or may not have a good reason. If you think you have a better solution, consider presenting a rough sketch of your solution alongside what they asked for, but accept whatever choice they ultimately make, and don't take it personally.

20. Price your work competitively. If you're too expensive, art directors just won't send you work. If you under-price your work, you're screwing yourself. The ones who get the most work are those who do a good, consistent job at a reasonable price. I always preferred the reliable illustrator at an average price than the hit-or-miss illustrator who was dirt cheap. Ask upfront what the art director's budget is and go from there.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How is it already December?

I feel like I've been living in a cave for the past month! I've been manically drawing pages for Nanomango. I made it to 30 pages, so I'm happy! Life has been exceedingly good; I've been writing, drawing comic pages, and doing freelance. It's exactly the life I always wanted! ^___^ Okay, so this lifestyle doesn't get me out of the house all that much, but I guess you can't have it all...

Just a reminder, the November Voting Drive is CLOSED! But don't forget to claim your prizes!!! I've only heard from one of the winners so far.

It's been awhile since I posted an old voting incentive image, so here are a few:

8/29/2011 (Before and after shots of pages 7-9)


9/7/2011 (My Gumby!!!)


9/12/2011 (Random ferret sketch)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Voting Drive Complete!

All right, dudes! Thanks to all your voting, Demon of the Underground is now at #148 on TopWebComics! This is awesome! It's about 50-70 spots above last month. I really appreciate all of you who read the comic, and all of you who voted!

DOTU is still quite a bit away from being in the top 100, but I've decided to keep that goal I mentioned as part of the November Voting Drive. If DOTU ends a month in the top 100, then I will post two pages a week throughout the following month instead of one.

In other news, I finished Nanomango today! So that means I've completed 30 pages in 30 days for Ludwig the Rock, my other pending comic. Exciting!

But all right, enough babbling. It's time for three of you to claim your prizes for voting all month! Just reply to this post, and make sure to include all 30 words from this month's voting incentives, in sequence. First person to post the correct words gets a card deck and signed print! Second and third people get a signed print!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How To Read a How To

As some of you may know, in early October I received my first short story contract. Since then, I've been in contact with many other writers and have had the opportunity to learn a lot from them. In a recent conversation with a more experienced author, she told me about her unpleasant experience reading a "how-to" guide to writing. The guide was written by another author whose work I enjoy, and although I knew he'd put out this how-to guide, I never felt inclined to read it. The conversation made me think about why I'd avoided his book, and why I actually tend to avoid most how-to's in general, both in writing and in art.

Would I read a tutorial called "How to use the curves tool in Photoshop" or "How to use an airbrush"? Absolutely! Do I read the Chicago Manual of Style and check out the style guides of any publisher I plan to do business with? Definitely. These are technical skills and guidelines that anyone can share, and I'm always interested in learning them.

But when it comes to creative endeavors--i.e. how to write a novel, how to paint a webcomic page, etc.--I believe that the words "how to" in the title of any book or tutorial should be replaced by "how I." I love checking out step-by-steps and process work of other artists; it's fascinating to see how different we all are, and how other artists' brains work. And sometimes I learn a thing or two that could make my own art better. But when "this is how I do it" turns into "this is how you should do it," there's the potential for trouble.

I'm speaking as someone who loves looking at unique and one-of-a-kind art, and someone who loves reading books that don't follow a formula. I get disheartened every time I see a clique of webcomic artists who share the same style and every time I read a book that I feel like I've already read.

In the field of illustration, there are many valid professional reasons for emulating someone else's style. But the beauty of webcomics, self-published comics, and most novels is that they represent the creative vision of their individual writers and artists.

Unlike the big comic book publishers that choose a story based on marketing directives and hire people with good technical skills to churn them out, webcomics and self-published works come from a more natural origin. They are individual works of art; therefore I believe they shouldn't look like they came out of a corporate cookie cutter.

So technically, the title of this blog should be "How I read a how-to." And the way I do it is I treat it as an autobiography. If there are elements of it that are inspiring, I give them a shot. But I don't follow them step-by-step. I want to draw like Bob, not like the lite version of someone who wrote a tutorial.

Monday, October 31, 2011

FEATURE: Here Be Voodoo, by Valériane Duvivier

I mentioned in a previous entry that Nanomango is starting tomorrow, and I thought that now would be a great time to feature a new comic by one of my fellow participants from the June round! After seeing the work of Valériane, a.k.a. Kineko, in June, I've been keeping up with her comic projects and eagerly awaiting the release of her new webcomic, Here Be Voodoo.

The comic officially starts today, and in honor of the event, I asked Kineko if she'd be willing to participate in my feature. And yay, she said yes! Keep reading for the basic plot info as well as a Q&A with the creator:


-by Kineko


Bob: Basic plot description?
Kineko: Sunday, a little witch living in the Bayou, seek revenge against the Witcher, an evil sorcerer, who killed her parents. For that purpose, she create Mojo, a voodoo doll.
But they are separated, and Mojo start a journey to find his 'mom', and save her from the Witcher, wreaking havoc in the Bayou if needed.

Bob: Update Schedule?
Kineko: Every monday for the moment. It will be subject to change for special pages, announcement, cover art, or just me forgetting to upload the page (it WILL happen, I know what I'm like)

Website URL: http://valeriane.org/herebevoodoo

Q&A

Bob: How did you first come up with the idea of Here be Voodoo?

Kineko: It all started when I was employed in a casual game company in... 2007. It wasn't that bad as a job, but the art style was very simple, the characters childish and I feel frustrated with these limitations and stressed out because of the insane schedule.

I was doodling a lot of monsters to cope and one day, between two meeting, I drew a little voodoo doll with a ponytail and a big butcher knife. I liked this scribble so much I start doing more and more voodoo doll, some were caricature of my coworkers, other being inspired by everyday item. I had a spidery doll inspired by a broken umbrella for example. The story start developing a month later, with Sunday's first appearance as a little girl with a top hat and the basic synopsis didn't change from there.

I wrote the synopsis for the nanowrimo 2008, and tried a few times to start the comic version, without finding the time or motivation, until last june.

--

Bob: During Nanomango, we saw you do a full set of pencils, plenty of revisions, and a few versions of finished pages. Can you talk a little bit about your process? For example, do you start with a script, or thumbnails, or just jump right in? How do you get from initial drawing to finished page?

Kineko: Well, my process is chaotic, even if I'm trying to be a little more organized.

I start with my nano-synopsis from 2008, which is already divided in chapter. First I read it, then cringe a lot and start correcting the narrative mistake, dialogue, and other error.

Once I have a clear idea of what's going to happen in a chapter, I doodle the pivot scene of the story. I tend to decide of a panel for the mere reason of 'it will look cool that way”, but I'm trying to change that and work on my paneling.

I generally do a few different thumbnails, to make sure the storytelling is coherent, and I start the pencils. I work with a blue pencil, and make correction and note with a red one. At this point, I submit my pages to a friend who is a lot better than me with story telling and layout and she help me correcting the bad cut and continuity mistake. I do generally one to three revisions of the pencil before I'm happy with it.

Then I scan the pages, enlarge every panel and print them each on a page in light blue. I ink them with my trusty pentel brush pen, then scanned them again at very big definition (600 dpi, my computer hate me), I erase the blue line and rebuilt the pages.
Then I texture with photoshop and my old cintiq and letter the dialogues.

I also send the finished pages to my English beta reader, Richard Roberts, who kindly check if the slang and grammar is correct, and to my friends for their advice. There is often a few last minutes corrections before I can label the page finished. From start to finish, I can work on a page 8 to 12 hours, but I make a lot of break so I can always have a fresh look on my work.

--

Bob: What media do you use to create your pages?

Kineko: It's a mix of traditional (for the sketch and inking) and photoshop (for the panel enlargement and the texturing). I sketch a lot faster with a pencil than a tablet and I recently discovered the joy of the pentel brush.

--

Bob: Tell us a little bit about Sunday.

Kineko: Sunday used to be a very happy little girl, always smiling and laughing, until her parents death. After this, she will grow up into a surly silent pre-teen. In the first draft of the synopsis, she was meant to be mute, but I decided against it.

She is intelligent and a powerful witch for her age. She rely a lot on relic and magical component to use magic. For example, she use her skills in sewing for her spells, that one of the reason she created Mojo. Upon meeting her, people find her cold and undemonstrative, and she is able to do some immoral thing to get what she want. She is fearless, if not foolhardy, and does not always evaluate the trouble she can get into before rushing head first.

But she still act like a kid in certain situation. She hate being mocked and will throw a temper when teased. She is repulsed by bugs and worms while Mojo LOVE them.

Oh, and she will never admit it, but she love pretty dress. Especially the pink one.

--

Bob: When you first posted work on this comic for Nanomango, you were like a machine! You kept the pages coming, and they all looked great. Not many people make it all the way through Nanomango without slipping. Do you have any words of wisdom on how you kept up your pace and your motivation?

Kineko: I was unemployed, I could take all the time I need to polish my pages... Not that I suggest to resign, of course!
First I think it's important to have fun. If you don't have fun while doing your pages, it's going to be harder to finish and be satisfied of your comic.

Use a technique you're at ease with. Pencil, direct inking, painting, graphic tablet, whatever you want, just be sure you won't be hindered by a technique you're not mastering very well.

It's good to have a clear idea of what you want to do for the mango. If you're in for the 30 pages, it's better to try with a short story, or to have a defined script of what's going to happen. Thumbnailling is important too, so you will not end with not enough or too much pages.

Don't feel obligated to draw if you don't want to. If you're not inspired to draw one page, draw the next one, or do something else, character design, background research, scripting.

If you feel you won't be able to do the 30 pages, it's not a problem. Give yourself another aim. 20 pages inked and 10 pages sketched for example. Of a complete script and all the pencil. You don't have to finish, you just have to feel proud of what you did.

And if you're not happy with the quality of your page, don't worry. There is always revision. Just make a note about what you need to change and December can be your own National Revising Mango Month.

Don't forget to take a breath, check the others participants comics, chat with them too! We don't bite and there is always someone ready to help with reference, advice or just to chat and unwind.

Or you can just take a scrap of paper, a pencil and go completely on impro.

This is very very fun too.

--

Bob: Which character from your comic is the most fun to draw? Who is the most difficult?

Kineko: The funnier: Mojo. He is very expressive with his body language and I love his ponytail and his little boots. I love drawing Sad the ghost doll too, because she is very simple and elegant.

The harder to draw is Eshu, the wood doll, because his chara design is HELL to draw. And Big Brother. His details are killing me.

--

Bob: As a fellow author of a b/w comic, I've often believed that full color comics have an automatic advantage when it comes to catching the eye of a reader. But at the same time, some stories are just meant to be in black and white, and I think black and white comic art can be just as beautiful as color. What made you decide to do this comic in black and white?

Kineko: In my head, Here be Voodoo has always been in black and white. The comics was supposed to be gritty, a little disturbing, borderline horror and I think color would have deserve this. That and I always color my picture as if a rainbow explode on the paper.

I was also a dire hard follower of the webcomic Digger by Ursula Vernon. I was hooked from page one and it was this comic that made me realize that black and white was a legit way to draw a comic without making it feel like a manga look alike or an unfinished color comics (for the reference, I love manga, but I think it was too much copied in western comicing and not always in a very good way).

I also admit at first I wanted the page to be made quickly, but this kinda derailed once I discovered the texture brushes of Photoshop.

--

Bob: Also, your comic has a very unique look, with a little bit of a scratchboard feel to it that I haven't seen anyone else doing. How did you nail down the style of your finished b/w pages?

Kineko: I used to draw in manga inspired fanzine when I was a teen, and I realized my inking... Well.. sucked. I was always disappointed how my inking looked flat next to my sketches and I wanted Here be voodoo to keep the dynamism of the pencil. I knew also I didn't want screentone, too cold for me.

I did a little reference digging in my favorite comics to find how I could improve my inking, mainly Sin City, Digger and Blade of the Immortal. All black and white comics, but very striking in their own way. I first tried a scribbly inking, à la Blade of the Immortal, but while trying to create a photoshop brush to emulate ink, I realized I could also make a scratchboard like texture. The hardest part was to find a way to render the skintone of the characters while keeping the line art readable.

--

Bob: What's your favorite part of working on a webcomic? Least favorite part?

Kineko: Having the idea. I love having new idea. I have wayyyy too much idea at the same time. The part I hate... Hm.. Let's say I dislike drawing background. A lot. But I'm trying to improve.

--

Bob: Anything else you'd like to say to your readers?

Kineko: I hope you will like reading“Here be Voodoo” and that you won't try to kill me when some unpleasant things are going to happen to the characters!

And as usual: This comics is NOT for kids!

--

Check out the amazing cover! (Full size available at the official website)


by Kineko


Now go on and check out the first page, and bookmark it for future updates! After seeing the Nanomango pages, I can say for sure that the story is exciting and unique and well worth the read. I also have the ultimate respect for people who have unique comic styles, and her art is both unique and gorgeous. Go look!