Monday, December 29, 2008

Currency Gives A Second Chance

Well this is the last page from the newspaper comics, for real now! I will probably do my most recent 24hr comic nex--- wait wait! READER PARTICIPATION TIME:

Dear reader and human, would you rather I post next:

  • My most recent 24hr comic (5 pages) chronicling my dire highschool existence, failing at school, getting in a band, DENYING MY NATURE and throwing up

  • My very first 'serious' comic (2 pages) completely incomprehensible to anyone that isn't me, made in two feverish nights that I still somehow feel begrudingly nice about

  • An illustrated recounting of a dream (5 pages) where I meet my id/superego meld and I am very distraught with the secrets he tells me

Please write in and let me know. In lack of votes I will default to posting horrible doodles nobody cares about as punishment! (not really.)

About the comic itself, it's one of the few color comics I've done, and completely in photoshop for that matter. There's a bit of a blunder with one caption (see if you can guess which) that misleads the eye instead of helping it along to the next desired panel and I certainly rushed the last panel (deadline). I think the idea is humourous still, even if I do say so myself. This blog is constantly about me saying so myself and I'm sorry, but it ain't like anybody else will ever write my biography, so... you know.



Friday, December 26, 2008

What's in the bag?

I'm sorry. Prosopagnosia and Karistos. Some things Just don't translate any better than that.

This comic came to be due to a happy accident, as Bob Ross would say. I didn't have time to ink and color it, and the color page was a mandatory one for the newspaper so this is just pencils and photoshop color. I don't generally like to color my comics, nor do I particularly enjoy painting on the whole, so I went for an impressionistic, mostly limited hue palette that I felt suited the goings on in the comic. I'm not sure how well this conveys what I was going for, I don't think I ever got any feedback for it so I guess this is the time to check for real!

I am especially fond of how - again by accident - the bottom row left three panels seem as if they're cut out of a different page and collaged together on top of a very red canson paper or something. It suits them because that is the only moment of emotional elation in the comic.

As to Prosopagnosia, the illness. I'm afraid I've taken some liberties with how it actually works, as there really doesn't seem to be a time when you 'remember someone more'. However as a parallel to an interpersonal relationship, I think it works. At the point of when I was making this comic (somewhere between Deep Inside The Earth and Anger Managment) I was really not very emotionally or psychologically sound and a lot of my personal frustrations carried on to the pages. Therefore I am really not convinced anyone would be able to gather neither the extremity of my personal condition at the time (which even if they could, the merit of such a thing would be debatable) nor to extapolarate from it something closer to their own experiences. However given how Deep Inside The Earth has resonated with a lot of you readers and humans I can only hope this might as well. If not, sorry for wasting your time.

On the formalist level, look at that non sequitur shot at the lampposts between the two pieces of conversation. Just a simple empty beat, but try to imagine the comic without it, would be worse, wouldn't it? Just run-on sentences. Also this is one of at least 3-4 comics I've done which feature a motorway or railway, suspended bridges and that sort of stuff, I really like drawing them because they're man-made and they usually cut incisions over otherwise natural terrain, but unlike other human constructions, nobody really lingers there, nobody walks around on them, they're just places in between that people pass through with their cars or trains. On a metaphysical map level, they're blank spots. Human stories happening in blank spots pleases me.

If I were to draw this today, I'd ink it, though. It would probably be less of an effective comic (whatever the effect is, I'm covering my ass here) but it would nag my Inking Sense less, at least. We all have our obsessions.

But what could be in that bag.



Monday, December 22, 2008

See the rotting corpse, it walks again!

I return from my Polish vacation. It was wonderful, probably some of the best time I've had abroad. Here's an overdone photo of me inside the Eye of Algond.

Click for manly size.

Regular comic posting will occur in the next couple of days, let me just gather my brain-bits. Until then, here's some drawings and an impromptu tutorial comic I did while in Poland:

This is actually Geometry Girl just with a different hair style and color. She's been released apparently, so she's doing better. Still playing chess alone though, contemplating the 8x8 grid... You can't ask for miracles. Inspired by Scotch, who played chess on his own during the Polish vacation.

Then here's the abrupt tutorial comic I did for Davy. This is he below:

He's a wonderful human being. I woke up one of the mornings and went to the common area to find that he had drawn his female character (who doesn't feature in his meat machines comics) a few times and had written 'I can't draw breasts :(' below them. My heart wept, hence impromptu trail comic!

These are pencil only because I didn't take any inking implements along with me to this trip. I usually do, I am not sure why I decided against it this time! Let's close with this random creepy drawing:

Whom my friend Chrille informed me after he saw, that looks very much like the singer of old punk band Magazine of whom I really didn't know anything about until then! I checked them out and they're pretty awesome though, so thanks, subconsciousness!

Here's a condensed paragraph of Polish impressions if you're interested: Warsaw proud, Krakow friendly, Zakopane cold, beautiful women of debatable gender, longhairs are exotic, striking scenery, fortuitous snow, germ towel, long debates, communal laughter, absurd quotes going in a little absurd quote book, they played 1000bwk without me, warm showers with good water pressure, the chewing gum murderer... good times.

I guess this is it for now! Back with a few leftover comics from the newspaper era in a couple of days. Start visiting the blog again, humans!



Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I'm done with the Vavel comic for this years' expo! (the above image is a teaser for the artist catalog).

...and I'll be leaving for Poland to meet wonderful friends. Back at the twenty-second of December. There's no reason to check the blog at all between now and then! Leave! Shoo!


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Memorybot Part 4: THE REVENGE

Here's the last page.

I'm proud of the visual communication here of the mindwipe, it's not exactly the easiest thing to convey without a stupid-ass panel reading "and this is how the robot got the relevant part of his brain erased". This isn't the golden age anymore, thankfully, we can trust the viewer to understand the action just by showing it, right? Right?

I guess it would have been easier if the screen read something silly like 'R U SURE U WATN FULL MEMORY WIPE Y / N ?' but nerds will be nerds and I had my nerd friend Ghormak write me some c64-like BASIC code that would theoretically clear some memory. Well... all the memory, really. Let's pretend ZX is running on 20 internal c64 chips in parallel and has different memories stored on different ones. Also the irony of a robot named ZX64 running on c64 processors. I will have none of it on the ongoing vendetta between Spectrum and Commodore users, both machines have their strengths. It's just a shame the c64 has many, many more of them. That's the final word on this, now, you hear?

I think this page works and I wouldn't really change much about it. This is also a byproduct of this art being closer to today than some of the other stuff I've posted so it's not that I've changed radically as an artist since.

Here's some more Ptoing slave comments on the coloring:

Page four was frustrating as I accidentally saved the resized .jpg into the photoshop file when I was almost done, and that would have been of course totally useless for print, so I had to start over. Still I am happy with the outcome especially the psychedelic colours in the middle panel as well as the three last ones, which in a way echo the colours of page three.

The only rationalization going on here is how I colored the last panel as well as the background in the last three panels, which I did in a way to guide the eyes as well as focus on where important stuff was. If you look at how ZX is shaded in the last panel and think a bit about it, it makes no sense whatsoever as far as realism goes, but at this point Helm has indoctrinated me with his "Screw Realism" credo, that my compulsions never stood a chance.

On a side note, the text of the pseudo code in the first panel is made with the C64 charset. I actually fired up WINVice (a C64 emulator) and typed the stuff in there and then printscreened it and adjusted it for the comic as needed. So many interesting facts, no?

Very notable is that Helm did not do any adjustments to the last two pages, he saw them and was happy. (The last 3 panels are a very good example of his inconsistencies. Note the eye positions of ZX)

In closing I have to say I really enjoyed colouring this comic and I am looking forward to colour more of Helm's comics in the future. Tho one thing I learned is that I never want to colour comics professionally unless I really have to.
Thank you for bearing with me and my ramblings. You are released now.

Hehe, c64 charset... nerds will be nerds.

An interesting point to note is that the comic has some internal symmetry. Page 1 ends with a 'hello' and an embrace, page 4 ends with a 'hello' and a handshake :(

Oh about handshakes, I guess I should say that whereas most people think them old-fashioned I am a firm believer in a firm handshake upon meeting someone. ZX takes from his artist in this amongst other superficial character traits (like being AWESOME ALL THE TIME).

Page 2 is all words words words and panels panels panels and page 3 is all about silence and few panels, that's a contrast bookended by symmetrical pages more or less (for instance page 1 and 4 all end on three vertical panels of close action, so on). I like playing up the forms of comics, I hope I don't constrict the actual happenings inside them with my such concerns.

Closing thoughts on the comic's abstract: "Man, imagine how harsh digital, perfect memory would be if you were a heartachey robot" was the initial thought that came to me while I was taking a shower/touching myself. I stepped out and kept a single doodle note of ZX running a big cartoon magnet all over his forehead and saying "fuck you, bitch" and the idea stewed from there to something a bit more human, heh.

Whereas I don't think it mirrors anything real very completely, what with none of us being robots, it does have something to it if you ever have been in love and you acutely remember parts of that relationship. For a long time you think you'll never forget, that there won't pass a single day that you won't think about that person and nothing anybody else tells you makes you change your mind. Eventually you forget, but this comic is about tough choices and the very blurry line between bravery and cowardice in interpersonal relationships. There is also the sad suggestion of the deterministic repeat, of something having happened just to happen again and again, ourselves looking at ourselves making the very same mistakes, kicking and screaming and crying but still saying 'yes' at the right times and 'no' hardly if ever. I mean, who knows what happens after the last panel, here? Perhaps she never explains what just happened, perhaps she pretends she was 'fixing him' and they meet all over again all the time she's secretly hoping, yearning that things won't play out as they did last time. For all we know... this has happened many times before. Always the same pseudocode, always the same last words

I love you so much.



Friday, December 5, 2008

Memorybot Part 3

Here's page three. Not much to say about this so let's take the opportunity to listen to Ptoing about the coloring process!

Hello, ptoing here. I'll have to write some words about the colouring of Memorybot, seeing as how Helm said I would without me knowing. Since we are awesome friends he knew tho I would do it, so here we go.

Memorybot is the first (and so far only) comic I finished colouring and it was a very interesting experience. It's not like I am a huge defender of literal colour, as in everything gets the colour it would have in real life, but Helm pushed me when it came to using emotional colours. He constantly poked me about it and it was a very fruitful outcome for me which I learned a lot from. So here goes thanks to you Helm, cheers for poking my brain.

The most interesting thing was to come to a colouring style which worked and respected the lineart, without being too simple (Straight colourfills Helm could have done himself :P). When I was exploring at first I thought about and tried colouring all the lines, like the trees and clouds in the first panel of page one. This turned out to be extremely tedious as well as taking away power from the nice lineart, making things mushy.

So in this regard using it here and there for background elements was a good choice I think, clouds with black outlines would have looked odd - or at least I think so. Tho black outlines for clouds are fine in a strictly black and white comic as soon as you add colour I think it looks wrong in most cases.

I will go on about the 3 pages in a bit more detail now, who knows, perhaps someone will find it interesting. Page one was the hardest to colour for me, simply because it was the first and it also has the most touchups from Helm. He adjusted the colours in the last panel and also tweaked some other things. This was great learning for me and it is also notable to be said that this collab worked so well because of the mutual respect for each others work. I had no problem with Helm going over my colouring as he also had no problem with me editing some of his lineart, mainly for cleanups.

Helm did welcome my cleanups tho he thinks that in some cases I am too anal about stuff like this, and who knows, perhaps I am, I have some compulsions when it comes to art (especially digital art) and small details jump into my eye and cling onto my brain, I can't help it. A perfect example of this is the wandering poster on the first page. The green one which is just above ZX's head in the first panel - it moves down during the course of the page. Actually looking at it I just realised that the whole bench seems to be moving in the last 2 panels, if you look where it is in comparison to the wall behind it.

But enough of me rambling about how Helm does not care for consistencies like this a lot. It's his right, it's not like they have an impact on the storytelling. So as far as emotional colours go, page one does not have much going on, apart from the last 2 panels, which were partly (mainly) Helms work as far as colour adjustments go.

On page two things get a lot less literal, more emotional, with the first panel, the establishing shot, being coloured in the colours that actually represent the actual surfaces they are (does that sentence make sense?) Then especially from panel three onwards things get purely emotional. Here one very important thing to note is that not many of the decisions made were conscious, I just did what looked good to me and made sense to me in the context of the comic.

The cold blue on the robot to show the distancing from the girl, who in panel three is an odd cold pink, no clue why, but the colour somehow works for me as far as some rests of hope as well as anxiety about what is to come, what ZX is going to say to her. Then in the next panel her face is turned to sad blue tones, followed by their hands, which I coloured as if it was a statue made from stone. A gentle touch of lovers not to be made eternal, or something.

In the last panel ZX turns is shown as a harsh, abstract monolith to finalize his statement, and show it's severity. This is what I think Helm was trying here, and I think it works. The colouring here is held simple and the red, well, to add some dreadful atmosphere.

Helm did some minor adjustments on this page as well, nothing as major as on the first tho.

Onto page three, my personal favorite. It is a very intimate scene in my opinion - the closest the two get to each other. I really liked the stark contrast of the bottom bit and I felt the page needed just as stark colouring. There is really not much more to say here, I just did what my instinct told me to, zero rationalization here.

(to be concluded)

Thank you Ptoing, for being forced to comment on my blog. I will let your family & dog go unhurt now.

Ptoing wrote more about page 4 but I'll post that section along with his final thoughts next time, when Memorybot concludes. Here's the b&w pervert version for those of you that share my kinks.

I think this page is good. I rushed a few bits here and there on the big panel, but the end result holds up well enough and is pretty astounding in color. Ptoing is right on the money above where he says this is the closest they'd ever get. A sin against nature, such a wrong way to love, please take me apart, put me back together again.

-Helm & Ptoing

P.S. This page is signed ''07" so it was as I thought. I started this comic in the last days of 2006 and continued it in January.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Memorybot Part 2

I take advantage of page flip to change settings. Film can do this also but not as effectively. Recent films that trained viewers in fast scene changes but it still creates some dissonance unless the director is one of the really talented ones. You can mess this up in comics as well (for example if you change scenes on pageflip but you don't do an establishing shot in the first or second panel and just assume people get that we're not were we where before). As of late I've been considering infinite canvas comics a lot and I'm trying to think of ways to have the power of page change without having actual pages to do it with. Something will come to me. Anyway, I mean to say, the change of a page is a very useful tool for the comic artist. It invites the participation of the reader to carry the story along, at their own page. The characters aren't going nowhere until you're good and ready. That more relaxed idea of how art should be paced is in start contrast to music or cinema where the time is strict and linear and if you're not paying attention you just missed something. This is why I think comics are the best medium to tell stories where smart little details and subliminal characterization make a difference.

Let's also look at the black and white version.

The painting in the futurist cafe in the first panel is a reference to Complexification. (Click on start applet to see the art of the future). This isn't so much a pop culture reference (as I don't think Complexification is pop enough yet!) but more an actual world-building point, I really do believe such algorithmically generated pieces of art will be much more vital in the future than now. Also, if you care to check out the older ZX story with the dam and the depth computation, you'll note that they're also at a show where Substrate is featured. Their opinion there on the art differs from mine as the artist, heh.

When I was drawing the black and white version of this I was actively trying to restrain my propensity towards adding little scribbly mid-tone details with a fine marker because I was thinking 'let the coloring do it'. And it did, I'm really happy I didn't overload it more than I did, although Ptoing - whom I'll have explain his process of coloring in the next post - probably suffered around the little details even as it is. I don't have much experience in making artwork that relies on color because I don't really like color comics much, heh. At least not the more literal color type. We'll discuss this later.

The exchange of words here is very calculated (I'm sorry) on the part of ZX. This isn't because he is a robot so much as it is how we all try to be robots when we have to give these sort of justifications for our actions. We think that if we figure out the exact way to phrase the hurty thing we need to say, perhaps we'll control the outcome, contain the drama and minimize the hurt. It is the testament to my emotional inexperience that in this comic, the next page to this isn't that of an emotional outburst, of the vital drama needed to diffuse an awful feeling. Instead I make the girl passively 'understand'. Things don't usually work this way in real life, yet I do not think this is a point of insincerity for me as an artist here because at the time this mode of resolution I thought was the best one. I was still holding on to being a robot as best I could.

The 'how we differ' panel is one of the best I've ever drawn, I think. I look at it and I think I did alright, as a comic artist, even if that's all I ended up doing.

Note in the black and white version how the eye on the girl on the bottom left panel is off and how Ptoing fixed that for me in the colored version. I've since learned to draw eyes a bit better but they're still totally the biggest problem I have with faces, especially with girls. I am satisfied with her weary expression though.

Next page will come when I get Ptoing to write his piece about the colors, could be sooner rather than later, as it's a silent page and I don't have to translate anything.

On other news, Vavel page is 70% done. I've worked more on this single page that I've worked on 4-5 regular pages of comics. It's a monster. It also is right on the verge of being completely nonsensical. I hope I can keep it together.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Memorybot Part 1

More ZX romantic adventures! Page 1 out of 4.

I made this for the 'Free Your Line' fanzine, for its third - and best, in my opinion - issue. It was done in very late 06, in fact around new years eve if memory serves. Ptoing was around, as were other friends, I was visiting Germany I think. God, how can my memory of things be so much like an old man's?

If you note something different about this comic, something vibrant and rich in hue, that's Ptoing's fault. He did the colors. I really like them, most people seem to too.

As I had 4 pages to tell a story that could possibly be told in a single page like those of the newspaper, and as a sort of cleansing from that sort of format, I took it very slow here, mostly establishing setting and mood, letting smaller things do the talking than my usual verbose narrator who is sadly a necessity if you want to tell a story with a lot of plot in very small space. Therefore the pacing is very deliberately slow. Note how I use the right wall in the first panel as space to place a story title and such, luxuries one doesn't usually enjoy in single-page format due to space. The eye traverses lazily through the opening shot, playfully diverted by the separate-perspective point cobblestone. A vague sense of futurist Europe somewhere (in fact half-way inspired by Stockholm and Thesaloniki). I never understood why the near future needs to be all SUPERPIPES AND FLYING CARS... well, the flying cars I can understand, what I don't see is why when the 'FUTURE' is here, everything old is to be immediately discarded. So I didn't. This comic might take place in the future sometime but I still left in streetlights and free press vending machines and the tired stones of an 'old city center'.

Furthermore, as before, I do not treat the abilities a robot very much like a robot... somewhat half-way. He has an internal clock... but he has to roll up his sleeve to know what time it is, heh. I like that middle space between magical realism and just flat out nonsensicalness. I'll get Ptoing at the end of the comic to talk about his color choices and such. Let's look at the black and white one as well:

First of all I made the mistake of inking this on hard bristol board (because that is what I took with me in Germany. I am really ghetto as far as tools and means go, as I've mentioned before). So all the lines I've put down are with generally bigger tipped markers than I enjoy just so I didn't get lots of break up. It turned out to befit the color a lot more than my usual more flimsy lines.

Note on panel 3 and 4 how I use guiding arrows to help the reader along. Most experimental comic artists would scoff at such'medium breaking immersion' tricks as naive but I kinda like comics going 'hi, we're comics! :D' a little sometimes, if they're kind about it. I could have used some other visual clue as to how to read such a panel configuration (usually with word balloons or the actual things in the panels being drawn in such a way as to visually flow up and then downwards) but I had to juggle a few other considerations that kept me from this. Namely, I wanted the fast motion. I wanted the first two panels to appear to take a considerable amount of time between them but then when he checks the time to see if his date is late (she is, by 8 minutes) I wanted the action to be abrupt. This works by keeping the art in the repeated panel pretty much the same (eye discards same information and just reads the different parts, much faster than the whole scene changing. Combine this effect with small panels and you can have a comic where the reader feels compelled to read 3 panels a second). So the pacing is sloooow and then an abrupt peak, and then again slow on the fifth panel (low shot always seems to take more time than eye-level because the reader has to visualize the pan that got the 'camera' that low, and how it'll also take some time to reposition. We think spatially, like ground animals) and the last two panels are again, fast after that bit of hesitation. These are pretty much cinematography tricks, but hey, comics are a smart medium and should take whatever becomes them from elsewhere without having delusions of being anything they're not. Vague line there but I'll pretend I'm safe from making 'movie comics' for now.

I'll post the next page in 3 days or so. Take the intermediate time to praise Ptoing for his wonderful coloring work.

- Helm


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Oh No, Pornography!

Alright before the comic here for you non-Greeks a bit of contextualization is required.

In Greece, the newspaper medium is in deep crisis. People just don't seem to read papers as much as they used to and regardless of the whys, the way papers have deemed it practical to respond is to bundle with their edition various 'gifts' for the reader, to entice them to buy the thing for the other thing. One can spot the various problems in this practice pretty much instantly (and how they will eventually result to complete disassembly of the newspaper form), but I'm not here to discuss that right now, I'm here to discuss a penis.

When I went to work for this paper where the material of this blog was originally printed in, they were bundling pretty mundane v-cds and dvds of old movies (Godzilla Versus Killer Pollution, yes)or tv-shows (Bonanza... seriously) and indeed, the temperamental success the newspaper had experienced at times was directly relative to the quality of the bundled-in material.

So at some point it seems readership was lower than usual and they decided to put some soft-core porno in with the paper and see how that goes. I guess it went well? I'm not sure, I did not follow the print run numbers. I was beginning to feel a bit uneasy even then for the reasons you'll see in the comic below, but hey, it's just soft-core, it's people pretending to have sex, more hilarious than vulgar. A few months later they started giving hardcore porn with the paper, stuck a "forbidden to minors" sticker in the front of the paper as a point of 'edginess' and then it sorta became a real issue for me. If I were some sort of established entity in the print media where my name would not be associated with the various transgressions of a publisher it would be a non-issue, but this was my first wide public work and a statement seemed required from my point of view. The statement is below:

Now, had this piece seen print, I would have continued to work with this paper - though perhaps things would have gone south sooner rather than later - judging my opinion clearly voiced. However this page didn't see print. They ran something awful by an in-house graphic designer playing comic artist for that day I guess and in the awfulness of that specific page (a pastiche of 'political commentary' ridiculousness, imagine a caricature of a wealthy man with the words 'government' written on his hat pocketing a symbolic bag of money, seriously) I saw exactly how little my work was understood or appreciated and what instead was expected from me. I received no phone call before the page was pulled nor was I immediately let go. I suspect that had I sent a different page next week (with more people with 'government' written on their hats) I'd have gotten paid as usual. However I did not send anything nor did I deem it fit to discuss the issue since they would not discuss it with me and in that way my run with that paper ended.

It seems I was correct to think comics ware unappreciated to begin with at the paper because a week or so after I stopped working there they let go the two other comic artists doing work there for them and I felt sad and responsible, especially for my friend Mike who needed financial stability at the time more than I did. However responsibility lies with the employer who chooses in the end what he wants to run in his paper. If they wanted to pretend to be a classy paper and then bundle porn along with it to desperately try to sell it somehow, then they dug their own grave as far as I'm concerned. The whole premise of ethical responsibility is that you can't have your cake and eat it too. And in any case I'd rather not be done the 'favor' being printed if it is without the understanding and support of my employer.

After I left the paper I didn't feel like making comics for nearly 6 months. Dry spell ended when Vavel festival came about and I did some pieces for them and for our fanzine (Free Your Line) but generally since then my rate of production of pages has drastically slowed. On one part, I am not being paid to make comics anymore and that does have its effect, believe me, especially when you've just grown used to considering yourself a 'professional' and then the rug is pulled under you and you realize that not only you're not considered such by your employer but they don't consider you worth basic human decency.

A big reason I took two years to get this blog together is because I believed the material to be worthless. It's been a slow climb back to being reasonably happy with it and of course it's due to the feedback I've gotten by you, dear readers and humans. Thanks! I am still very adverse to putting myself in a situation where I have to justify why my work is good or what exactly it is that I am doing because of the newspaper experience. Sadly, international readers, this happens more than you'd expect because Greece is a culturally retarded country, where any humanist venture one attempts has to battle against deeply ingrained inertia in the distrustful public. Greece has fallen to a self-fulfilling prophecy: we have been systematically robbed of decency by demagogues and thieves, liars and marketers, in every aspect of our every day lives. Professional domains, personal, political, emotional all jeopardized. The Greek has been degraded and conditioned to accept his degradation as stable truth and 'nobody is better than the worst'. Nothing good can happen here and nothing good we will allow to happen here but we will still complain how nothing vital and positive, happens although we ourselves do not allow for decency and humanity in any aspect of our daily lives. But we mock. We mock everything, we mock the good with the bad and to hell with everything. Our country is our dumpster, our internet is our dumpster, our inside is filled with garbage and nothing. I'm kinda rambling, but this is on my mind a lot lately.


The material you've read so far along with a boatload of comic strips also done for the paper (of varying quality! I'm not much of a strip artist, I find) is slowly being compiled in a print version which I'll shop around to various publishing houses here in Greece. I'm going to see my last page printed at least. I don't look forward to being treated like a visitor from outer space by most publishers I'll meet, but eh, I'll deal.

So, the bigger reason for making this blog has been fulfilled. Now I'll go even deeper back in time and start posting my very first comics made during comics school, where I met the wonderful people with whom I were to start the 'Free Your Line' fanzine. An altogether different part of my life, one which doesn't terminate at 2006 but instead is vital and ongoing to this day. More on this soon. Who knows, perhaps we'll even reach the material I'm doing RIGHT NOW! Such futurism, such promise! We shall raise our dream machines into the sky!

Well, soon. It might be a week or more because I'm still making my new page for the Vavel festival. I'm 35% done, heh. It's taking forever. I think it's good, I can tell because it's one of the few times I'm actually having fun making a comic (it's usually pretty tortuous!).

- Helm


Sunday, November 23, 2008

What's the best way to know what's going on inside the earth?!

One of the benefits of having a website is looking at the keyword hits you get off of Google. The above illustration conveys the worries expounded in the title of this post. While a lot are funny I also feel some sort of obligation to answer these queries since they landed someone here:

Sad Robot Boy - you're in the right place dude.
Steve Vahaviolos - Oh god I'm so sorry!
Three letter greek word for love - ΓΠΩ!
Ferrero rocher commercial greek gods - Oh man, that guy
How to get into the Royal Ballet School - Lots of practise and some innate talent I'd guess :/
Explain Europe After the Rain - This dude stayed around on the blog for 3 minutes so I guess some explanation did occur.
Meaning of Regional Dimensions - Still unnamed, sorry.
Octopus Puns - At least I can say I delivered on that front.

So yes, this is a stopgap post. I've been busy doing a very ambitious page for this year's Vavel festival and it'll be a week or so until I'm done. I will resume posting after that, but I should also let you know (since I gathered all of you here so we could laugh at google results) that the material from the paper has all but exhausted itself (last page left). I do not intend to stop the blog here, so we'll readily go into 'b sides' material. Most of it is not single-page comics but rather 3-5 pager stories I was doing before around and after my time at the paper. This is good because some material is absurdly old and you'll get to see really how less of a fuck I gave about my comics being understandable by third parties in the beginning. Also it's nice because I'll get to post more recent comics which I personally feel look better because I'm a better draftsman now that I was 2 years ago, heh.

The question I want to put to you dear readers and humans is this: should I post more infrequently but with the whole story at a time, or should I post every 2-3 days with a single page from an ongoing story? This is pretty important because for example I have an 18 page 24hr comic with lots of WORDS WORDS WORDS and it really might take a while to translate such a thing. Looking at the google results it seems some 40-50 hits a day occur and I'd hate to have built up that loyalty in some of you and then just come up and switch my posting habits from eight times a month to twice a month. I know first-hand that there occurs some feeling of betrayal when an artist just stops updating their blog frequently. Regardless of the inherent pathology in that sort of consumerist mindset (shame on all of us!), I'd hate to upset anyone like that!

Keep in mind when answering - for I do want you dear readers and humans, to answer me - that if I post bigger stories page-by-page then I will also have the chance to wax theoretical on them a lot more than I would if I posted them all together, where final remarks would have to be condensed to the issues of the story as a whole. So according to your tastes for theory this should factor in.

Also after Vavel I might post the comic I'm making now and all the preparation I did for it for another process post which will go into finer details on why and how I make my artistic choices and how exactly my subconscious undermines me constantly.



Friday, November 14, 2008

There is no Second Rudder

...and who would survive such scrutiny of reason?

I sincerely don't have much to say about this comic, only that it's the last one I published - I believe - in the paper. The next one - for which there will be a hefty post below it for explanations and the like, never saw print. Rightly or not will be up for you, dear readers and human beings, to decide.

I guess one thing I can say about this comic is that the idea came to me in the shower. Sometimes cliches are true.

Another thing to say is that I tried a 'clean line' style here to suit the dreamy mood but I don't think I like it, or perhaps more to the point, I'd have to be a better artist (and a more patient one) to pull it off.



Sunday, November 9, 2008

Best Superpower

Hello ZX!! We'll be seeing more of you!

This is pretty much one of the few intellectually suspect comics I've done. Two years ago when I had finished it I thought it was good but there was a nagging feeling about it which cumulated into a pretty specific concern once I found the words to explain it: It's too perfect. I don't mean the rendering, far from it. Actually while lettering this in english today I got a strong urge to redraw the whole thing. The problem is the situation presented, especially the top row of the initial flirting it just too... scripted. Real people don't talk like that, real life is not an episode of FRIENDS or some other such piece of shit excuse of a television show. People don't always know what to say and promptly. As anyone that had flirted even once knows, it's really stupid to try to be prepared for the conversation and run it in your head since it rarely if ever goes as you'd expect so you'll have to improvise... and that's alright. That's what I should have made, not this stilted exchange of stand-up comedian material.

Thankfully the two middle rows of panels spare us of the actual bits and pieces of conversation the couple engages in, giving them at least some ambiguous space on which the reader might project a bit of humanity instead of faux-perfect nothings. The last row is more humanistic, especially the subscription receipt panel is a nice metaphor for premature ejaculation. The whole point of the comic was, initially, not to have a super-cool 'best day ever' fantasy-dating comic (though sadly it's more this than anything else) it was to convey this particular feeling of insecurity one gets when they might meet a new person, strike it off very well initually only to experience a strange fear of abandonment right there in the midst of it all. You promise you'll date me for a while, right? You won't run off? That sort of thing.

So yeah, if I were to write this today I think I'd plot it differently. What I'd definitely keep is the middle shot of the dam on Marathonas at night. It has more humanity in its silence than the rest of the comic.


P.S. The older, newspaper comic material is three or for updates away from drying up. I shall proceed to the 'b-sides' material shortly after, featuring pieces I have done for the Free Your Line fanzine and elsewhere. The material up to the point of three or four updates to come is being collected (along with a boatload of comic-strips I have not posted here) in a physical edition, on paper and all. It'll be in its original Greek language. I am wandering if any of my international readers would be interested in getting such an edition in the mail, even though it'll be in this crazy moon language. Do write in. I will accept mailed undergarments as compensation, by the way.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Next Drink

Hello. A word by Richard Green:

I have been requested to write on this comic. In doing so I hope that Helm will return my puppy, or at least most of it.

This is probably a great way to avoid when designing a comic. I sat down with a piece of paper. I divided it into a grid.

I drew a man drinking. He walked away. In the midst of his journey I got bored and made him climb a building.

He reached his destination, something I decided on whilst drawing him climbing up the building.

By accident, symmetry. Spontaneous order had emerged.

I enjoy the fact that the comic is mirrored. In the first and sixth lines, we see this man in his primary world. He sits and drinks. He is not surly, self pitying or even drunk. He lives a blameless if meaningless existence.

But he can leave and enter that as he pleases. In the second and fifth lines he does so.

And in the middle he breaks from that world into something more. Just for a moment he entertains a diversion before returning to the task at hand.

I'll also write a little on the art Helm has built over my rather Spartan drawings.

I did not envisage him living in a squalid urban hellhole. The whilst drawing the first two lines I imagined him drinking in a suburban licensed club. The establishments of choice for blameless substance abuse (and garden variety gambling problems). It was only outside that there was a need for an external environment made of straight (and easily drawn) lines. He entered a concrete jungle.

And of course Spider-Man doesn't climb the sides of bungalows.

Because, as I envisaged it, he was climbing like Spider-Man.

Spider-Man is everyman, with powers, and so is this man. He is Spider-Man in middle age, Chris Ware's Spider-Man. He exists betwixt lost dreams and despair.

This is not to be depressing. It isn't depressing. The everyman is not an indulgent Byronic hero, intent on theatrical tragedy.

He endures, in some form.

And existence is the purpose.

And a few words from me, your tyrant:

Animation is not like comics at all. Often you'll find people who like comics also like animated films. I don't, particularly. I think that impulse comes from when we were children and you could show us any sort of drawn anything and we'd shit our pants. I find animation is in love with setting things to motion and how that motion is conveyed whereas comic art is in love with perfect sequences of events as portrayed in concert, on an inclusive context. I understand these are pretty dry distinctions but if you were to sit down with a comic artist and an animator and discuss with them why they went their separate ways through life, in the end the picture could be summed up as such. Personally I find myself quickly bored with something that is bouncing around on my screen and though as a child I did watch my share of cartoons I suspect I was bored of most of them even then. I'd much rather spend time looking at a single page of comics for a hour than watch an episode of Tom and Jerry. Don't judge me, that's just how I am! For me there is something really brilliant and beautiful in a well-done comic page. It's a finite number of viewpoints into a finite number of situations and effects but 'between the gaps' there is the promise of a whole, timeless and perfect world. Any medium where the tyranny of linear time dictates pace and direction somewhat loses that, for me.

So why am I saying these things? Because the comic at hand 'A Story by Richard Green' is very much made to appear like a short animated film. It is even made in a similar way. Static backgrounds were drawn (6 of them), then a character with little shading and simple forms, easy to animate, was superimposed on a different layer on top of these backgrounds, moving. Not talking or thinking but mainly moving from a place to a different place.

Why did I make a comic that looks like an animated film since I don't really care for them? Because I wanted to harness that boredom I felt when waiting for something to happen while some cartoon hero was squishing and deforming and whatever else. I wanted a pretty tortuous pace. As a comic, this whole page could be summed up in three panels (first and last being first and last and the middle panel him climbing a building, as a matter of fact). The whole middle time is watching and waiting. From one drink to another, the diversion of the spider-man climb signifying the mundane realism of any means to such an end. That was the feeling I got from Richard's original draft comic and I tried to serve it as best I could. I wasn't going for depression as a theme so much as for some sort of existential tiredness, punctuated by a sharp digression.

Oh, also, of interest is that this comic is not taking place in Athens like most of my comics (even if not mentioned so, at least conceptually). It's taking place somewhere in Australia because that's where Dick is from. I didn't do this on purpose, I just realized.



Friday, October 31, 2008

A Precise Sequence of Events

This one was pretty late in my employment for the paper and I felt I had gotten the hang of this sequential storytelling thing enough to try to redraw one of my earliest comics. Sadly the first version I don't think I have anymore but it was largely unspectacular in comparison to this. This comic was heavily scripted when it was first made, a couple of years earlier than in this final version. I even know exactly what the record playing was supposed to be (Variations for Strings, Winds and Keyboards by Steve Reich) where this is taking place (Marousi, suburbs of Athens), that this is an African mask in panel 4, it is mid-day and the protagonist had for his solitary dinner meatballs. I think this sort of over-orchestrated background detail is the product of first-time performance anxiety. I had read somewhere how much reference material Alan Moore used to prepare for his pencilers and to what excruciating level of detail he would explain each panel to them that I somehow got it in my head that if I wanted to do comics, I had to do the same. Carelessly overlooking that I was in fact, both the writer and the artist for this strip and I didn't have to convey my intuition to anyone else.

Nowadays unless there's very specific reason to do otherwise, I really don't 'model' as extensively, at least for a single page's worth of material and I honestly don't think there's any loss of information or communication for it. I guess I learned an important lesson in balancing through making all these single pager comics. I wonder how it'll hold up if I ever do an oh, 150 page story (which would take me 5 years or something the way I work).

This is a very formalist comic, very self-aware of how it works. Probably the most of all my comics, actually. That is both to the benefit of having remade it once after making it first and because it was riding at the top of my active period as a working artist for the paper, so my eye was sharp so to say. Here's some things of interest for you lovers of comic art theory:

1. Panel 1: Note the isometric view used, conveying a mood of orderliness and cleanness. Perspective - especially harsh - is for emotional situations. When all in order, treat it like a little sim-hospital-city-whatever game. Everything taking as little space as it can, ideally represented. The fat lines with only parallel shading and not much 'ink dirt' further connote this but without going for an 'abstract reality' infomercial super-squeaky-clean look.

2. Panel 2, 3 : Cutting from establishing shot straight to abstract details of the house. However note that the details are not picked out of thin air. The glass features on the table in panel 1 and the record player is in secondary focus on panel 4. You can almost feel the pace of the camera as it focuses and de-focuses on details. By panel 5 you have an inner feeling of the place. Also note the establishing of vertical paneling without a clear distinction if you're supposed to read from bottom to top or top to bottom as it works either way.

3. Panels 5,6,7,8 : Parallel action. Even, tempered motion. Imagine the Steve Reich playing in the background. A private little choreography, everything in its place. Note the lack of printed sound-effect. Did you miss it, as the reader?

4. Panel 9: Repeat view. Same mindset. Everything is tranquil, sedate even.

5. Panel 10: Finally a 'classic' establishing shot. But you felt you knew the place from before by now, didn't you? This is almost now, a 'second visit', you are comfortable here now, this is a home away from home. Neat apartment and all.

6. Panels 11, 12, 13: Again read in either order, the man is about to open but fixes his top button on his shirt before opening, to be all perfect looking. Door opens, note absurdly small gap betwseen panel 13 and the first action panel, 14, to connote the briefness of time that passed from one to another. Nearly instantaneous.

7. Whole of the middle strip: Violence that escalates, fragmented inking style perspective shot to fit a murder, but juxtaposed to neat panel cuts, as if the mentality of the person experiencing this is still calm. Reprise of detail panels from strip 1, glass falls, record screeches to a halt, everything is ruined, or is it?

8. Panel 24 : Orgasmic elation. Note the lack of shading in this panel. First piece of actual sound is not a word, but a visceral sound. The first suggestion that something sexual occurred is here.

9. Panel 27: Humanist rendering for the inquiry as to the other persons' state of mind. This could be read as the equivalent of 'was it good for you too?'. There is shame here, there are mixed emotions, and mixed emotions need more rendering. Think of the moment before sexual climax, how single minded you are, how the only thing that matters is what is going on. And then think exactly after the climax how the atavistic emotion drains away and leaves you thinking a million of small different things that mix into a multifaceted emotion that can go every which way. Protagonist replies off-panel as this panel isn't about him at all in the end.

10. Panel 28: Freud would be proud of me.

11. Last panel: Well I don't have to explain this, do I.

Anyway, there's a lot that could be said about what I am trying to achieve with this comic. I'll try to be brief because this is long to begin with. Think of how many things the modern human animal does in place of having sex, think of sports, or academia, or even argumentative discussion and how strongly it is tied with the need of insemination and/or dominance. The comment is on comfortable lives bubbling with a sickly undercurrent of primal atavism, the desires that the animal has cultivated for millenia and that the human in all his arrogance thinks that in 4,000 years of civilization he has now erased. Proven by war and atrocity time and time again false, humbled by his own secret desires, ridden in neuroses and constantly at odds with himself. The machine that looks inside its own gears and can from this only gather 'I am lost'. Think of the silly games we play to rationalize our desires and how we codify this playacting as if to appear intellectual when truly base. I will beat you up to fuck you, and this makes us special, but if I were to fuck you to fuck you, this makes us animals.

That movie (also book) 'Fight Club', much adored by idiots who misunderstood it and much maligned by haughty intellectuals that misunderstood it equally, touches upon similar themes. Note the orderly furniture and perfect, serene angles presenting them everywhere in my comic.

A final structuralist note: a comic is not an animation, or a movie, or a poem or a book, or most importantly a painting. But it borrows from all these things to create if I may be allowed a smarter form than any of the others mentioned, or to be clearer a form that allows for smart things far more invitingly than film with its linear time-frame burdens or a book with its inability to convey spatial dimension or with a painting that can only hint at a sequence of events. However from paintings I try to borrow a wonderful effect from the cubist school, where essentially they theorized that one cubist painting of something attempts to show an ideal space form of the subject, to show it 'from every angle at once' so to speak. I try to do the same with a sequence of events when I make pages like these. You can stand a bit back, stop looking at each panel in particular and look at the page on the whole and it's a kaleidoscope of the then, the now, and the after. If I learned anything at all from having to do single page comics for that period of time it was exactly this. People that have 300 pages to tell a story that could be said in 10 pages are misunderstanding the medium, I posit. Then again if you draw 300 pages everybody thinks you're cool and if you draw 10 you just appear lazy, right? An artists' job is the same as of a lumberjack's.

- Helm


Monday, October 27, 2008

Worse things than being late!

I did a 24hr comic this weekend, which is to say, it's not 24 pages but it's a full story done at the best of my ability in a span of 24 hours. It came out 5 pages. It'll be a while before it arrives on this blog but hey, I made it! Expect the next full page within the next couple of days.

You like to read a lot, don't you?



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Anger Management

Man, this comic. It's a bit overwrought and I feel the way I drew the dude's face is quite bad, but I like the idea and the format. Upside-down speech is a good visual cue for subconscious thought patterns. I also like how the line-work in the top and bottom row is delicate and thin and the violence panel is made with a big brush that chops up the space harshly between space and object. If only I had structured that face traditionally a bit better. You can't improvise everything.

This idea came to me when I was visiting Brussels with my dad. I was very sad at the time, to the point where I couldn't sleep at night, and I paced and paced the hotel room (again a hotel room), I did endless series of push-ups to tire myself out and I broke the washroom's basin by mistake. Actually the worst of all of that is when you lie in bed trying to sleep with one ear on the mattress and you play rhythmic patterns with your fingers and hear them reverberate through the mattress, booming at the empty silence.

So perhaps the ugliness suits it! I have rationalized a small win for me right there.

On the formal level: 1) same face on all panels, slightly worked over to avoid cut-and-paste effect, but effective emotionally. Stonewall face. 2) throat gurgling sound effect: it works. Don't always put actual letters in sound panels, it's very useful to upset the reader expectation sometimes. 3) I went with the throat punch for extra cruelty. Of course nobody aims there on purpose but man if it happens it's much worse than a face hit. 4) Story starts 'after the fact'. The reader is encouraged to fill in the blanks. The 'plot' doesn't matter here, what matters is the human situation. When you just have a single page's worth of space you need to cut the most inessential corners and retain the gist of it. This was good practise for me regardless of how many pages a next comic I do will be.

Also, I wanted to say: thank you if you forwarded the comic to any interested friends. I really appreciate it. Don't hesitate to drop me comments, though, I see lately they've been sparser. That's fine, I understand there isn't an infinite amount of things to be said about what turns out to be a pretty homogeneous body of work but still, any communication is welcome.

- Helm


Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Broken Chain is but Circles that Met

Not one follows the other, but yet?...

Though the form of this comic seems a bit obtuse I believe once it has registered, its meaning should be self-evident, so I will not try to make the latter any plainer. I will however note the formalist effect in hopes that someone who has missed it may get at least that answer in this text: the comic can be read continuously clockwise or counter-clockwise and the meaning remains intact and is known to all humans.

This was kind of a difficult page to make and to some degree I feel it as a failure. On one hand I wanted there to be humans in the panels but not faces of humans, and then there's the basement panel where we see a person with dramatic lighting on his face, where someone with ill intent would mock him for being all 'emo-goth depressed' which really wasn't a context I wanted to indulge. On the other hand, I wanted the narrative to be completely seamless going round and round and it turns out that's more difficult to achieve than just to consider. The translation to English hurts it just a bit but too.

The four places in the four panels are ones I've been to and I believe I've had similar thoughts to the ones in the comic there as well. Especially the hotel room in panel one, it will be make a reprise appearance in a future comic. Hotels are really depressing.

It was in fact, in a hotel room that I first tried making my first comic (and perhaps funnily - though privately - that moment is referenced in my very first comic for comic school. We'll get to that). The two pages I inked are now lost but I have a clear recollection of what it was about and what it was inspired from. I was about 16 and my father had taken me to Pyrgos, in Ilia (original home of the olympic games to give you dirty savages some frame of reference) from where our family holds, for some vacations. He went out one night and I was really lonely inside the hotel room. I suppose it's telling of my disposition that instead of perhaps wondering around the public sections of the hotel (including a swimming pool) to make some travel acquaintances, I instead chose to hole up in the room and read my Battle Angel Alita comics. Ah, Yukito Kishiro was an amazing influence on me not so much in how I were to go on to draw like, but in the patience of his work. The craft that it took before one were to call a page finished. Whereas I have since deviated a lot from my 'ideal meticulous' style (probably to psychologically freeing effect!) the form is still there and the superego will not be happy until I have achieved similar robustness one day.

So, the comic I had started then was the perfect capture of my 16 year old psyche. It was a dude and a lady, dressed in futuristic jumpsuits, going into a garage and taking this Akira-esque superbike and then hitting the road in some silent, cyclopean metropolis threaded together with suspended motorways. Low shots from the pillars to the roads, high shots of the bike on an endless travel. Pure escapism. I drew it with my dad's 0.1 and 0.8 rapidographs!

I remember being excited seeing 'something I made' still be there after I had conceived it. Perhaps an instant addiction occurred. I looked at it a lot - though I didn't show my father. I was secretly ashamed of my comic because of perhaps, the naivety of it? or the sexuality inherent in artistic creation (for what is it than a birth of sorts)? Perhaps I just thought it wasn't drawn well enough to show.

I kept the comic in a drawer for some time. Now I don't think it's in there anymore, I think at some more volatile time between 16 and 18, I might have thrown it away. Perhaps it's still there, I don't really want to search my deep drawers that much. I believe I learned a very important lesson making that comic: that when you think you can't do something, if you go ahead and do it, the end result might be better than you expected. I sadly forgot that lesson and didn't make any more comics for a while, but once I went to comic school I had to get over my 'conceptual pessimism' really fast.

- Helm


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Hello. I'm going to track the thought-process behind the drawing of a panel for a yet-inexistent comic. This panel:

(click on all images in this post for proper sized versions)

I am working completely digitally here. My brain is digital too. I am made of nothing but cables and microchips.

The very first thing that has to be considered when one sits to pencil a page of comics is what it's going to be about. As this isn't a page and is in fact, a wordless panel, I need to let you know what I am going for emotionally and in terms of storytelling beforehand so you can tell if I succeed or fail. I stress that though the rest of this comic is only in my head right now, I drew this thinking as if it existed and I know what page goes before it and what comes after it. I stress this because drawing pretty pictures is meaningless in a comic if they don't emote something, and they don't do it in sequence. Leave the single-image-life's-work-masterpiece stuff to the painters, guys. Of course I may say that because I have a short attention span and could never put 40 hours in a single image like they do.

Anyway. Here the story is that this scoundrel swordsman in this pulp fantasy harbor city has it conveyed to him that a dancer in an ill-reputed inn has lost 'a valuable piece of property' of vague definition and is will reward the man that recovers it. So he sets off to meet his to-be-employer and inquire as to what exactly this property is and more importantly, how much to get it back. This is the panel when the swordsman barges in on the dancer's private quarters, startling her somewhat. I want the human figure to convey both a small shock, some apprehension and the dawning realization that this is a man here for the job and not for some other purpose. I also want the woman to be a somewhat tired person, for other reasons.

So I fire up the Cintiq and put down 'blue pencils' in Manga Studio Ex 3 layer. I use a 1200 dpi a4 page format as a default. The way I work is like so: I make the main desktop screen have a full view of the piece I'm working on and zoom in with the Cintiq to work on detail. This way I can always check if what I'm doing works on the macro level without ever having to zoom out too much from the micro level. It's a relatively fast and precise method. Manga Studio has page-rotation and other handy things that make the Cintiq a joy to use, especially if one maps useful shortcuts to the sidepanel keystrokes. I usually only map 'UNDO' to one of them, but I'd map a whole lot more if Manga Studio and Cintiq didn't sometimes mess each other up and totally forget their respective settings. Just having to bind 'UNDO' a lot to the same key has wore me out, as far as extensive Cintiq customization goes.

That strong hori line is the line of sight of the barging swordsman with whom I want the viewer to relate for this event. Naturally there'd be a panel before this with his hand on the door or whatnot so the narration works, but imagine this for now. We can see from this that the swordsman (and the viewer) is standing upright entering into the room where this woman is sitting down. This creates an immediate effect of dominance over her which is useful if you want to set an emotional mood for an encounter.

I used to be pretty mad about drawing accessories in 'establishing shots' like this one in the past. I guess it was mostly an overcompensation for my skills as an artist. I'd put everything in that shot, but I now think just a few items of importance make a more balanced view and they do not clutter the flow of reading as much. The box with the candle on it plays a part in the story so it's useful and it's excusable that it's rendered as much as it is. The bit of table we see is good because it tells us the person in the room was recently eating, and therefore on private time. The hint of a mirror and bed in the background just flesh out a living space a bit more. Believe me, I could have made this to be much, much more busy if I wanted to show off, but showing off is for illustrators that only have ONE panel to tell a story. For example I'd texture the carpet with something like this which is just... not something a sane human being would attempt.

If you're wondering why the heavy rendering on the female form for such a preliminary sketch, it's because I suffer from this condition called can'tdrawomenitis and it pays to be more careful than with anything else in the scene. I didn't use reference for the pose and though this will hurt the quality of the physiology in the final piece, there is a return for it: a bit more individual style, a bit more 'wrong' that I am comfortable letting in there. If one uses photo reference too much all his drawings will tend to look like fashion models in 'perfect' poses. I heavily dislike 'perfect' poses because they're calculated and held for the photographer. But here I want an 'in-between' not a 'key-frame' (in animation terms) because simply the woman was interrupted. She's trying to put on her 'seductive allure' face but not quite there yet.

Here I've blocked out the lights much more and finalized the crop and the topology in the scene. Usually for an establishing shot one should use proper vanishing points and whatnot but this is such a 'close' shot that I feel I can fake it without too much SCIENCE. I don't want the place to look too sterile anyway. I've dressed (sadly) the girl, though barely so (happily) and worked on some preliminary texturing to know what I want to achieve with the final inks.

Now the exact way I go about texturing a part of an image usually is more impressionistic than anything else. Meaning I don't always try to texture a rug with a naturalistic ruggy texture or flesh with flesh-friendly crosshatching and whatever. I go for an emotional effect first. However here, because this is a process post and a process picture I tried to stand mid-way between impressionism and application. I'll discuss this more in the next few paragraphs.

Here for example I am mid-ink. Check out how much I've deviated from the underlayer in the construction of the girls' face. I don't usually do this, but it's me, drawing a woman. My disease, I hope you don't think worse of me.

You can see here why the time-honored practice of tinting the pencil layer blue is useful for inking. The blue shows below, but the ink registers to the eye clearly on top. Though a remnant of the 'the penciler pencils, the inker inks, the colorist colors' production chain American Mainstream comics method era, I am quite partial to it because it allows me to focus on what I want to do on every step. I mean, when I pencil - to paraphrase Dave Sim - I am a penciler. When I ink an inker and when I letter a letterer. I do not want to be thinking about pencil art judgment calls when I am inking, nor do I want to think of what I am going to change on the inks when I put the lettering down. Whereas overspecialization is for ants, thinking like a specialized craftsman when you do something as specific as inking helps.

You'll notice I'm shading the flesh with horizontal strokes. This is an emotional effect. I've found that parallel lines for shading people makes them appear mid-move. Also if the lines are close-knit (as are these) and especially if placed on the face, they give the character a sort of tired look. Vertical lines are the best for this effect, but I preferred horizontal lines here because they unbalance her more and they accentuate the light-source.

Also, for kicks, check out a surreal Platoist zen space midway version.

So let's look at the final piece for a minute:

Click here for computer shattering big version.

As you can see I try to create a pure binary bitmap copy for printing (binary bitmap means in computer lingo just black and white, 1, 0 per pixel, no shades of gray in between) which at this day and age isn't very needed because even the cheapest digital black and white prints you can get are grayscale. However I do this because a) it pleases me and b) when you have to print comic tone, it really still matters if you want to avoid moire patterns. I didn't use any comic tone here, though. I used ink pens and the airbrush for the noise patterns where applicable. I try to take special care to 'bridge' between the airbrush and the inkwork because I don't want my art to look like two different things pasted on top of each other. You tell me if it works or not.

As you can see I skewed the rotation on the goblet-holding arm to signify a bit more shock. I wanted to also put some tendon tension on the neck (as the body does this when you're surprised) but the lighting conditions didn't react favorably to it so I took it out.

So how different it is working digitally to real life penciling and inking? Once you get the hang of it, not very. The biggest - and sincerely most important difference - is that you have a very easy way to apply WHITE on BLACK, not just the usual reverse. This makes you work looser without fearing you'll place a line that will just destroy the piece (the benefits of undoing on computers taken into account) which is for all intents, a good thing. Secondarily, if you work at a large enough resolution (like m e and my crazy 1200 dpi) this also means you can zoom in at a crazy degree and do one-pixel detail work that is pretty impossible to do in real life, unless you work at a huge canvas and/or have the steady hands of surgeon. Speaking of this, you should know that most comic artists work in canvases two or three times bigger than the printed result. An a4 printed page's original is a3 at least most of the time. There's two reasons for this: one is that this way when you shrink down for printing, details become minute and errors cannot be seen anymore. Most artists like this effect (I like it too). The other is more psychological: the original for an artist must be BIG so you can hang it on a wall or sell it and it must look like a real piece of art. I don't get this psychological effect and I don't really think my originals are amazing pieces of art worth a million or anything. I have them all stacked on one shelf in my bookcase. When I am in lack of time for a project, I have been known to work at print res (meaning, an a4 page will be printed as a4) and I don't think my work loses anything for it.

But this is a problem in digital art for me, because I can zoom so much I never know when to stop detailing. This picture for example, is a bit overdone perhaps. A good thing to do is to decide internally before you start working at a picture at what the smallest pen size you're going to use will be. This is made with pens all the way down to 0.5 which is overkill for any print version for a 1200dpi image, heh. A good place to stop is 1.0 or even 2.0 if you're not doing an establishing shot panel. Remember: from one point and onwards, not even the sharpest eye can see the detail work you did nor will they even care to try.

So a few words about comic tone, which I use a lot sometimes, and not at all at others, heh. Manga Studio is great for it, it's one of the biggest selling points, I guess. As this piece doesn't have any applied I'll show you how I handle it over a drawing eric did:

And here's the tones I put on it:

Again this is quite overkill but I was trying to help eric with options for toning. Again though this might seem like a regular grayscale pic at 72dpi that internet images display, it is made out of pure binary bitmap black and white at the original res and will print perfectly without any gray tones and/or moire patterns.

A lot of people prefer flat tone that says 'comic book'. I really like rubbing out white from a flat tone to shape volume better, it's the funnest thing for me and I'd do it professionally for other people's tone if they hired me, heh. Though it's usually a big no-no to put one comic tone over another, I really couldn't care less. Pile it on, I say!

So that's that as far as 'how does Helm draw with his Cintiq' goes. Would you like to see more Process posts? I could do one about a full page, with all the formal considerations that go in making a sequence of events flow, now that I've sorta covered the actual craftsmanship of drawing. Your voice will be my guide.



Sunday, October 12, 2008


This is pretty much my favorite page from the newspaper batch. I think! I don't have much to say about it directly. It was a lot of work to draw but I think the visuals serve to the textual flow here pretty well. I'm not much of a writer (or at least I don't feel like one) and, let me be candid here, I don't feel like much of an illustrator either. This is a reason I am a comic artist. My drawings might not be stellar or my writing sublime, but I'm an okay combinatorial artist between the two. That's what most comic creators have going for them, being reasonably decent at two different crafts.

Enough about me, how about that robot boy. Have you noticed what a sad image it is, a vacant playground? An even sadder one is a playground with just one child there, alone. Steel yourself for the cruelty that follows is immeasurable, child.

For the lovers of comic art theory, note the open background panel that pervades the whole picture and on which the comic finally culminates on. The whole page is a cubist painting in this way, different viewpoints at the same time. Not so much literal time passes as spatial dislocation, until the end panel pulls it all together with a final symbolist reference.

A word about the robot symbol. This is a variation of the popular DESTROY ALL HUMANS! Red Robot. I think it was popularized by Diesel Sweeties, I am just now searching on Wikipedia about it. When I adopted it there was no Wikipedia. Usually it's portrayed like an emotionless destructobot bent on total human devastation (besides Bob Ross, who gets to live) but when I looked at its big red face with huge yellow eyes I just see a little kid so there you go. I've drawn this red robot a million times, it's not a pop culture reference anymore. It is mine, but in the interest of disclosure, I thought I'd mention it.

On other news, process post soon. Ptoing helped me with this wonderful little banner for the blog:

which I've attached as my signature in the forums I frequent. I don't know what else to do, so I've reverted to 1930 marketing practices "USE BRIGHT COLORS TO CATCH THE ATTENTION OF THE VIEWER" heh.



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Protected from Reality

This was made to express a pretty specific thing, and it was for me pretty interesting to see how it sorta went over a lot of people's head. It's exactly because it's not a high concept that I was puzzled about how some didn't seem to get it. As a test, keep in mind right now, after having read it (I hope you read the comics before the texts below them, if not there's something very... special about you) what you understood from it, and then let me know in the comments if it differed from my initial intention.

Which was: I kinda severely dislike people who claim to be 'realists'. In the name of that realism they tear down any attempt others make at embellishing their personal story with something spicier that their narrow version of 'reality'. 'Real' for them means 'empty'. Drama is forbidden, even the smallest pretension is to be ridiculed as harshly as possible, analysis is for fags, ambiguity is not an excuse for interpretation but quite the opposite, it doesn't even exist. Things are clear-cut. You know they type. The one to tell you stuff like "why are you wasting your time?" when you do things that might seem inconsequential but which you love anyway? Well yeah, that's her. There's many reasons why this sort of personality profile comes to exist and it wasn't so much the scope of the comic to investigate them as it was to mutter a passive-agressive "fuck off".

This story hasn't happened to me personally, but I have a lot of experience with that particular type of person so I didn't feel it out of bounds to do the story. As usual, I don't take a very strong stance because being heavy-handed about these things is kinda crass, but nonetheless I do believe the stories we invent about ourselves are true, they interface with truth and our lives become all the richer for it. This is a life-giving process, and don't let anyone tear it down. There isn't one safer way to view reality and regardless of the gravitas with which others will attempt to make you 'come to your senses' and view life through their eyes, they don't know anything you don't. The last action in this comic is a symbolic dissension to the most common and damaging human practice: that of counter-definition. Looking at what others do and doing the same or the exact opposite (it doesn't matter which). Of course there's a lurking pathology to overdoing it with the storytelling but again, that's a different comic for a different time and I'm glad I don't have to tag every entry in this blog with "psychopathology".

Oh, by the way, that's Giakoumis again. I guess that's his latest pop-art relationship that doesn't lead anywhere? In any case, there is some self-injection going on here (as with the other Giakoumis comic) but it's not so much in the main character (whom I didn't even originally create, friend Greek comic artist Dustbin did) but with the backgrounds. That's my room, that is my cat and yes, these are my knives. My privacy, it is shattered.

On the artistic end, I enjoy this comic even today. I like the sharp lines and the mostly clean spaces. There is some distortion in the faces but not nearly as bad as some other stuff I've done (wait for the next one). Before you sit down to draw something representative of reality, you always think you don't have the skill for it and it'll come out looking wonky and unconvincing. It almost always turns out that if you sit and do it instead of worry about it, the end result will be held together by some 'x factor'. It's not that I draw reality well, it's that I trust my artistic intuition in that the end result will not bother the eye and will support the story. Though my ambition doesn't end there, that is the bare minimum a comic artist needs to be able to tell a story with his visual tools. To trust their hands to draw every part okay enough so it doesn't fall apart on the whole.

Every time I sit down to make a new page, I have to convince myself that I can do this all over again.

So, the next post will probably be a Digital Drawing & Inking process one. I have all the art ready, it'll be a huge text to write but eh, I do enjoy doing it. Hopefully you guys and girls will find it informative or in the very least, you'll like the belabored panel I drew for it.

I have a request to make also: if you know someone whom you think would enjoy the comics and texts on this blog, do let them know that it exists. This might seem like it should go without saying, but I know that whenever other artists reminded me of this, I usually thought of one or two people more I could let know of their art. The reason I ask for this is because I think I've pretty much exhausted my methods of getting the word out there for the blog (which were, pretty much, posting in the message boards I frequent about it and tagging my name in MSN. Pitiful, I know). I don't use myspace or facebook (I find them pretty perverse) and whereas I don't have as much of a problem with livejournal, I can't readily make a profile and socialize there for the purpose of plugging my own comic, just seems disingenuous. So, word of mouth seems like all I have going for me now. Let people know if you want and also if you think there's any other way to make the blog reach its audience I might not have thought of, let me know!



Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Deep Inside the Earth

I'll start with the customary "how did this ever see print in a large newspaper without a long history and audience in comics?!" Now that the interrobang is out of the way, this is a comic made under peculiar circumstances. To not go too far into it, at the time my sense of priorities was somewhat unreal, I wasn't seeing the meaning in a lot of things, generally perspective was skewed. I took my time with it and I made certain it worked like I wanted it to work. It breaks various narrative rules to the point where it might be a bit unreadable as a comic, but at the time I didn't care about that. There is a case to be made about interesting art being created when the artist has a disregard for common wisdom about how his art form of choice works, but that goes only as far as you as a reader finds this particular comic to be interesting. Frankly I'd be surprised that people would see this and feel any impulse to read it.

There is a common concept in comics that if the words overpower the images, the reader skips text or skips page. The vice versa doesn't apply as such, but if a page has no text or very little text, most readers read it VERY FAST, which is a good communicational tool for the aware comic artist. Generally more than 30 words per panel (given a print size of about a4 or smaller and a regular typeface size) is a good limit, and if possible, that text should be broken up in favourable places in the panel, not infodumped on the top or whatever. This comic breaks this rule in a big way, ripping word from image at the seams, making this less a comic and more "prose with some pictures behind it". Or is it "pretty pictures with some inconsequential text on top"? In any case, I was aware of this and chose this particular harsh juxtaposition to serve this story when I made this in 2006. I do this a couple more times in the future in these series, with variable degrees of effect.

There were artistic concerns here. The whole page is mostly drawn with a pentel inkpen, I generally avoided my usual 0.1 marker scribbling. I didn't want the images to look packed with detail. In the visual arts there is a distinction between 'detail' and 'visual information'. The difference is that detail may carry information but it also may not, and just be there to pack up the image, to inspire awe to the viewer... the "oh wow, look how many little lines!" effect. I do this occasionally because awe is a useful tool for a comic artist if they can pull it off. But here I wanted the information to be there, but not so much detail. The trees read as trees, sand reads as sand, rock reads as rock. There isn't anything "playful" about this, it's a very unappealing page by design, artistically. There are no elaborate cloud patterns, no cute little creatures amongst the rocks and grass, nothing distinctively alive and relatable. The effect I was going for - and I really hope it comes through - is not of 'nature as the natural state of man' but a nature that is alien, distant and which has irrevocably sworn off the human. This theme of discontent is the one that is echoed in the text. What would you feel if you were to leave civilization behind only to find nature rejecting you harshly, not letting you in? You thought you were a natural being but you are spoiled by your years as a human being. The breeze doesn't seem soothing after a month sleeping on the ground, the trees do not mellow you with their shade but are forever there, quiet and together, against the one who absconded from his own. We think we are alone amongst the crowd but there are other, far more fundamental types of loneliness.

I often entertain fantasies of leaving, going somewhere far away and leaving everything behind, everybody forgetting my name and who I was. I don't know how common this is. These moods hit me most when I am unhappy, which is reasonable if you think about it. This comic was made during a bout of sadness, and in a way it simulated my impulse to leave and go far away. It simulated it and it also simulated its probable outcome of marginalization, of alienation even in the animal state a natura. Is a sad man less sad when he is running away into some cheap primordial fantasy of vast plains and trees and nothingness? It is pitiful that one would choose to return to his human ways just to retain some semblance of sanity through communication and expression, even more pitiful that he would have nowhere to send his messages. Pitiful, and unambiguously human.

The human state of self-awareness is inherently pathological. There are ways a living mechanism can break and become evolutionary deadwood. They are the exact same ways through which a living mechanism lucks out on a new characteristic that advances it in the food-chain. Genetic mutation is an 'error' in this way, the results of this 'error' are painted as favorable or unfavorable strictly in the practical terms of whether the mutated creature seems to survive better or worse. Self-awareness for the human is an evolutionary variation that was in this sense, excellent in keeping humans alive and in control and thriving. However there exist pathologies that are special to the thinking, feeling being that are completely alien to your cat, or even more, to a cockroach. These pathologies will brand us evolutionary deadwood. These are existential concerns, or to say, they emerge from the human ability to discern between itself and its environment and to plot a theoretical end to his life by comparing to outward death. Your cat doesn't know it will die, nor does it know it is governed by chemical impulses nor does it really "know" anything, because it is not self-aware. Your computer doesn't "know" anything either in the exact same way. Every day we breed small, inward deaths inside us through the knowledge of the outward death, through comparison and contrast with otherness. Fantasy and reality in constant, brutal friction. The same tools that enable us to overcome are the ones that destroy us. This self-awareness creates an illusion that somehow the conscious, that small part of a very complicated, interfacing mechanism that is a human being, is 'in control', is holding the metaphysical rudder of the being and makes free choices, unaffected by each and every fiber of its mechanism. Pathology. This comic is yet another examination of this pathology in action. For what is more broken than the machine that has been given the ability to say 'I am broken'?