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< Piro >

Pochiyama-san (by Yoshitoshi Abe)

"Pochiyama-san"

Tuesday - May 6, 2008

[Piro] - 12:37:44 - [link here]

You probably remember back in February when, after a few months of settling into the new reality of being a dad, I shook myself out and tackled the task of getting back to work. I wanted to find more reliable and efficient ways to produce better work, since my old methods were not what anyone would call ‘efficient.’

It’s been much easier said than done. As so often happens with ventures into the new, I found myself turning back to old ways of doing things just to get them done. What I’ve found, however, is that with some perseverance and some fortuitous equipment failures, the old ways of working can be put away for good.

One of these new ways of working that I’ve pursued vigorously in the past month is going fully digital with my drawings. You can judge my success with this by the fact that every comic since 1110 has been drawn entirely on the computer. There are a lot of benefits to this method - no clean up, the ability to work with layers of rough sketches and underlays, the ability to move things around and scale them up and down, etc. The more I work with it, the happier I am with the potential.

My first experiments with drawing digitally were actually back in Febuary last year, right after I got my Cintiq. I did a few comics using Alias Sketchbook Pro, which had a very natural feel to it (unlike Photoshop, which to me had the sensitivity of drawing with an ink bottle). The program crashed a lot, and in the end the process was actually taking longer to do than by hand.

A little over a month ago, I started poking at the idea again, which was natural given the fact that I was experimenting with digital hatching. The fact that most of the recent comics have not been hatched is because I was still trying to figure out the best way to get the look and feel I wanted. The search for this had to go on the back burner as I tried to get comfortable with the drawings themselves. The hatching methods would flow from whatever drawing method I settled into.

At first, I was using Painter IX to draw, which was giving me reasonable results. After a while, with a little practice and a lot of tweaking, I was getting more and more satisfied with the results. I was working on a fairly slow computer, which caused me much grief sometimes, but it worked, and as long as kept the load off the CPU, my old 1.25ghz G4 Power Mac was doing fine.

That was until two weeks ago, when Reki, that G4 Power Mac I’ve been working on since February 2003 started throwing up some signs that she was thinking of taking her day of flight.

I’ve been having some odd problems with some of my external hard drives not mounting properly, but I was more than a little puzzled when the main hard drive, the one I boot from, was ‘missing’. Everything ran ok, and I wasn’t keeping any data on it, but there was something spooky about not being able to access any of the files on the hard drive that the system was actually RUNNING off of. I had planned at some point to get a new drive and do a fresh upgrade to Leopard, and it looked like that time had finally come. The main drive is original to the machine and I’ve never done a fresh install (all upgrades) so i'd say she's due. Says a lot about how nice OSX is to work with. Try that with Windows :P)

As I set off to get a new drive and purchase Leopard, Sarah asked me how old the machine was, and wondered if maybe it was time to upgrade. I wonder if I looked forlorn or just sad as I shuffled off to the computer store... She took pity on me. After a trip to the local Apple store, I came home with a brand new dual 2.8 Ghz Mac Pro G5. I have called her Pochiyama (a rather quirky character in a doujinshi by Yoshitoshi Abe who runs a pharmacy and communicates by writing notes on paper rather than speaking :)

It took a while to get things set up, as you might imagine. There were all sorts of little problems, from having to find that DVI-I to DVI-D adapter that came with my Cintiq to get it to work in something other than VGA mode, the fact that I could not just plug my ATA drives into the new machine because it took SATA drives (easily solved, just got a big SATA drive and stuck it with my existing SATA drive in the machine and shuffled files around). I also upgraded to CS3, which resulted in my Canon 8000F scanner not working with my new machine... You get the idea. When you’ve been using one machine for almost five years, replacing it is a fairly major deal.

The thing I’m most happy about is the result of a small glitch in the system that was easily fixed by a reboot, but made me reconsider the use of Painter for drawing. After some frustrations with what appeared to be a non functioning Pan command, I fired up my new version of Photoshop (CS3) and started poking at the brush controls. What suprised me was that I was able to tweak texture and some other settings in ways that gave me a REALLY satisfying pencil brush. What I love about this is that I can draw in an enviroment I am very familiar with and one I LIKE to work with. :) All of the comics since 1114 have been done using these brushes and Photoshop CS3. The Hatching issue is almost solved as well. CS3 is full of much win and love.

One other thing I did was step back from my two monitor setup and go to using only the Cintiq. Part of this was because I’d need to get an adapter to run my 23” ACD on the new machine, and part because I still have it hooked up to Reki, but what I’ve found is that I LIKE not having that second screen there full of distractions and taking up desk space. Some of my friends thought I was crazy going back to a single monitor arrangement, but since so much of what I use for reference is analogue anyway... Having a more open desk is a bigger benefit.

Reki still works, and I can access the files on the main drive remotely (which is so damn odd) and at some point I’ll use one of these freed up ATA drives to rebuild her, but for now she’s resting happily.

I’ve been working on two other projects during all of this, which has also had an impact on my schedule, but as of today I think things will level off a bit. I’d like to thank everyone for their patience with me and the schedule in recent months, and for my lack of communication on just what exactly is going on. This long and eventful chapter is coming to a close and I’m looking forward to wrapping it up and moving on to an omake.

I have a few ideas I’m working on for that, we’ll see which way I go. It will depend on how off the deep end i feel at the time. (Chuckle)

< Dom >

Hope you're having the best damn coffee ever in the next life, old man.

"A Penny for the Comic Guy"

Wednesday - May 21, 2008

[Dom] - 20:30:47 - [link here]

A couple days ago, I was told that Rory Root, the owner of Comic Relief in Berkeley, had died. Under normal circumstances, the death of a bookstore owner would pass without too much notice, but Rory was special, and partially responsible for turning me into who I am today. Let me explain.

In my first couple of weeks at the dorms in Berkeley, I ran into a classic college freshman problem: I had no idea what I should do with all this free time. In my explorations of the south side of campus, I naturally gravitated to three places: Cody's Books on Telegraph, the Berkeley Bearcade, and a comic book shop known as Comics and Comix. Thanks to these three establishments (and, as I recall, fantasy football), my time was spent engrossed in nerdy pursuits instead of the usual vices of the newly liberated college kid.

While Cody's and the Bearcade were true geek havens, I never felt perfectly comfortable at Comics and Comix. It just didn't have the feel of a friendly book store. The store inhabited a space that was obviously too large, and the staff of the place felt like the jaded "I have evolved far beyond your petty concerns, minor geekling" set you'd find in your stereotypical Guitar Center or Kevin Smith movie, rather than people who truly liked what they were selling. Later that school year, I started expanding my range on the campus and explored the west side, where I discovered this tiny hole in the wall called Comic Relief, and it was the exact opposite of Comics and Comix.

It wasn't a wonderful place by any means. It was cramped. It got really uncomfortable on hot days. The light there wasn't the best. But they had BOOKS. Piles and piles of books. Books I'd never heard of, signed by people I'd never heard of but would come to love. Books printed by tiny publishers I'd never seen before. Books from long before I was born. Books that I was barely old enough to read. The place was piled high with dreams, and I dove right in. It became more like a pilgrimage than a trip weach week, discovering authors like Warren Ellis (who was a friend of Rory's and, in those days, made Comic Relief his only US stop) and Bill Willingham and... the list goes on and on.

I spent a couple years thinking that Comic Relief was a friendly little hole in the wall crossed with a second home. Much of my meager budget went straight into Comic Relief's register, paying for trade paperbacks and graphic novels to alleviate the guilt I felt for reading comics every week without having the money to spend on my habit. The staff didn't seem to mind yet another student whiling away the hours in their store, so I never felt TOO bad about it - but still, it's never comfortable to think that you're stealing.

Subtly, that store gave me a lot more than hours upon hours of entertainment. It helped shape me. A few months after I discovered Comic Relief, Largo offered to show me some of his scripts for MegaTokyo, and I jumped on the opportunity to jump into the comic world. My junior thesis for Visual Culture was written about Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan. I could go on, but suffice to say - I would not be the same person were it not for the wonderfully welcoming environment created by Rory Root.

Even now, years after my graduation from the University of California, Berkeley, I feel a strong tie to that store. It's gotten bigger and moved down the street, but every Friday, my friends still gather there to catch up on comics and old times before heading out to dinner. I don't join them as often as I used to, since I live on the wrong side of the bay, but I don't think I'll ever consider any place other than Comic Relief to be my "local" comic book store. I spent way too much time there, and
while I didn't know Rory very well, he knew almost all of his customers on sight and wasn't afraid to crack jokes with us.

I'll miss the old man, but I'm thankful that the store is still being run by fine people in his absence. I bet there's a mousy little student at Berkeley right this moment who just got out of finals and is thinking the same kinds of thoughts that went through my head way back in my freshman year. Maybe he'll try his hand at writing, or drawing, or publishing... and Comic Relief will be there to support him.

Thanks, Rory.

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