Page 5 pencils (obstructed story)

I am happy to report that my scanner is working again, so herewith a scan of the pencils for page 5 of our story in progress:

It's very close to the thumbnails and script I posted the other day. I've trimmed the text somewhat and tried to give a clearer sense of what sorts of items Stepan is gathering up: a box with a clasp; a knife; a length of rope; and (hard to render intelligibly at this size) a flint. I've also added a knapsack leaning against the wall near the door when Kalbi gives the all-clear; the faithful dogboy is wearing the knapsack in the last panel.

I will get this inked as soon as circumstances allow. So if you have any changes to recommend...act now!

Thumbnails for p. 6 (obstructed story)

I don't have a lot to say about these, or a lot of time to say it, but I've managed to draft some thumbnails for p. 6, with the hope that I'll drag us back onto our weekly schedule by the end of this week.

Some of this might get edited when I see Mike's pencils for the previous page, and of course it's all up for quibbling and criticism, which is why I'm posting it now. We get a couple of new characters on this page, and some explanation for the way that Stepan's magic works. (I probably need to make it clearer that he destroys whatever thing he uses to cast his spell.)

I also want to change the final speech balloon to say, "They've found us already!"

Here's what I've got. You'll be able to see the Langridge with no problem. The J. Chris Campbell is in the final panel, when the trio on the cart sees the shadowy bad guys all around them:

I think I'm going to enjoy drawing the junk dealers. One of them has already appeared in the story, in the second panel of page one. (He's the bird-like guy with the barrel chest.) The other one is a new design. I wanted him to look a little like a toad. He appears here, in some notes, but I can't guarantee he'll continue to look like that.

What do you think? Are there problems? Things I ought to fix?

Up, Up, and Away

John and I awoke at 5am on Saturday morning to travel to Glens Falls, NY for the Annual Adirondack Balloon festival. Traffic was very congested but we made it in time to watch the launch of over 50 hot air balloons. Here are some photos.

Last Words

What if you had an opportunity to speak to a gathering of friends and family about your values and principles? And what if you knew that the end of your life was imminent? What would you share? What would be the focus of your speech?
Colleges and Universities around the country have been inviting faculty to imagine that they had one last opportunity to speak. They call this the "Last Lecture Series". For Randy Pausch, 46, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, this is not a hypothetical situation. He has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given mere weeks to live. The September 20, 2007 edition of the Wall Street Journal has an article about his inspirational speech. To see excerpts from Professor Pausch's moving and surprisingly humorous lecture,
click here.

Enemies from Between the Panels!

As you can see from Mike's new thumbnails for p. 5 of the Elfworld story, we've been talking about having Arntham's mystery assailant come from a space between the panels of the comic, at least metaphorically. (For a while it sounded we were going to have them live literally between the panels, which seemed to sort of mess up the tone of the piece. I like the tone that Mike's setting up now, though, for sure.)

Anyway, this got me thinking about a couple of manipulations of the two-dimensional comics page that aren't really relevant to our story, but are still pretty interesting. People tend to talk about this sort of manipulation of conventions as "breaking the fourth wall," borrowing a term from theater, though there are ways in which that metaphor doesn't transpose to comics very neatly.

The best known recent instance of this in mainstream comics is probably a moment in the fourth issue of Grant Morrison's Zatanna series, which is collected in the third volume of his Seven Soldiers of Victorycollection: after defeating a scary-powerful bearded evil magician named Zor, Zatanna briefly gains a sense of a world beyond the "scaffolding" and "machinery" of her own world. She holds her hand out to us as we read, and the visible pressure on her fingertips seems to literalize that "fourth wall" metaphor for a moment. (Her hand appears at just about life size, so it's tempting to match your fingertips up to hers while you hold the book.)

It turns out that she's reaching out to the "Seven Unknown Men," who (from what I've read about the series) are supposed to be the writers at DC Comics, or maybe more like their extrusions into the fictional world they write about. There they are, all looking bald and sunglassed, a little like Grant Morrison I guess, with a few typewriter parts in the visual space between them and Zatanna's hand. (What are those things in a typewriter called, that strike the ribbon and the paper? I don't know.)

(These images were drawn by Ryan Sook with Mick Gray.)

But this isn't the sequence that motivated me to make a post on ye olde blogge.

When Mike and I were talking about the enemies coming from the panel gutters, I was reminded of a story in Alan Moore's 1963 series (the issue called Tales of the Uncanny) that features a hero called the Hypernaut fighting a monstrostiy from four-dimensional space. It's a pretty entertaining sequence, and I'm going to post it here, partly just because I know Mike doesn't have a copy of this comic. You can, as usual, click on these images to make them legible.

I think the moment between panels three and four, when the 4-D monster folds a panel to make the Hypernaut shoot himself in the back, is pretty clever, even if it's a little difficult to read. (I think it's the position of the first speech balloon in panel 4 that causes the problem.)

This sequence, with the 4-D monster reaching around the "blueprint" of the locked door, takes advantage of conventional two-dimensional techniques of representation pretty nicely.

(We're not surprised, in panel two, to see the insides of the wall, because that's the easiest way to show that it separates the Hypernaut from the 4-D monster; in panel three, the monster not only reaches around this representation, but bursts slightly out of the right-hand panel border.)

A little bit of trivia: if you're looking at those Hypernaut pages and thinking, "There's something sort of funny about that inking -- it doesn't look like superhero inking," then you've got good intuition. These pages were drawn by "Sturdy Steve Bissette," one of Moore's collaborators from Swamp Thing, but they were inked by none other than "Charmin' Chester Brown." Yes, this Chester Brown: the excellent cartoonist behind Louis Riel, The Playboy, and I Never Liked You.

Moore's 1963 series is full of interesting little surprises like that. And no post about 1963 could really be complete without reproducing one of the hilarious mock advertisements that Moore has in each of these comics. I could do a whole post on those, but here's my favorite:

Ah, yes. From the back cover of Tales from Beyond, it's the wonderful world of amazing live SOIL-MONKEYS. Never let it be said that Alan Moore isn't funny. It's sort of surprising that this series hasn't been collected up in some format.

Thumbnails for p. 5 (obstructed story), take 2

Here's an almost total reimagining of page 5, which gets rid of John faster, completes the map, and gets our heroes on the road with some awareness of a possible threat:
The constraints:

In panel 2, Stepan casts a quick confusion charm on John to persuade him to "look somewhere else," as Kalbi suggested in panel 1. John's face gets weird (the Bagge) and we see Stepan's hand casting the spell with some bright magical things (the Ditko).

Starting with the second tier, the space between panels starts to get wider, and in those spaces, starting between panels 5 and 6, we start to see glimpses of horned, shadowy beings, identical to Arntham's assailant back on page 2. In panel 8, Arntham refers to his having "glimpsed shapes like his in shadowy realms invisible to normal eyesight, a place sharing the same space as our own, but escaping notice when we fail to look for it." This is Arntham basically referring to the gutter between panels (the Segar).

1) Caption: This constable is a nuisance!
Kalbi: Maybe you should look somewhere else?
John: You think that's a good idea, eh?
Caption: Time for another spell...

2) Caption: Just a quick confusion charm, with the help of some bright things.
John: Uh...

3) Caption: ...and John is on his way.
John: ...That does sound like a good idea...yes, why not...
Stepan (whisper): Lock the door behind him, Kalbi.

4) Caption: We hustle Arntham's new body inside and put him back together.
Arntham: Thank you both...If John had declared me dead, I'd be banished now as an undead man. ... Which reminds me...

5) Arntham: ...Did you see who attacked me?
Stepan: Someone strange...A horned man with an animal's snout.

6) Arntham: That's worrisome. I need to finish the map, then we all need to leave. Quickly, now...

7) Caption: I grab supplies while Kalbi keeps watch and Arntham does his work. When he's done, I have to ask:
Stepan: Does the horned man have anything to do with the map?
Arntham: Quite likely...

8) Arntham: I've glimpsed shapes like his in shadowy realms invisible to normal eyesight, a place sharing the same space as our own, but escaping notice when we fail to look for it.
Stepan: But how can you see him?

9) Arntham: These eyes of mine are useless, but a magician friend helped me develop other ways of seeing.
Stepan: ...Ipthorin?
Kalbi: All clear outside, Arntham!

10) Caption: At Kalbi's signal, we head for the city gates as dusk descends. A nagging thought occurs...
Stepan: Arntham? What if the shadowfolk are looking back at you?
Arntham: They probably are. All the more reason to find Ipthorin, eh?

Comments welcome...

Thumbnails for p. 5 (obstructed story), take 1

Okay. My scanner has chosen a bad time to be on the fritz, so this is a digital photo. I hope it's more or less legible. You can always consult the script below:
1) Inside the shop.
Stepan as Arntham: Why, certainly. Kalbi would be happy to show you our merchandise. I'll be right back!
John: That's not what I—

2) Inside the studio.
John (through shut door to the studio): Hey!
Stepan (caption): I can feel John pounding on the door. I'd better fit Arntham to his new body, and fast...but I can't leave his old corpse in the middle of the room! Quickly now...

3) Inside the studio.
Stepan (caption): ...first to hide the headless body...
John (through door): Arntham? What's that noise?

4) In the alley outside the back door to the shop.
Stepan (caption): ...then to attach the bodiless head...
John (through door): Arntham?
Arntham: Gaaah...

5) Scurrying back to the door outside the studio.
Stepan (caption): ...then to clothe the blind old man before the sight of him makes me blind...
John (through door): Arntham!
Arntham: What is ... ?
Stepan: Slip this on quick and get inside! There's a constable making trouble!

6) Inside the studio, same angle as in 2.
Stepan (caption): ...and then to persuade John that nothing's amiss.
John: Arntham! Why wouldn't you answer me? That mutt of yours wouldn't let me in here!
Arntham: Eh? Well, know Halfhoundlings—they're pretty dogged!

7) Inside the studio.
John: Lucky for him you're here, Arntham. Otherwise—but who's this youth with you? And why is your robe dripping?
Stepan (caption): Time to get "persuasive"...

8) Inside the studio.
Stepan (caption): Just a quick confusion charm...
John: More strange sounds outside—I'd better have a look.

9) On the road.
Stepan (caption): After John left the shop, Arntham thought we'd better leave Drena...
Kalbi: Good riddance to those people! I can't keep relying on Arntham to protect me against their ill-will toward us animal folk.
Stepan: Ill-will?
Arntham: Too much trouble with weres in Drena's past.

10) On the road.
Stepan: What about the present, Arntham? Your attacker looked like a man with an animal head—horned, even.
Arntham: Eh? Then it's as I thought. The people of Elsewhere don't want me to chart their city.

11) On the road.
Stepan: Why not? How much trouble could that cause them?
Arntham: You tell me, boy...because it's your master Ipthorin who wants me to map it.

I'm afraid I took all the easy constraints—largely because I had too much exposition to deal with (Isaac and I have exchanged a lot of story notes offline about this page, and there's a lot of backstory involved). In the second panel, I'll use the Bagge to indicate Stepan's agitation at the situation he's in. In the third panel, I'll use the Langridge with peek-a-boo bonus to show the headless corpse inside the trunk. And in the eighth panel, I'll use the Ditko to add oomph to Stepan's charm. That saddles Isaac with the more challenging constraints, the Segar & the J. Chris Campbell. Sorry, chief. But think of the possibilities, especially now that we're getting out of town!

Anyway, that's what I've got so far. Help me out, folks—time is of the essence!

To Blog or Not to Blog.....

If there is anyone still checking this blog.....I guess I owe an explanation for my long absence.
The truth is....I've been enjoying best summer since Junior High.
You remember those days, before you had summer jobs. The days of July and August stretched out in front of you, unpaved and unscheduled and filled with mosquitoes, sunburns, fireflies, campfires, and adventures. Nat King Cole sang in 1963 about the kind of summer I experienced in 2007.
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer

I had forgotten how enjoyable summer could be. Walks in the park; camping in our pop up camper which has been setting in the yard the last three years unused;;fishing with friends, children, and grandchildren; spending weekend evenings at the local dirt tracks; watching and suffering with the Mets on the TV in the back porch; sailing on Lake George; boating on the Sacandaga and Caroga lakes; licking an ice cream cone at Dan's; growing an abundance of tomatoes; Saturday mornings at the Farmer's Market; surprising friend Karl on his 20Th anniversary of ordination in Pennsylvania; leading worship on Labor Day weekend at Diamond Point Community Church on Lake George with my entire family in attendance, chasing fireflies with the grandchildren; working on a Habitat Build in Schenectady; and spending a delightful week at a friend's camp on Hunt Lake.
So dear and patient reader, if any of you still remain....that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Granddaughters' Kaylyn and Jena Grandchildren at Diamond Point John and Mary at Diamond Point

Page 4, inked

Okay. Here's the inked version of page 4. I wound up cross-hatching a lot on this one, maybe more than I ought to have. I wanted to make the shop (and the alley) look a little gloomy. Plus, cross-hatching was one way to make the signs drop into the background even on the black-and-white version of the story. (You'll notice that I also broke the letterforms a lot, which will hopefully make the signs read less like captions or speech balloons, even though they're mostly in my lettering hand.)

Notable changes from the pencils are few (except for the shading): mostly I just firmed up a few places where I'd left the pencils a little loose. I made one mistake with the orientation of Kalbi's dewclaw (in panel 3) and had to erase the mistake in Photoshop. Hopefully that's not noticeable.

You can, as usual, see a bigger version of this if you click on it:

That bigger version will appear at larger-than-postcard size, but believe me that it has 70% of the information (pixels) that the actual postcard will have—so it ought to be a good gauge of legibility, even at a slightly larger size.

Now let's see where Mike goes with page five!

Ben Towle's Constraints to Us (pp. 5-6)

Well, I know that some people are really itching to see Ben Towle's constraints for our in-progress Elfworld submission, so I'm going to go ahead and post them. Page 4 is all lettered now, and I'm planning to get the inks finished on Sunday. I'll post that page as soon as it's scanned. Meanwhile, please enjoy contemplating the direction of the story with these constraints in place.

Ben said, "Looking over the constraints up to this point, I found myself laughing out loud at 'The Corrigan,' mainly because I kept hearing it in my head as if it were being pronounced by a sports announcer narrating a past sporting event—as in, 'the catcher has signaled The Corrigan, but the pitcher shakes it off...'

"Anyway, I wandered over to my book shelf and grabbed some comics that I like and decided to isolate some formal element from each of them that I liked and make each of those a constraint. Although I've listed them as 'The xxxx,' none of these things are unique to any of these cartoonists, nor necessarily 'signature moves' from each.

"They're all formal, but hopefully they'll have a significant enough effect on the process that they'll have narrative effect as well."

And here are his constraints:

1. The Ditko: At least one panel must prominently feature a literal drawing of a character’s hands as well as some sort of non-literal graphic representation of something: a spell being cast, a change in psychological state, emanata of some sort, etc.

The Bagge: At some point a character must be drawn off-model in order to convey his or her emotional or psychological state.

The Langridge: At least one panel must be round and without text or dialog of any sort. Bonus points if it’s serving as in “peek-a-boo” panel as in the first item from the example.

The J. Chris Campbell: Somewhere, a change in the amount of visual background or setting included in the final panel of a sequence must serve as a “reveal” in the narrative.

The Segar: Include somewhere, some element of self-reference to some formal element of the comics art form.

(Also recently spotted in Pearls Before Swine)

So: there they are. Mike will be drawing p. 5. I'm really curious to see which of these five he'll be leaving me with.

Pencils for p. 4 (obstructed story)

Well, Mike's not going to see these until the weekend's nearly over, because his observances are going to keep him from using fire (such as the kind that powers computers), if I understand this correctly, until Saturday at sundown.

This means I need to rely on you, our reader, particularly over the next day or two, to help me spot any problems with p. 4 of the story we're planning to submit to the next Elfworld anthology. Mainly, I think I've got things worked out: there's a sign in every panel (though some of them are mostly obscured or only partially in-panel), and there's a disguise presented and then revealed (to the reader). The script has changed slightly from my thumbnails, which isn't unusual for me. I also reconsidered the composition of a couple of panels, to make the storytelling a little clearer. (Panel five, in particular, is my third attempt. I think it's finally working.)

You can click on this to enlargify it:

I include my pencil in this picture so Tom can see what tiny writing his constrains have pushed me into. (I do not harbor any illusions that it will all be legible on the postcards; whatever; they'll still be signs, even if you can't read them all.)

I also include, in panel 5, some of my perspective guide lines, for my comics students who sometimes check this blog, so they can see that I, too, struggle with getting it all to look right. (My solution this time? Draw the walls and furniture first.)

I've given Arntham's business a name ("Inner Eye Impossible Cartography"), and I've listed a few of the things the shop specializes in charting: forgotten realms, lost worlds, invisible cities,and undiscovered countries. Those sound like fun, as long as you're able to return from their bourns...

Coming soon (probably tomorrow): Ben Towle's constraints for pages 5 and 6.

EDIT (1:30 PM): I just noticed (and fixed—phew!) a couple of panels in which I'd drawn the crenellations on Stepan's chest going the wrong way, up from that black band instead of down. I'm not sure how that happened, but rest assured that the error won't be perpetuated in the inked version of the page.

Page 3, inked

Whew! Well, now we're back on schedule (and I have good evidence of how much better is it to stay on it in the first place). Here's page 3:

There are two stray lines that need a dose of Wite-Out, one at the top of the first close-up of Kalbi and one at the left of the panel with the door in the beam. The second of these looks like a violation of Tom's constraint about the grid, but it's not really, because it's a boo-boo. At any rate, once those are gone and I've tidied up one other little Rapidograph smudge, this page should be ready for a high-res scan to send to Isaac for coloring.

I want to thank all those who made comments to help me revise this page to its present shape. I'm a lot happier with the new design than I was with the design in the first thumbnail. And after 21 panels in a four-tier grid, I think it's refreshing to see a different layout. So thanks as well to Tom Hart, for providing the constraint that forced me to think outside of the boxes!

But please don't let this just-posted page distract you from Isaac's preceding post, featuring his thumbnails for page 4. I'm sure he'll be wanting your comments on those, so click back and let him know what you think!

Page 4 Thumbnails (a little early)

Mike's leaving me with a few puzzlers at the turn from page three to page four: Why is Kalbi in such a hurry? Who was that mystery assailant? Why doesn't Kalbi seem bothered by his master's death? How on earth is Stepan going to get his map, if the only man who can draw it is dead now? I've been thinking about these things for a couple of days, and I'm still stumped on a couple of them.

Meanwhile, our pal Ben Towle, who is going to be writing the next set of five constraints (covering pages 5 and 6), wants to send us his constraints early, which means I need to give him some sense of where the story is going next.

And I have two of Tom Hart's constraints to us left to fulfill: the "disguise revealed" and the "signs and labels."

Well, here's what I've come up with. It's a rough thumbnail, but you can enlarge it by clicking on it, and it ought to be mostly legible:

That bone is one of Arntham's bones, and it's going to grow a new body for him, which they'll screw his old head on top of. Unfortunately, a constable is arriving to complicate matters for Stepan and Kalbi.

The "disguise" element is Stepan himself, pretending to be Arntham. He has cast a minor spell to help the illusion be more effective—that's what the symbol for Mercury in that speech balloon is supposed to be. The signs and labels will mostly be little ads and invitations on display in Arntham's shop; there will also be some signs visible in the alley in panels 1 and 2.

In order to put signs on all the walls, I had to create another room to be Arntham's shop (instead of his studio, which was bereft of signs). I made a little diagram for myself to halfway suggest how the doors work, though I admit it doesn't make much sense architecturally. Also, I drew a couple of versions of the constable: garlic-shaped helmet, or smurf hat?

Feel free to kibitz about the layout, the story developments, the constraints, or the smurf hat.

Page 3 Thumbnails (Obstructed Story), take 2

Okay, I've tried a revised approach to page 3. I've clarified some of the exposition, tried to write more dialogue as opposed to captions, and have toyed with using panels as focal points to zero in on parts of larger background images. See for yourselves:

So: better? Worse? Suggestions welcome!

Page 2, inked

Well, I got the second page of our constrained fantasy story done four and a half days late. While that seems to bode ill for our schedule (and it's All My Bad), I'm hellbent on catching up on page three over the next three days, to make sure that Isaac isn't delayed on my account.

Somehow, I managed to squeeze in even more panels than master miniaturist Isaac. Check it out:

A couple notes:

While basically finished, the page needs a few tweaks before it's printed. I forgot to make the tail of Arntham's word-balloon wiggly in the first panel, and I need to remove the ink smudges on the caption in panel 9 (evidence that I'm still a novice at using a Rapidograph with a ruler!).

I also wonder if the first tier, which looks a little bare, needs some real backgrounds for the bazaar ambience. I'm hoping that Isaac provided enough of that on page 1 that the effect will sort of carry over to these panels.

As for the constraints, to satisfy "the Corrigan" I had to avoid showing any character's face other than Stepan's. That actually worked to my advantage with the mysterious assailant and the dark figure in the doorway—I want these two to look, at least momentarily, like one. For the "entrances and exits" constraint, I was glad I took Isaac's advice to compress the storytelling in the first tier so as to win more room later on; I think it's a lot clearer now that there's an exit in panel 10 and an entrance in panel 11.

Finally, a comment on Ipthorin's toponym. "Wynholm" is a shout-out to Diana Wynne Jones, author of such fantasy novels as Howl's Moving Castle (source for the Miyazaki film) and Dark Lord of Derkholm ("Wynne" + "Derkholm" = "Wynholm," which can be construed as "islet of joy"). The latter novel grew out of another of her projects, the indispensable Tough Guide to Fantasyland, an A-to-Z guide to the conventions and clich├ęs of fantasy literature. And sure enough, we've already invoked several, in this project and in the Mapjam. And I'm sure there are more to come...

Anyway, no time to rest on my inky laurels. I've got to get back to page 3!