Drawing Process: Using Photo References

On January 3, 2016 · 0 Comments

Here’s my part of a panel from Hereville 3. (It’s from page 128, if you have the book and would like to compare.)


I usually don’t use photo reference for figures – it’s difficult to prevent photo-referenced figures from looking lifeless, at least for me (other cartoonists do it better). When I use a photo ref and the resulting drawing looks like it was photo-referenced, I think of that as me “getting beat up by the photo.” But some poses are just too hard to figure out without reference. This three-way hug is definitely one such pose.

So I made my housemates Matt, Maddox and Sydney pose for for this photo (Matt is the girls’ dad), and used that as the basis for my drawing. Even with the photo, there are still differences between the reference and the final image – although there are also bits that are very similar (compare Fruma’s hands to Matt’s). The biggest change was Mirka’s entire figure, and turning Layele’s head so that readers could see her happy expression.

I think I’ve gotten much better at not letting source photos beat up my drawings. In the first Hereville book, there are some drawings that still make me wince because they look so obviously drawn from photos.

Under Process

How a Hereville panel is made

On December 23, 2014 · 0 Comments

Here’s an example from Hereville 3 (in progress). It’s from page 45, a panel in which Mirka is running fast down the porch stairs.

As you can see, it involves work not only by me, but also by my wonderful collaborators Adrian Wallace (who draws the environments) and Jake Richmond (who does the colors). We also use a computer model of Mirka’s house which was created years ago by Mr. Matthew Nolan.


Transcript of image:

In the script I wrote, Mirka was in the house, and then the next scene began with her running through the woods.

When I laid it out, I thought it would be better storytelling to include a transition panel. So I scribbled a little stick-figure of Mirka running down the porch stairs.

Then I did a slightly more detailed version, so that I could look at the page layout and see if I liked it, and also so that folks like my editor and Adrian Wallace (who draws the environments) could understand what I intended.

Months later, after I had completed writing and laying out the entire book, I did an “underdrawing” showing Mirka’s pose and (hopefully) correctly sketching her proportions.

In the underdrawing, I drew Mirka lifting her skirt as she runs down the stairs, which helps make her look more desparate (and is also more realistic).

Using the underdrawing as a guide, I did a much tighter drawing of Mirka running down the stairs. And using THAT drawing as a guide, I drew Mirka again, in the final black lines that get printed in the comic book.

At that point, I send the page to Adrian Wallace, who draws the environments around Mirka. One tool Adrian uses to create his drawings are 3d computer models of the environments. Adrian often creates the models himself, but in this case he used a model of Mirka’s house which was created years ago by Matthew Nolan.

Adrian merges his background with my drawing, and then the whole thing is sent to Jake Richmond. Jake first goes through and does flat colors on everything, using a horribly limited color palette I chose in consultion with Jake.

After Jake finishes laying down the flat colors, he goes over the colors again, this time adding highlights and shading.

And finally, the completed panel:

Under Process

Experimenting with a Hereville T-shirt

On November 11, 2014 · 0 Comments

I’m experimenting with a Hereville T-shirt; I’ve ordered a sample shirt in my size from OOshirts. I chose them because they seemed like a good-quality company and they carry a large range of sizes (I can’t abide companies that only go up to 2x or 3x). Once I’ve received the shirt from them, I’ll post a report on how it came out (and photos!).

Full disclosure: They’re giving me a $50 coupon in exchange for that link. If the sample shirt turns out well, I’ll use the coupon to order shirts for Jake and Adrian. And my mom. 🙂

Meanwhile, here’s the artwork for the front of the shirt:


It’s based on a page in Hereville book 3.

Further updates as events warrant!

Violent Threats Are An Infringement On Free Speech

On October 10, 2014 · 1 Comments


Bellechere, a professional costumer and popular cosplayer, has posted that she won’t be attending New York Comic Con, despite having a pass.

A man who didn’t like me saying that I cosplay for myself, not for other people, threatened extreme physical violence against me if I went to NYCC. He even went so far as to brag about his SO being in the NYPD, so he’d ‘get away with it’. My local authorities shrugged and told me there was nothing they could do (even though I tracked down the man’s name and home address). The NYPD gave me a run-around on the phone that resulted in nothing but wasted time. ReedPop refused to answer any concerned emails I sent them. So, while I don’t want to back down and let a bully win, I’m not exactly wanting to be knocked out and raped (his threats) either.

In an update, Bellechere reports that ReedPop (the company that runs NYCC) finally got in touch with Bellechere after Bellchere’s post – apparently they are saying that her previous emails (sent through their online “contact us” form) were not received.

Re: FBI. Friends of mine (cosplayers who have had similar threats/stalker issues) who have tried to involve the FBI regarding online threats/harassment have had extremely little luck in being taken seriously. For one friend it took over a year to get a simple restraining order. I dealt with a lot of anxiety when this was happening, and I didn’t have the time or energy to be put through another fruitless run-around. Needless to say, I’m extremely jaded regarding the justice system.

~ That said, ‘justice’ dealt by the people (ex: ‘outing’ the man by releasing name and address) is something I’ve been dissuaded from. When I approached the authorities regarding this, they told me not to rally people against this person, or I could be charged with organized harassment.

[…]We live in a world where ‘she was asking for it’ is still used as an excuse to sexual assault when a woman is wearing tight/revealing clothing. You know that if something happened to me, while wearing one of my costumes, that’s exactly what people would say. The blame would be placed on me, for what I was wearing, rather than on the assailant.

I don’t know Bellechere, but what she’s gone through should make everyone in comics culture furious. I hate this shit, because it’s horrible that bullies win, because misogyny sucks, and also because as a comics professional I want the comics community to be so much better than this.

In the past, when I’ve gotten into arguments about threats like those against Bellechere, I’ve been told that they shouldn’t be subject to legal penalty because free speech. There is a reasonable concern about the possibility of government overreach, although that concern can be overstated.

But the most relevant free speech issue here is that Bellechere’s right to free speech. Somehow, people rarely seem as concerned about Bellechere’s free speech as they are about the free speech of the people making the threats. Bellechere has effectively lost her right to free speech when she’s chased away from public events by rape threats that our legal system refuses to address. Let’s begin protecting free speech by addressing Bellechere’s lost right to free speech.

That the FBI and the NYC Police apparently refuse to take rape threats against a woman delivered over the internet seriously is no surprise, but it is appalling, disgusting, and misogynistic as hell. They should be ashamed. ReedPop, who runs NYCC, should be ashamed, embarrassed, apologetic, and falling all over themselves to explain how they’re going to fix this so Bellechere can safely attend next year’s NYCC. (To their credit – and the credit of the feminist website The Mary Sue, which has been pushing NYCC on this issue – their website now sports a clear anti-harassment policy, and they’ve put up signs like this one at NYCC. But how vigorously they address the threats against Bellechere is one way we’ll know how seriously they’re taking their new policy.)

The comics community doesn’t have to belong to the sexual harassers and the dirtbags who make threats. It should belong to professionals who love comics and want it to be a place for all our fans, girls and women included. It should belong to fans, including fans like Bellechere, who show their love for the stories and characters by bringing their own creativity to cons. And it should belong to kids like my nieces Sydney (10) and Maddox (8), who love cosplaying at conventions and are big fans of well-known cosplayers like Bellechere. I hope they’ll continue being fans and cosplayers as they get older – and I damn sure hope that they never get threatened the way Bellechere’s been threatened.

The US already has laws against “true threats” which make it a felony to make a threat of violence that a reasonable person could take seriously. But our legal system refuses to take “true threats” delivered via the internet seriously. That must change. The person who threatened Bellechere should be arrested, should be enjoined with threat of prison from ever again contacting Bellechere or being within 500 feet of her, and very possibly should spend time in prison (or perhaps a halfway house or some form of mandated therapy). Until that can happen, Bellechere and others who are threatened will not have full access to their free speech. And that is the most pressing free speech issue here.

* * *

Some recommended reading regarding misogynistic threats on the internet:

Trouble at the Koolaid Point — Serious Pony (Very long but worth reading). (If you’re not familiar with the context for this one, you can read the author’s – Kathy Sierra’s – Wikipedia entry.)

The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

Let’s Be Real: Online Harassment Isn’t ‘Virtual’ For Women

When Misogynist Trolls Make Journalism Miserable for Women – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic

Superhero Changes: Thor is a Lady, Batgirl is a Hipster

On July 15, 2014 · 0 Comments

There have been two superhero changes announced this week, both to fairly big-name characters. That means nothing in the long run, because big-name characters always revert back to the original form after a while, but that’s also what’s sort of cool about these mainstream comic book characters – they can continuously be retold and rebuilt in different ways, and if you don’t like the new version, just check back again in a year or two.

First of all, Marvel Comics announced that Thor will be a woman (thanks to Guthrie for pointing this out in comments). See, in the Thor comic book, anyone who is worthy (noble, brave and so forth) and picks up the big Thor hammer becomes a new incarnation of Thor (a fairly blatant imitation of Green Lantern’s ring). I don’t think this has come up in quite a while, but in the classic Walt Simonson run in the 1980s this feature was used to make Thor an orange-skinned alien named Beta Ray Bill for an extended plotline. He was also a frog for three issues.

Anyway, the new Thor:


I’m feeling underwhelmed by this costume design. First of all, boob-plates suck as armor. And is that a belly window below the boob plate? No, no, no. Plus it’s sort of a dull design – if Marvel had gone for a female Thor a quarter-century ago, it might have looked like this. It says “female Thor,” but it has no personality beyond that. Points for giving her pants, I guess.

But what about the coolness factor of Thor being a woman? Well, it might be cool, if the comic is well-written – but this costume design doesn’t bode well, because it suggests that they didn’t give much thought to this beyond the gimmick. Also, this particular character change comes with an exparation date, because there is no way Marvel won’t have Thor revert to being a big buff guy by the time either Avengers 2 or Thor 3 come out.

Meanwhile, over at DC, fan-favorite feminist writer Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl is coming to an end.1 Interestingly, rather than continuing the mood of Simone’s run – which has been classic Bat-book grimdark – the new creative team has decided that Barbara Gordon will lose all her possessions (and her current costume) in a fire, move to Gotham’s equivalent of hipster Brooklyn, attend grad school, and have a tone that they claim will be a mix of “Veronica Mars,” “Sherlock,” and – implausibly – “Girls.” Here’s the new costume design:


This is a MUCH better costume design – recognizably Batgirl, but full of personality and telling a story. (After the fire, the character puts together a new costume out of thrift store finds.) Dean Trippe at Project Rooftop (a superhero costume design blog) writes:

This look, a collaboration from Babs and Cameron, features such wonderful clarity and control. The overall vibe reminds me of the jacketed look of my first Batgirl redesign (don’t look at it, it was ages ago), which helped launch this entire enterprise here at P:R, but this has so much more detail and cleverness. It’s physical. It’s stylish. It’s practical at every level. The over-the-ears cowl, the snap-away cape, everything about this new Batgirl is wicked.

Also, all the seams in DC costumes since the “new 52” design have really annoyed me, because they look inauthentic – as if the designer doesn’t know what seams are or how they function. In contrast, the seams here not only look good, they look plausible.

Will the comic be any good? I hope so. It’s possible that the creators will end up doing a charmless book full of sexist “she’s so girly and silly” cliches. But the costume bodes well – it suggests that they have a strong concept and have thought it through. And I like that there are women on this creative team (as there were on the previous team, of course).

P.S. There’s an amazing amount of new Batgirl fanart already.

P.P.S. The “NOT spandex” note and illustration cracks me up. (“Spandex” is a superhero term of art meaning “body paint,” it appears.)

  1. I’m not going to get into how much it sucks that DC turned Oracle into Batgirl, but it REALLY SUCKS. It does demonstrate that even great and long-lasting changes to major Marvel and DC characters eventually revert. []

Fruma Costume Design for Hereville book 3

On April 4, 2014 · 0 Comments


I can just make up outfits on the fly, rather than stopping drawing pages to design an outfit, but the resulting clothing tends to be extremely repetitive and bland. Much better to try and think the outfit through, and wind up with something that doesn’t look exactly like all the other outfits I’ve drawn Fruma in. (Although it’s clear that Fruma likes horizontal stripes, since I think this is the third or fourth time I’ve used horizontal strips in one of her outfits.) I haven’t shown Fruma wearing boots before, but this story takes place in the autumn, so I think boots make sense.

I like this outfit; it seems to occupy a point partway between frumpy and pirate.

Under Process

Costume design for Hereville book 3

On March 23, 2014 · 0 Comments


Hereville Wins An Oregon Book Award! (And I Am Surprised)

On March 18, 2014 · 0 Comments

I attended the Oregon Book Awards tonight with my friend Becky Hawkins; Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite was nominated for the “Graphic Literature” category, but had no chance of winning, since the competition included Joe Sacco and Craig Thompson, both of whom are 600-pound gorillas of cartooning awards (and deservedly so). And also nominated was my pal Shannon Wheeler, who is a friggin’ New Yorker cartoonist, and an award-winning gorilla himself, albeit perhaps more of a 450-pound gorilla.

So I had NO chance.

And then I WON!!!!!!!


I can’t possibly describe how surprised I was. (And thrilled. And honored.)

BTW, Joe Sacco wasn’t there tonight, but Craig Thompson greeted me afterwards with a big hug and congratulated me. (I had only met him once before, but he seems very nice). And Shannon was also very nice, but of course I know him well enough to expect him to be gracious.

This little girl sure looks a lot like Mirka

On March 17, 2014 · 0 Comments

A photo from an episode of the sitcom “Parks and Recreation” that I saw on Twitter.

I bet Mirka would love to have a landmine.

Cybil Award Winner!

On February 14, 2014 · 0 Comments

I’m thrilled to announce that Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite has won the 2013 Cybil Award for best middle-grade graphic novel!


You can see the full list of winners here. Congratulations to all my fellow winners. Congrats as well to all the nominees in my category: Matt Phelan, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, Nathan Hale, Jennifer Holm, Matthew Holm, and Greg Ruth.

It’s an amazing list (John Lewis? When will I ever again be on the same list as John Lewis?), and I really am honored to be on it.

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