Posts in Category “Drawing/comics”
Aug 19, 2020
About a year ago I decided to make a comic with rvr about Quality Engineering/Quality Assurance, explaining what it is and why it is important. There were a couple of breaks in between, partly because of this virus you might have heard of, but it was finally published recently. This post explains a bit the creative process behind it.
As soon as we decided we were going to make the comic, we started brainstorming to figure out how exactly we were going to explain it. We were mostly thinking of metaphors to describe QE people, but also added some associations and aesthetic ideas to the list:
- Wizards, detectives
- Team players, drummers
- Mad scientists making robot helpers
- Creativity, more freedom to build what is needed and adapt
- Build for developer, build for yourself
- James Bond’s Q / Q branch
- Proactive Mr. Wolf
- Rick and Morty
- Something like Mouse Guard? See also paper crafts.
- “Continuous disintegration”.
- SDETs are the real 10x engineers
One of the ideas for the script was to use some kind of Starship Troopers metaphor (“people killing bugs”, or “people making the weapons/tools needed for the soldiers to kill bugs”). We had a certain tension between being serious and in-depth, and being “fun” and grabbing the potential reader’s eye, and we ended up with the idea that we could open with a Starship Troopers scene, but then reveal that it’s just someone’s imagination, and let the rest of the comic be “serious” and more on the explanatory side.
At first we were discussing how to iterate with the storyboard: we were looking for some online collaboration tool that allowed us to build the storyboards, comment on them, and modify them. However, we didn’t find anything I was happy with, and I prefer working on paper for those things, so I decided to just draw a very crude storyboard and take a picture of it. The initial storyboard was like this (click to enlarge):
We discussed it a bit, and after the feedback I create new panels to replace some of the initial ones, and stitched them together in a Frankenstein monster fashion, like so (again, click to enlarge):
If you want to know more about the rationale behind the panels, notice a few things:
- Each line has a meaning, like a sentence in written language. Namely, the first line is opening/attention grabbing (“what happens when there is no QE”), the second expands a bit on the first one but from a serious perspective, the third explains why a development team needs QE, and the last explains the details of how QE achieves what they do and closes.
- Every line ends with a “cliffhanger” to make the reader want to read the next line, and introduce what it is going to be about.
At this point we decided that the storyboard was stable enough to start figuring out how the art would be.
Now that we had a stable storyboard we could look into the final art. We figured that we would still have to iterate, partly because once we used the final art, final font, and final sizes for things… we would probably see things differently: some panel might have too much text, some idea that seems to work in the abstract doesn’t work that well with the final art, etc. So from there we iterated further, but mostly on the language and on details that were relatively easy to change.
The first version with the kind of art we were going to use was this, in black and white:
This gave us a good sense of scale and available space, both for text and for illustrations, so it was much easier to tweak and improve. After a few iterations, we reached the first version with colour! You can see here that the art here has improved, and is at the level we would use in the final version.
Then we kept iterating and, after all the tweaks, reached the final, published version. Notice the difference in the last two panels, and also the text in 3-3:
There you have it! I don’t claim to know what I’m doing, but I love reading about (and writing about) creative processes, and I thought some of you might share my passion for that.
Now the idea is to make at least one more comic related to QE, expanding on more specific problems QE helps solve, or on specific facets on Quality Engineering. We’ll see what we come up with…
Jul 3, 2016
I finally had time to take all my notes for the last scenario I wrote and format them properly in a nice PDF so people can read it and enjoy it.
It’s a horror scenario set in 1914 London, where the protagonists are suffragettes (the radical branch of the suffragist movement). The themes are oppression, feminism and class warfare, but you can play as a random horror/investigation scenario without caring about the underlying themes. In any case, this scenario is for adults, so please don’t play it with younger players without first reworking and adapting it.
I have added a list of resources at the end of the text. It’s obviously not everything I read or took ideas from when I wrote it, but it’s a pretty good starting point that will help narrators retell this story with more context and depth.
Apr 25, 2015
Note: if you think RPGs = Dungeons and Dragons (or otherwise nerdy fantasy), go read “Role-Playing Games as a medium” first!
I started being an RPG narrator as an adult not too long ago, and a whole world opened for me. Although I was convinced I wouldn’t have time to write my own scenarios (stories) and planned to only ever play scenarios written by others, at some point I couldn’t resist writing my own. It wasn’t even important whether I ended up playing any of them, and in fact I haven’t yet, but I find it just so satisfying to write them. It is an interesting, new, creative hobby that fascinates me.
Writing RPG scenarios is a bit like writing a short story, but instead of writing exactly what is going to happen, you develop the mood, the main events, the characters, the locations, and the clues (if applicable), and only as you narrate them can you fill in the specifics. The reason is that in RPGs, you, as a narrator, are not in control of what the protagonists do. For example, instead of deciding that a secondary character says this or that, you can only decide what that character knows, her personality, and her goals. Then, as you play the scenario, you will have to improvise what that character actually says, depending on what the protagonists ask or how they behave.
Writing the second scenario in particular was an enjoyable, immersive experience. I ended up researching a lot to prepare it: the 1920s generally (even learned about make-up!); the Ku Klux Klan; Charleston, West Virginia in the 1920s… I also tried to create a decent-looking document for it, and even tried to make some basic drawings of some of the characters. There was something irresistible about developing this story and using different skills to bring it all together in the most realistic and vivid way I could manage (which is not a lot, but that’s not the point!).
The 1920s fascinate me because they make me think of how prejudices pass unnoticed and/or as positive traits when they are commonplace, something I tried to highlight a bit in my scenario. I will probably improve it a bit in the next weeks but if you’re curious you can download and read the initial version of “Gone Girls”.
Aug 3, 2014
In the last couple of months I have become obsessed with role-playing games again. I used to play a lot in my teens and some in my early twenties, and then completely stopped until around one year ago. Some months ago I decided to be the narrator (as opposed to regular player) and the obsession kicked back in grin. The game I chose was Call of Cthulhu, partly because I was familiar with the setting (stories written by H.P. Lovecraft set in the 1920s) and with the rules, and partly because I think it’s a very flexible game, as in you can centre the games on combat, on investigation, or, my favourite, on emotional tension and social interaction between characters.
In any case, all this Call of Cthulhu, the 1920s and such sparked my imagination and served as a pretty good inspiration to draw characters, different expressions and poses, clothes, hairstyles, etc. As you may know I’m still trying to learn how to “draw properly”, meaning something better than stick figures, so I need the inspiration and the practice. I’ve been drawing a lot lately and finally I decided to make a website with my drawings so that I can see how I improve over time. Some of my favourite drawings follow, but you can see all of them in the new http://drawings.hcoder.org.
And finally, if you’re interested in trying out role-playing games and Call of Cthulhu in particular, Chaosium has published a quick-start guide for the upcoming 7th edition of the game that you can download for free from their website!
Jan 25, 2014
Almost one year ago now I finished reading “See What I Mean” (summary part 1, part 2), the book that got me started making comics. Now I’m reading the excellent “Drawing Words & Writing Pictures” and I’m learning much more about techniques and visual language. The first book I recommend if you are intrigued by the idea of making comics but always thought you couldn’t because you can’t draw, and also if you are intrigued by the idea of using comics at work (eg. see my comics explaining different use cases for my project RoboHydra). The second I recommend if you have some artistic background and/or after reading the first.
I thought it would be fun to document the way I’m making comics now, hence this post.
You start with an idea of what you want to tell, then divide it in pages. So far I’ve worked knowing the amount of pages beforehand, but I guess you could just fill pages until you’re done telling the story. The key here is that you have to think of pages because you need to know how they begin and end (eg. you don’t normally end a page in the middle of some action), and because the last page has to be full, you can’t finish halfway!
In this example, I wrote down the story and divided the scenes into the six pages I was going to use. This is also the time to design the characters, but I didn’t do it until after the thumbnails because I only discovered I could draw after I had finished them. What I did do was quick studies for the locations:
Once you have the story divided in pages, you need to design every page: decide the amount, shape and position of the panels, the action, the text, etc. This serves several different purposes:
Confirms that you can tell the story the way you thought.
Gives you a way to check the rhythm of the story and see if it works.
Lets you play with the shape and size of the panels (in this case I went with a pretty conservative grid; the only exception is the title).
Sets the more or less final text in each panel.
Gives you a way to decide the art for each panel (composition, perspective, etc) before you spend a lot of time making the final art.
As this is the first time I worked with thumbnails, some things are not quite right: the text is sometimes quite different from the final version, some panels on the first page are quite different (I realised they didn’t work in the thumbnails and instead of reworking them I made the changes directly in the final version), and the art is completely different. This last bit is actually due to the fact that I originally planned to make this comic with stick figures, but after finishing the thumbnails I realised that I could draw better and decided to give it a go.
You can see all the thumbnails here:
When you’re happy with the thumbnails, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the comic is, and the only step left is to make the final art. I use a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet and I don’t have high standards for the final result (as you’ll see grin), but for people making “real” comics the process is a bit more involved, as they need to do pencils first, then ink.
You can see the final result of my comic here:
You can compare each page between the thumbnail and the final result, for fun, to see how much it has changed. However, remember that the difference between thumbnails and final comic should not be that big! The only reason why the thumbnails are stick figures and the final comic it better is that I realised too late that I could draw better than stick figures.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed this post. As I said, if you’re interested in making comics but thought you couldn’t do it, go read “See What I Mean”.
Feb 2, 2013
Laying out the comic
Once the script is ready, you sketch the comic storyboard to answers these questions:
Composition of each panel (where characters go). See example on p.108. Tips: rule of thirds, writing speech bubbles first to use space better, avoid intersecting lines in foreground and background.
Perspective (how the audience will look at the characters). Use and be aware of perspective and distance (where the camera is). For inspiration, have a look at Wally Wood’s “22 panels that always work”.
Flow & progression (change of locations, how time passes, …). What happens between panels should be obvious. Take care of small details like which hand is used, or the side of something.
Drawing and refining
Resources to make higher-quality art, faster:
Reference materials: tracing over stuff is easy, quick and gives good results (eg. photographs, incl. made by yourself for the purpose, or avatar generators like IMVU or XBox).
Templates: a couple available on the net, but tend to be limiting. Create your own templates?
Comic creation software: several, seem too complex and/or expensive.
Possible uses of comics:
Requirements/vision: documents don’t get read, and if they do, they’re ambiguous. Comics are easy to read and explaining requirements through real use-cases often works better.
Good start for projects/companies: comics help you validate your ideas before you build anything, or decide exactly what to build. In these cases, make the person read the comic on her own, then explain with her own words as she reads again. That way, misunderstandings are easier to spot. Also, make people say how it relates to them: if they or someone they know would use it.
Marketing materials. Explaining your product, or why it’s special, through comics.
Certain kinds of documentation.
It’s generally easier to get people to read comics than to read text descriptions of the same content.
Breaking Down the Barriers
When convincing bosses to approve the use of comics, there’s usually less resistance than what people think. That said, understand who you’re convincing and what arguments to use (eg. some designers think that comics take relatively little time compared to alternatives, or the evidence suggesting that words + pictures help in understanding and memory). Fidelity and polish in comics (and any other medium) needs to be higher for certain audiences, eg. bosses or corporate clients.
Useful templates and references
The appendix has ideas about how to show someone in front of a computer, interesting panels, gesture dictionary and a facial expression dictionary:
Jan 31, 2013
Oh, boy. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? This is the first post of the year, and it will be about the first book I’ve finished, “See What I Mean” by Kevin Cheng (which, by the way, I got from O’Reilly’s Blogger Review Program). It’s a book about using comics “for work”, to communicate ideas like product concepts, user stories, and such, more effectively.
This post will cover about half the book, from chapters 2 to 5. These notes are much more useful if you have the book to refer to the pictures, but hey, this is mostly for me ;-)
Properties of comics
Basic vocabulary for the anatomy of comics:
Properties of comics:
Communication: comics don’t need words, or can express a lot without them (p. 23). They’re universal!
Imagination: characters with few features make more readers relate. This can be applied to UI mockups/sketches, too: people focus less on design if it’s abstract (p. 25,26).
Expression: give interpretation to words (“I’m sorry”/”Thank you” examples with different facial expressions on p.27). When combining text and pictures, the sum is bigger than the parts.
Time: comics can express time passing by using empty or repeated panels. Also, via words in “narration” and reference objects (like burning candles, clocks, or day/night).
Drawing faces is easy! Eyebrows and mouth go a long way to express mood. Body language helps quite a bit, too, and it’s easy to represent. See examples of combinations of eyebrows and mouths on p.47, 48. In faces, eyes go in the middle, and dividing the bottom half in three gives bottom of nose and mouth. Also see http://www.howtodrawit.com for tips on how to draw different things.
Approx. proportions for a person are two heads for torso, 1 for hips/groin, and 3 for the legs. Body language basic guidelines: leaning forward shows interest, concentration or anger (depends on arm position and context; curling the spine works, too); arm position can tell a lot (lifting one or both, on chin, in front of body); head positions don’t change much, but facial expressions or where the person is looking, does. When drawing body language, try to imagine the situation and exaggerate it. It often helps to start with a stick figure, then add detail.
Steps to create a comic
There’s no single correct way to create a comic. One possible approach:
What’s your comic about? Why you’re using comics, what to include, who’s the product and comic for. This chapter is about this step.
Writing the story: create scripts in words, an outline, define characters, setting and dialogue.
Laying out the comic: plan each panel, what to show and how much of it.
Drawing/refining the comic.
What’s your comic about?
Don’t approach the question broadly and vaguely, break it down! Define goals (what to accomplish), length (3-8 panels encouraged; should fit on site homepage, a postcard or e-mail; if longer, consider physical prints), audience (expertise level, context), and representative use case (help your readers understand why they should care).
Writing the story
When writing a script, you can use a similar format as that of film scripts. Each panel’s needs four primary elements:
Setting (defined up front, usually in bold). It can be time of day, location, or maybe what happens in the background. It depends heavily on the audience. The first panel can help with the setting (“establishing shot”). There are different graphical ways to convey a setting: the description of it describes a concrete way (eg. exterior of coffee shop vs. interior of coffee shop vs. close-up of coffee cup being served).
Characters (all caps, bold). There are several types: target audience, people who interfact with them, and objects/locations that play a significant role (eg. the solution). Target audience is typically based on personas, go make them if you don’t have them already.
Dialogue (regular font). It’s defined by more than the text itself: fonts, sizes, colours, bubble shapes or the split into different bubbles are very important, too! The text can be hard to get right: make it fit the character, keep it realistic (avoid marketing jargon and overly enthusiastic conversation). Captions can communicate time, setting, action, and even dialogue, but don’t add unnecessary information in them, and always try to speak from the character’s voice.
Actions (usually italics). It’s what characters do, depicted in the panel art.
How to tell a story: remove all unnecessary. You can combine several points in a single panel. Show, don’t tell. See examples on p.98-100.
And that’s it for today. In a few days I’ll publish the rest of the summary.
Sep 11, 2008
Some time ago (probably a couple of years) I learned about a couple of TMNT issues that I wanted to read. Yes, that means “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. I never thought I would want to read a TMNT comic, let alone paying for it, but there you go. The reason why I wanted to read those issues were some amazing drawings by a very talented artist. Also, that apparently the story was much more “mature”. Presumably it just got the idea of four turtle-like creatures (anthropomorphising them in a somewhat natural way, a bit like Blacksad), and he added some amazing art to support the story.
The problem was, I had forgotten about the title of the comic and the artist name… and I didn’t have the bookmark (if I had had Opera Link at the time, that would not have happened; but I digress). So, a couple of weeks ago I got really obsessed with it, and I decided to look for it again. After a couple of hours to fruitless search, I finally found it. It was Soul’s Winter, by the incredible Michael Zulli (official page, Wikipedia), also author of “Delicate Creatures”, The Puma Blues and some work on The Sandman. Have a look at the art in the issues themselves.
Once I had the title of the comic, I started looking for it. Unfortunately, in the first couple of shops I tried, it was out of stock. Then I found it on Hill City Comics, and I decided to buy two more comics (some weird Indian-God-themed ones). The site doesn’t look completely professional to me, so I decided to pay via PayPal instead of giving my credit card number. However, I didn’t receive any information as to which address should I make the payment to. I waited for a couple of days just in case, and then I sent an e-mail, but it seems that the SPAM problems they talk about are really serious
I think I’ll pass on the telephone call, so I decided to just go to another shop. I won’t have the indian comics, but what the hell. The second shop I found is called MARSimport, and it looks much more professional than the first one. Also, they have “From Cloud 99: Memories Part One” from Yslaire, so I think that’ll compensate for the indian ones
I haven’t ordered yet, but I will soon. Wish me luck