For January 2004

January 8th, 2004 

The Beginning Of The Comic!

The comic begins today, with the cover. Tomorrow, we will have the first actual page. Isn't logical order swell? Although I am a bit worried about my ability to live up to it, I am going to try to paint a new page five days a week. I hope I can do it. If not, I will throttle back to, say three days a week, or at worst case, once a week. I am shooting for a solid weekday schedule, however!

The artwork for Heliotrope is very different from that of Unicorn Jelly. Not only is every page fully painted, but I am trying to create a very story-book quality, which depends on emotion and color rather than exacting lines. Indeed, I will be experimenting with wriggling lines and twisting shapes as tools for creating emotion. Gone are the days of precision pixels, this comic is primarily about feelings. I am also trying to capture the feel of the original Kamishibai the story is expanded from.

The basic design of the Pastel Defender Heliotrope website has been -more or less- finalized. I am attempting to create a light, airy feel, with a painterly quality to it. The background is Japanese Unryu paper, as adapted by me, and I have used Heliotrope as a dominant color overall. I want to have a look that is different from that of Unicorn Jelly, but which borrows from what I felt I did right on that site. I am also following carefully my own rule that every graphic doodad has to link to something and be useful; for example, the Japanese logo universally links to the index page.

January 12th, 2004 

The Process Is Everything

For me, the most important part of starting a project, such as an online comic, is working out the basic process by which it can be done. It's really a bit of playing 'Henry Ford', really; the goal is to work out the most efficient possible methodology for churning out the work, what amounts to a production line. This can be very difficult, because while just sitting down and doing the work is easy enough, the problem is to make how the work is done something simple and easy enough that I will neither forget what I am doing in the middle of it (I have a very, very poor memory), or become so burdened by the sheer labor of it, that it becomes hateful to do. Trying to find a 'golden routine' to follow is what I am currently in the middle of. Today's page, 002, took far too long to finish. Worse, I got confused and blew away page 001 by accident; thankfully Stephen was able to restore it from the system backup from last night. I need to work out some means to make this work easier and faster and simpler somehow, if I am to hope to continue a five-pages-a-day work schedule.

On the plus side, however, I am learning more with each page. However, I was not satsified with the design of the art for page 002. Grey, the Shopkeeper and Teal, the customer with a taste for unusual toys, I like, they are neat characters, but they really don't fit the artstyle for Heliotrope overall. I think. Maybe it will work out just fine that background characters look one style, while the main characters are more...anime and abstract. I am not sure. In any event, I am too exhausted to redraw them. They stay as is.

On Chatoyance

Chatoyanics is the primary technology of Pastel, and it Makes Ship Go (to quote the Pakleds from Star Trek The Next Generation).

Red Chatoyanite, for instance, is used for technologies involving heat and demolition, Orange Chatoyanite confers motion, Yellow Chatoyanite is light, Green Chatoyanite takes light into the radiations used for communications and can also transfer energy, Teal Chatoyanite has medicinal properties and affects living matter, Blue Chatoyanite opposes the equivalent of gravity in Pastel and also reflects forces in general, Purple Chatoyanite is still being researched but seems to directly affect spacetime at some level, and Heliotrope a complete unknown, and Pastellian science has yet to break the mystery of what Heliotrope Chatoyance might be used for. Indeed, the color itself represents mystery in the culture of Pastel.

January 16th, 2004 

Learning The Ropes

I think I am starting to get the hang of the new tools I am using. One thing that is new to me is the concept of layers. Layers are just that, seperate layers of a drawing (I work in Tif format for the originals, in 2250-3000 size pages) rather like overlapping transparent cels in animation. I can, for instance, draw line art on one layer, then effectively back-paint the line art just as I might an animation cel, by painting on a layer beneath it. This makes painting the images much, much easier, and has cut down my production time a bit. It is not as useful as DPaint's masking tools, but it works. What I really miss is a decent copy feature. I recently found that my main tool -Alias Sketchbook Pro- has a copy feature, but it lacks any capacity for transparency, and it can only capture rectangular regions. Worse, it does not preserve the transparency of the layer structure either. It is virtually useless to me. I have not yet used it. Lettering is done in JASC Paintshop Pro, and is very slow work.
I am still learning Corel Painter.

I am using these brand-new, state of the art tools, and I have to say, aside from the brilliance of the PC Tablet hardware, the software for art tools is lacking. Oh, there are some fancy features, to be sure, but the actual ease of use, of interface and functionality, of overall usefulness, is still bested by the ancient, creaking and moldy old Amiga DPaint.

I am shocked that an ancient program is still better designed, and more efficient, than the newest programs on the market. Shame that DPaint is so old, and so limited in terms of colors, memory, and operating system. An updated Dpaint would, at a stroke, uttely best anything and everything on the market. But then, DPaint was not designed by a programmer, it was designed by an artist, for how artists work. Alas.

So I am slogging away at these at once modern, and yet behind-the-curve tools, but I am seeing progress as I slowly figure out ways to work around their shortcomings.

Oh, for the power of grabbing anything on the screen, transparency maintained, with but a single swipe of the pointer, and then painting with that bitmap as a brush, instantly, effortlessly, using it as a stamp, using it to fill areas, using it in every possible way, without once having to SELECT, COPY TO CLIPBOARD, CUT, PASTE TO IMAGE, REPOSITION, and DESELECT. So many slow, slow steps, where in Dpaint, there is  At least the tablet and pen absolutely ROCK. 

Then again, having to draw and paint every single pixel of image on the screen uniquely, definately keeps my art honest. No cheating by reusing convienient and easy caches of spare parts, that's for sure. WAAAAAaaaa.....sob...snerk!


January 20th, 2004 

Keeping The Pace

Hot damn, I think I very well might be able to keep a five-days a week schedule going. There is no question that doing Pastel Defender Heliotrope takes me about five to six hours to do each page, and yes, that is a long time, but the fact of it is that it is also a fairly fun time too. The Wacom tablet is just plain fun to use, and what I can do with color and shading using it is...completely new for me. In fact, it just feels incredible. I absolutely love being able to work with color this way, a way that I could never hope to do with a mouse. I just need to work on finding simpler and more efficient methodologies. I know someday the novelty will wear off, and I have to prepare for that time. But I see real hope now, I have done eight strips, one per week-day, and it seems to be working so far. 

January 27th, 2004 

So Much Information!

One thing I am really enjoying about doing Pastel Defender Heliotrope is how much I am learning about the Universe of Pastel. All I ever saw of this cosmos, and the people who live in it, came from my little Kamishibai story of many years back. Seeing the cosmos of that story expanded, and finding out all the incredible details of how it works, how the laws of physics operate there, how the human civilization functions there...all of this is so exciting to me. Of course, I am getting vastly more information that I can put into the comic, at least yet. I hope the needs of the story, and also of my energy level simply to draw it all, will allow me to show readers as many of these details as I possibly can, or at least to write about them in the footnotes.

As I draw the comic, my mind is simply exploding with the details of Pastel. How everything works, what most people there believe, the dominant social structures...lots about the native life forms that predate humans -I do intend to show these in time, because they are truly astounding- and...plot spoiling details about where the Pastellians came from originally, what they know about all of that, and how it affects them on an existential level. Their past is disturbing for them, at least for those that understand it, and for the others, indeed for most, there is the monotheistic religion native to the humans of Pastel, the worship of Godan, The Bringer Of Unity. Oh, we will see much more of that.

I am getting the time to do comics down, now it is taking me anywhere from three to five hours, which is significantly better than six to eight hours per page, and pretty much in the ballpark of the time I took to do Unicorn Jelly. A typical Unicorn Jelly page took me about three hours (five for the big nine-panel strips towards the end), which often left me with energy to do the odd Alternate Universe bonus strip. Unfortunately, the work is actually harder, at least on my hands, since I am very unused to clutching a pen for so long anymore. A decade of mouse-only work, with very little paper drawing on the side at all has left me with weak muscles and sore fingers. I also clutch the pen too tightly, the death grip I have used my whole life on pens is something I am struggling to retrain myself to do differently. Light touch, Jenny!  One problem with getting older is that things like muscles and bones tend to hurt more, and get bruised over nothing. I need to teach myself work-arounds for this inevitability of life. Or just suck it up and soldier on. I am hoping for clever work-arounds.

My goal is to get doing the strip down to three hours. Then I can do many more bonus works, Omake pages, to flesh out all of the wonderful information and details about Pastel in the most effective way.

Today, just for a moment, I felt really good about my artwork on this project. I mean, really good, really positive about the art I am doing. That was pretty neat, and I hope I can feel more of that soon. I am very happy with my clouds, and I am liking the way I am painting surfaces. My cartooning sucks, as always, but hey, I do the best I can. Oh...I am proud of putting more motion into the way characters stand and sit though. I think that is working somewhat.


By Jennifer Diane Reitz

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