A master post of Thomas Romain’s art tutorials.
Now that new semesters have started, I thought people might need these. Enjoy your lessons!
Just got my first look at it today – Kaari’s work is lovely, as always!
Sometimes I think this graphic novel is mainly an excuse to draw sweaters. Lots and lots of sweaters. Because dear God I love sweaters, and drawing sweaters, and looking at reference photos of sweaters.
Which portable drawing tablet reigns supreme for digital artists?
Microsoftâ€™s Surface Pro 3.
I just received a review unit Surface Pro 3 from Microsoft. My Wacom Cintiq Companion is my most used art device. Itâ€™s my entire studio stuffed into a bag. Itâ€™s going to take a fantastic piece of hardware to unseat the Companionâ€™s position as my alpha dog for art creation.
The Surface Pro 3 is a fantastic piece of hardware.
I wonâ€™t be delving too far into the specs of the machines in this first impression write-up, but I will boil down the differences between the two that have an impact in your workflow. What are the practical realities of using these devices? Why should I get one or the other?
A few years ago, no device akin to either of these options was mature enough to even consider for professional work. These two hardware juggernauts slugging it out spur innovation. No matter which device â€œwins,â€ ultimately we, as artists, are in a better place. But let me ease your mind. No matter which piece of art hardware you choose, you havenâ€™t made a bad choice. Both are good in different, complimentary ways.
The Companion is a workhorse. Iâ€™ve beaten the crap out of it for months. I regularly draw files north of 18"x24" at 350-600dpi for as many as eighteen hours a day.
Iâ€™ve assigned my most frequently utilized shortcut keys and tools to its hotkeys and seldom use a bluetooth keyboard while working. Zooming, panning, rotating, color picking, brush resizing, undoing and redoing are all accounted for using the hardware hotkeys.
An example of work created entirely on a Cintiq Companion.
The matte screen is relatively high PPI. At 13" and 1920×1080, itâ€™s one of the clearest screens I own. It isnâ€™t reflective and colors are accurate with a wide gamut. The matte screen feels more like drawing on paper than glass.
The matte nature of the screen is provided by a thin layer of adhesive, anti-glare protection which is prone to scratches. From normal use, my screen has noticeable marks in my most stylus-scraped areas. I suspect that one could peel off this coating (as I did on older, desktop Cintiq models), but then youâ€™re left with a glass, slick surface to draw on.
Distance between the glass and the screen causes cursor offset and parallax. All Wacom Cintiqs exhibit this behavior, but the Companion has the smallest gap of all of them. If it bothers you here, there are scant alternative options with less severe parallax.
Strokes are smooth with a bit of lag, but thatâ€™s the case with all Cintiq hardware. Thereâ€™s little to no jitter in slow strokes. The 2048 levels of pressure are an industry leading figure. After breaking in the stylus, the first half of the pressure levels are met within a quarter of pressure applied to the stylus. Made less technical, that means that drawing feels a bit loose at light pressure. Ratcheting up your firmness at the driver level, or using app-specific pressure curve tweaking, ameliorates the problem, however.
The battery life could be better. The Cintiq Companion uses a slightly aged Intel processor thatâ€™s less energy efficient than its newer brethren. Heavy use in intensive art apps saps the battery in a few hours, tops. I carry a portable charger in my laptop bag and resign myself to charging the Cintiq whenever and wherever I can manage.
The Companion is sized akin to a powerful laptop that doubles as a tablet monitor with a level of portability to match. When I travel, itâ€™s in a bag with some accompanying accessories. When you do unpack and plug in that required kit, however, you have a fully capable studio on the move. Itâ€™s no more or less portable than a mid-sized laptop. Itâ€™s no MacBook Air, but itâ€™s not a 17" behemoth either. I split my time this year between two locations and was able to carry my whole studio in one laptop bag.
The Surface is more akin to an iPad that you can draw on while using full featured art apps with extreme portability. It feels like a sketchbook in form, function, and potential capability.
The screen is an astounding 12" at 2160×1440. Pixels are entirely indiscernible. This clarity is nice, but comes at a price. At times, you can feel the Surface sputter and chug as it attempts to zoom in on a canvas of a large art file. Rendering those pixels taxes my middle specification i5 model. As an art guy, Iâ€™d rather have performance than pixel density if I could only choose between the two. Both the Surface and Companion have beautiful displays with wide viewing angles and accurate color.
The, er, surface of the Surface is a glossy, slick glass. Drawing feels slightly less accurate than on a matte surface. A screen protector would likely fix the issue. The glass isnâ€™t prone to scratches like the Companion. This category is pretty much a draw.
The 3:2 aspect ratio of the Surface is a lot more accommodating of portrait oriented drawing than the 16:9 of the Companion. The Companion is nearly too large and cumbersome to hold in your off-hand while you draw with your dominant one. The aspect ratio of the screen, and the lighter, smaller shape of the Pro, all contribute to the digital, portable sketchbook nature of the device.
Vertical drawing on the Companion is less than ideal.
When working with the Companion I sit the device on my table or lap using the provided stand and draw in a landscape orientation. When drawing on the Surface I tend to hold the device with one hand, portrait, while drawing with the other.
The lack of hotkeys impedes production workflows with the Surface. In much the same way that the aspect ratio and weight of the device lend it the air of a digital sketchbook, so does the lack of hardware bound shortcut keys.
I forced myself to use the Surface without a keyboard and clumsily plodded my way through tool selection, brush resizing, and color picking with my free hand using the touch screen. Apps that embrace the tablet based nature of the Surface work best. Manga Studio allows for a tablet forward interface option and itâ€™s warranted here. Even with some apps making concessions for use on tablets, I was still slower on the Surface than the Companion while drawing. The hotkeys matter if youâ€™re doing serious arting and the Companion has them in spades.
The most controversial aspect of the Surface ended up being one of the least worth remark. Ditching Wacomâ€™s tablet technology, the Surface instead uses Ntrigâ€™s art digitizer. I found touch input more reliable on the Surface than the Companion and stylus navigation outside of art apps less laggy on the Companion and slightly floaty on the Surface.
Pen pressure is reported as 256 levels but youâ€™d never know it. I never left wanting for more pressure fidelity. The actuation pressure for the stylus feels steeper than comparable Wacom hardware. Youâ€™re lightest marks can sometimes be lost if youâ€™re extremely light of touch.
The distance between the glass and stylus is lesser here than in the case of the Companion. Gains of accuracy that the lessened parallax might provide are lost by overall less accurate tracking of the pen tip. Thereâ€™s jitter with slow strokes and a smidge more lag when drawing with the Ntrig than a Wacom digtizer. I have very steady hands. I make fast, fluid strokes. If your working style skews towards slow, deliberate mark making, bear the caveat of the jitter in mind.
Art app compatibility is a concern with the alternative hardware. Ntrigâ€™s website has a driver update that adds WinTab compatibility to the Surface. At time of writing, I havenâ€™t thrown a heap of apps at the Surface, but none have failed so far after installing the optional WinTab update.
The Surface Pro 3 would be better with a Wacom digitizer, but, in practice, I didnâ€™t find the Ntrig to be a terrible detriment. Its inclusion is not reason alone to dismiss the Surface.
The Surface battery lasts for ages and uses a newer, more energy efficient processor than the Companion. I donâ€™t bother to bring a bag when I take the Surface out with me. It, its type cover, and its pen are all I need to art on the go. Itâ€™s only slightly more of a burden than carrying an iPad and the portability trumps the more laptop-esque nature of the Companion if thatâ€™s your primary concern.
If you have a primary art workstation already and are looking solely for a digital sketchbook thatâ€™s easy to transport, has a stout battery, and runs full featured art applications, the Surface is a no brainer. If it were the only tablet monitor I had, Iâ€™d make due. Itâ€™s perfectly functional for production work.
The Companion is heavier. Its battery life gets lesser seemingly by the day. Its screen scratches easily. But itâ€™s my personal choice for my primary art making device. The singular nature of the Companion overlaps in more areas with my needs as an artist. The pen digtizer is slightly better. The hotkeys speed up my workflow. Itâ€™s that simple.
However, youâ€™d have to pry my Surface from my cold dead hands. Itâ€™s a sexy piece of hardware. Itâ€™s heaps more portable than the Companion and lasts longer to boot. Where Iâ€™ve taken the Companion to a coffee shop to work in the past, Iâ€™m almost certainly going to take the Surface now.
Each is a good choice. They just service slightly different use cases. If portability trumps efficiency, get the Surface. If you donâ€™t mind losing a bit of freedom of movement and ease of toting to and fro, but need a full desktop replacement, get the Companion.
This is exactly the sort of use case where Iâ€™d rather be toting the Surface.
Iâ€™ll be offering a full review of the hardware mentioned in this article soon. In the meantime, you can support my digital art hardware reviews by purchasing Amazon products using my referral link.
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I do compositional lectures a lot in my classes, as well as at the occasional convention.Â Iâ€™ve been asked to post them, so hereâ€™s part one: The Schweizer Guide to Spotting Tangents!
Comic art is, as a general rule, a line-based medium.Â I know, I know, there are plenty of artists whose work is painted, or who depict their subject in ink using solely light and shadow.Â Â But these folks are unquestioningly in the minority, as the history of printing technology originally dictated the use of line to depict form in the early days of comics.Â This became a stylistic expectation, and itâ€™s an expectation that I enthusiastically embrace, as have many others.Â But using line to draw the world invites chances for that cardinal sin of composition: the tangent.
A tangent is when two or more lines interact in a way that insinuates a relationship between them that the artist did not intend.
It can create confusion on the part of the audience as to what it is that theyâ€™re looking at.Â It can cause the spatial depth that one attempts to cultivate through the use of planes to become flattened.Â Most of all, it creates a decidedly unwelcome aesthetic response: tangents are just plain ugly.
There are a lot of different types of tangents, as least according to the way I define them.Â In order to make it easier on my students when giving critiques, Iâ€™ve categorized them and named them.Â This may have been done before, but Iâ€™ve not encountered it.Â My hope is that, by making this â€œspot-the-enemyâ€ guide, fewer artists will fall into the tangent trap by knowing what to look for.
1. The Long Line
The long line is when a line from one object runs directly into the line of another
This is the tangent that everybody knows.Â The one thatâ€™s easiest to spot, easiest to avoid.Â For a lot of folks, this is the only thing meant when one refers to a â€œtangent.â€
Even in the work of the very best comic artists, a vigilant eye can find the occasional tangent.Â Even when a cartoonist is constantly on the lookout, a tangent can slip through.Â But, as each of strive to better ourselves and the quality of our work and our medium,
2. The Parallel
The parallel tangent is when the containing lines of two objects run alongside each other.Â This causes one of two negative outcomes.Â Either one object becomes â€œlost,â€ as the other overpowers it (figure 1), or one object feels strangely contained by another (figure 2).
This can be avoided by ensuring that any object that COULD run alongside another is angled at least 45 degrees from the first.
The next two are REALLY tough to spot, and most artists have fallen victim to them before.
3. The Corner
The corner tangent is when two lines in an object meet in a way intended by the artist, but another (accidental) line runs directly into the place where they meet.
4. The Bump-Up
A bump-up tangent is when the containing line of one object â€œbumps upâ€ against the containing line of another object.Â Â When these two lines touch, it creates a bump-up tangent (and even when they donâ€™t technically touch, if itâ€™s close enough to raise eyebrows, they might as well).
The bump-up gives the impression of containment.Â In figure 1, it seems as though her ponytail is physically unable to enter the space occupied by the pole.Â In figure 2, it feels as though her elbow is unable to LEAVE that space.
Also, be careful not to let elements of the drawing bump up against your panel borders!Â Either give them room to breathe or decisively crop them.Â Same goes for letting figures â€œstandâ€ on the bottom panel border.
5. The Directional
A directional tangent is basically just a long-line tangent thatâ€™s been broken by empty space.Â Now, this one isnâ€™t always bad â€“ it can, on occasion, be used to draw the readerâ€™s eye through the image on a specifically determined path.
6. The Panel-to-Panel
This one is exactly the same thing as the directional (in fact, I shouldnâ€™t even classify it as its own thing), save that instead of empty space dividing a long-line itâ€™s a panel gutter.
My gutters are crazy wide, but with normal-sized gutters this can be a real problem.
One more thingâ€¦
This ainâ€™t a tangent, but it is a compositional no-no.
Comics generally have panel borders, so readers are used to having images contained by straight lines.Â Some artists donâ€™t allow gutters between their borders.Â Though I believe that, as a rule, this can make it harder for new comics readers to follow the story (and new readers are always important), itâ€™s done with enough regularity that we must expect the audience to feel comfortable with gutterless pages.
What does this mean?Â It means that we canâ€™t draw a straight line in any panel, either vertical or horizontal, without having some object overlap it.Â If we do, readers may think that it is a panel border, incorrectly breaking one moment into two.
See how the overlap of the elbow causes there to be no question?
Thatâ€™s it for Lesson #1.Â Lesson #2 will come around in the next few days. Feel free to use any terminology that Iâ€™ve laid down in this one, or feel free to abandon it in favor of better, more accurate terminology.
Last year a good friend of the family gave me an iPad Mini (more specs) as a reward for getting a book published. I trotted around happily with this iPad, reading library e-books on it, surfing the web, all that good stuff. Iâ€™m almost embarrassed at how long it took me to realize I could download sketching programs (Autodesk Sketchbook and Procreate are the two I finally settled on), and I didnâ€™t really focus in on using the iPad as a sketchbook until a coworker bought me a Sensu brush stylus.
Now, this is the point where Iâ€™ll admit that Iâ€™m a serial sketchbook abandoner. I start a sketchbook, fill a couple pages, decide everything I draw is terrible and that Iâ€™m â€œwasting paperâ€, and abandon the sketchbook.
The point is, I wasnâ€™t drawing as much as I should have.
I do have a Cintiq, which I cracked and purchased after TEN YEARS of hoping and praying Wacom would create a portable Cintiq.Â Thatâ€™s what I REALLY wanted â€“ a portable digital sketchbook.Â After sitting in front of a computer at work all day, the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit in front of another workstation for an additional 3-4 hours.Â I wanted something I could toss into my bag!Â Something I could curl up with on the couch or set up shop in a cafe or use on the train!
You can imagine my delight when, THE SAME FRIGGING YEAR I purchased my Cintiq, Wacom released the Cintiq Companion. >:P
So when I installed Sketchbook and Procreate on the iPad, it was a bit of a revelation, and a huge relief.Â Â There was no way I could justify getting a Cintiq Companion with a barely one-year-old Cintiq standing on my desk.Â The iPad was pretty close to being exactly what Iâ€™d been hoping for, especially after I inherited my relativeâ€™s iPad Air 2 (more specs), which had a lot of increased power compared to the Mini, and let me create much larger canvases.Â The absolute best thing about using the iPad is that it shut up the stupid paper-waster voice in my head.Â Iâ€™ve found myself sketching much for regularly and with a lot less angst because thereâ€™s no paper to waste, thereâ€™s always an undo button, and I have a limitless amount of cat-free storage space.
I will admit that at first it felt weird to dump the sketchbooks and switch entirely to digital.Â Most of my friends were using Procreate for loose sketches, or they were using their iPad as a kind of portable portfolio.Â I didnâ€™t personally know anyone who was using an iPad as their primary sketchbook.Â But then I stumbled across the SketcherMan Blog, which was a revelation.Â There ARE other artists using iPads as their full time sketchbooks!Â I also I have access to a Surface 3, and itâ€™s a great work-surface, but I prefer the iPad for the following reasons: 1) Itâ€™s LIGHT.Â I can throw it in my bag and I barely notice the extra weight.Â 2) Itâ€™s never run hot, which makes for a VERY comfortable drawing surface.Â The Surface 3 can run hot sometimes.Â At this point, the only real complaints I have about the iPad are the size of my stylusâ€™s tip (which I get into below) and the maximum canvas size limits Iâ€™m currently running into in Procreate and Sketchbook (I would love to be able to create a full size, full resolution page of comic pencils on the iPad.Â Right now Iâ€™m still a couple hundred pixels shy).Â I save all my sketches directly to the iCloud or Dropbox which offers great peace of mind in case my iPadâ€™s stolen or I lose it.
Initially the size of the stylusâ€™ pen tip bothered me.Â I was used to a Cintiq or Wacom stylus, and it felt very awkward at first to use a such a large nib.Â So I did a ton of research.Â Was it worth investing in a high-end iPad stylus, like Studio 53â€™s Pencil, the Adonit Jot, or the Intuos Creative Stylus 2? Could I find one with a small nib?Â The Jot has the smallest tip of any of the styluses I looked at, werenâ€™t crushingly expensive, and had decent reviews.Â There were just enough complaints to give me pause, however.Â After all, I didnâ€™t want to drop nearly $30 to end up with something I wasnâ€™t going to use.Â Most of the styluses I looked at range from $40 to almost $100 and that didnâ€™t encourage a lot of risk-taking on my part, especially considering I already had one.Â To complicate things, for awhile I just couldnâ€™t understand why all the styluses had such freaking huge tips!Â Why couldnâ€™t I use my old Intuos, or Cintiq, or Surface 3 pens on the iPad or my Android phone?
Look at this!Â The Sensu tip is HUGE compared to the Cintiqâ€™s!Â WTF?!
Theeeeeenâ€¦I read this article explaining the difference between capacitive screens (such as on smart phones and iPads) and regular touch screens (Cintiq, Surface 3).
At the end of the day, I decided to stick with the Sensu, which is all fairness is an excellent stylus.Â I donâ€™t use the brush as often as I should, but it really does feel like painting with a real brush, and the company has excellent customer service and made it very easy for me to order replacement stylus tips.Â They also offer the Buddy stylus tip, which you can shove onto any pen or pencil, is great in a pinch, and only costs $5.Â In the meantime, Iâ€™m keeping a close eye on articles about the iPad Pro and keeping my fingers crossed.
Last year a good friend of the family gave me an iPad Mini (more specs) as a reward for getting a book published. I trotted around happily with this iPad, reading library e-books on it, surfing the web, all that good stuff. I’m almost embarrassed at how long it took me to realize I could download sketching programs (Autodesk Sketchbook and Procreate are the two I finally settled on), and I didn’t really focus in on using the iPad as a sketchbook until a coworker bought me a Sensu brush stylus.
Now, this is the point where I’ll admit that I’m a serial sketchbook abandoner. I start a sketchbook, fill a couple pages, decide everything I draw is terrible and that I’m “wasting paper”, and abandon the sketchbook.
1/4 of the abandoned sketchbooks:
The point is, I wasn’t drawing as much as I should have.
I do have a Cintiq, which I cracked and purchased after TEN YEARS of hoping and praying Wacom would create a portable Cintiq. That’s what I REALLY wanted – a portable digital sketchbook. After sitting in front of a computer at work all day, the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit in front of another workstation for an additional 3-4 hours. I wanted something I could toss into my bag! Something I could curl up with on the couch or set up shop in a cafe or use on the train!
You can imagine my delight when, THE SAME FRIGGING YEAR I purchased my Cintiq, Wacom released the Cintiq Companion. >:P
So when I installed Sketchbook and Procreate on the iPad, it was a bit of a revelation, and a huge relief. There was no way I could justify getting a Cintiq Companion with a barely one-year-old Cintiq standing on my desk. The iPad was pretty close to being exactly what I’d been hoping for, especially after I inherited my relative’s iPad Air 2 (more specs), which had a lot of increased power compared to the Mini, and let me create much larger canvases. The absolute best thing about using the iPad is that it shut up the stupid paper-waster voice in my head. I’ve found myself sketching much for regularly and with a lot less angst because there’s no paper to waste, there’s always an undo button, and I have a limitless amount of cat-free storage space.
I will admit that at first it felt weird to dump the sketchbooks and switch entirely to digital. Most of my friends were using Procreate for loose sketches, or they were using their iPad as a kind of portable portfolio. I didn’t personally know anyone who was using an iPad as their primary sketchbook. But then I stumbled across the SketcherMan Blog, which was a revelation. There ARE other artists using iPads as their full time sketchbooks! I also I have access to a Surface 3, and it’s a great work-surface, but I prefer the iPad for the following reasons: 1) It’s LIGHT. I can throw it in my bag and I barely notice the extra weight. 2) It’s never run hot, which makes for a VERY comfortable drawing surface. The Surface 3 can run hot sometimes. At this point, the only real complaints I have about the iPad are the size of my stylus’s tip (which I get into below) and the maximum canvas size limits I’m currently running into in Procreate and Sketchbook (I would love to be able to create a full size, full resolution page of comic pencils on the iPad. Right now I’m still a couple hundred pixels shy). I save all my sketches directly to the iCloud or Dropbox which offers great peace of mind in case my iPad’s stolen or I lose it.
Initially the size of the stylus’ pen tip bothered me. I was used to a Cintiq or Wacom stylus, and it felt very awkward at first to use a such a large nib. So I did a ton of research. Was it worth investing in a high-end iPad stylus, like Studio 53’s Pencil, the Adonit Jot, or the Intuos Creative Stylus 2? Could I find one with a small nib? The Jot has the smallest tip of any of the styluses I looked at, weren’t crushingly expensive, and had decent reviews. There were just enough complaints to give me pause, however. After all, I didn’t want to drop nearly $30 to end up with something I wasn’t going to use. Most of the styluses I looked at range from $40 to almost $100 and that didn’t encourage a lot of risk-taking on my part, especially considering I already had one. To complicate things, for awhile I just couldn’t understand why all the styluses had such freaking huge tips! Why couldn’t I use my old Intuos, or Cintiq, or Surface 3 pens on the iPad or my Android phone?
Look at this! The Sensu tip is HUGE compared to the Cintiq’s! WTF?!
Theeeeeen…I read this article explaining the difference between capacitive screens (such as on smart phones and iPads) and regular touch screens (Cintiq, Surface 3).
At the end of the day, I decided to stick with the Sensu, which is all fairness is an excellent stylus. I don’t use the brush as often as I should, but it really does feel like painting with a real brush, and the company has excellent customer service and made it very easy for me to order replacement stylus tips. They also offer the Buddy stylus tip, which you can shove onto any pen or pencil, is great in a pinch, and only costs $5. In the meantime, I’m keeping a close eye on articles about the iPad Pro and keeping my fingers crossed.
Iâ€™m currently working out the maximum size canvases I can get away with in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and Procreate on my iPad Air 2.Â I love drawing on my iPad, so Iâ€™m trying to get as much penciling done on there as possible before I switch over to working in MangaStudio on the desktop.
The default page template Iâ€™ve been given by my publisher is 6.25 x 9.25 @ 600 dpi, with a live art area of 5.25 x 8.25.Â For the most part Iâ€™m not working full bleed, but within that live art area, which equals 3150 x 4950 pixels.Â The largest size canvas I can create in Sketchbook is 2227 x 3500, which is pretty good.Â However, I can get a couple hundred pixels closer in Procreate: 2603 x 4090.Â Iâ€™m going to try switching over to Procreate a for a bit and see how
The truth is that you can work on pencils at a slightly lower resolution, then size them up and theyâ€™ll mostly look all right, and have more than enough detail to allow you to do your inking.Â However, the Little Women graphic novel is going to be 100% digital, and I like having the resolution as high as I can reasonably get it for most of the production stages on this kind of project.Â You never know when those extra pixels will come in handy!
At the end of the day, what Iâ€™d really love is to be able to
do a full size, full resolution page of pencils entirely on my iPad and
then import into MangaStudio for final clean ups.Â Iâ€™m keeping a close watch on the iPad Pro announcements/specs, so hereâ€™s hoping!Â
Epic Tales from Adventure Time: the Lonesome Outlaw, my adventure time novel about Marceline and her adventures with her foster-sister Bonnibel, is available for pre-order!
Gather round. Tokyopop are doing portfolio reviews at this yearâ€™s SDCC and as a creator who managed to complete two series with them before they went bankrupt*Â Â previously, I have some things to say about this. Should you, young aspiring creator, go and have your portfolio reviewed by them? Should you enter a Rising Stars of Manga contest, if they run them again? I canâ€™t honestly tell you. Thatâ€™s your decision to make, based on a whole bunch of factors specific to you that are none of my damn business.
*(EDIT: Tokyopop didnâ€™t actually go into Chapter 11, thanks comixaceâ€‹ for being my fact-checker!)
I did not have a terrible time at Tokyopop. I got paid. Both my series made it to completion (although with Kat & Mouse, I had to call a rights-reversion clause on them to get them to cough up book 4). My editors were fantastic. (The Tokyopop editors generally were â€“ and donâ€™t take my word for it, many of them went on to great things elsewere. Just off the top of my head, Mark Panicciaâ€™s currently heading the X-Office at Marvel; Paul Morrissey runs Jet City at Amazon; Tim Beedle is at DC; and Erin Stein has her own YA/MG imprint at one of the big four prose publishers.)
The editors were never the issue. Stu Levy was. The contracts were abominable too, but Iâ€™ll get to those in a sec. First, Stu, aka DJ Milky, aka Tokyopopâ€™s founder. Stu was a fabulous entrepreneur, but terrible at running a business. Tokyopop was full of great ideas and almost none of them were followed through with any rigor or consistency. Each was shuffled off incongruously to gather dust in a corner when the next big idea came through.
The first great idea was simple enough: bring over the best Japanese manga to the US. The market exploded! Suddenly, there were stories for girls, and all ages, and all the folks that even then (pre Hunger Games, kids. Hell, it was pre Twilight!) prose publishers were kinda ignoringâ€¦ not even touching what mainstream comics had for girls, which was precisely fuck all. (Want a laugh? Image-google â€œMark Millar Troubleâ€. That was Marvelâ€™s reaction to the Manga boom.)
But then, the good manga started getting expensive. And along came Viz and Dark Horse and others, bidding up licence costs. Fantastic! Letâ€™s develop original English manga and have manga contests and publish US writers and artists! And several well-known, star creators of today (Becky Cloonan, Sophie Campbell, Amy Reeder, Felipe Smith) had early work published by Tokyopop.
And that would have been great, if they had really focused on growing that line, and continuing to curate a great quality list of Japanese and Korean licenced books. Butâ€¦ no. Audio plays! Shorter, young-reader manga (like my Kat & Mouse, they launched four short middle grade manga then totally forgot about them. One was by JM DeMatteis, if I recall right, so at least I was in good company.) Manga chapter books â€“ another line thrown at the wall and instantly forgotten. Movie deals in negotiation! A syndicated newspaper deal! MERCHANDISING!
At this point, Stu was a star! But the manga boom had begun to bust. Partially it was due to a creeping attitude at Tokyopop, in the managerial positions, of disdain towards their readers. Heck, those kids would read any old crap we can licence from Japan or Korea! Why bother with expensive licences? Letâ€™s just shovel cheap stuff at them! Meanwhile, the OEL books were not selling, because they had zero marketing support and were tainted by association with the far lower quality of licenced books Tokyopop was importing at the time. Plus, otaku wanted Japanese. OEL was a big culture change in otakuland, and even many OEL creators werenâ€™t buying or reading other OEL books. Plus, many of these creators were young and finding it much harder than they expected to draw an entire 180-page book at twenty five dollars a page (yep) and were blowing through deadlines, which also didnâ€™t help. (Weâ€™re getting to contracts, I promise).
Thus, while Tokyopop was apparently at its most successful to the outside world, with manga sections in bookstores that were a dozen feet long, and Wired running a hilariously ill-timed Stu Levy cover, the company was actually in freefall. The company failed because 1) management, consciously or not, looked down on their teenage customers and did not respect them as intelligent, discerning readers; and 2) rather than doing one or two things really well, it did 25 things in half-assed, terrible ways. Those manga sections were 12 feet long because of the giant piles of crap being shoveled at audiences who were too damn smart to buy them any more.
Then (and partially due to that), the bookstore chain Borders hit the skids, everyoneâ€™s cash flow hit the floor for like six months and started to dig, and Tokyopop cancelled OEL books left right and centre, and also stopped paying creators. Oh, all our OEL books except Sophieâ€™s are on Comixology but has anyone gotten a statement from Tokyopop about those digital sales? Anyone? Hello? Bueller?
Do we think Stu has learned anything in the intervening years? Is this a kinder, gentler, smarter Tokyopop? Has he paid any of the back money the company owes to creators, or given them their rights back? Remember, Stu is a wonderful ideas guy. I am quite sure New Tokyopop will be an automatic Buzzword Bingo win: creator-friendly; crowdfunded; multi-platform; digital-first, blah blah blah.
Also remember: Stu is a terrible implementations guy. Every new idea for him is The One, the green light, the concept that will take his company stratospheric, will re-make his name and fortune. Itâ€™s almost blessedly childlike, except for the way he discards the old ideas and old people, who failed him, who didnâ€™t work, and whose fault all this clearly is.
And now a word about contracts and pay. Iâ€™m not going to discuss the specifics of the Tokyopop contracts, but I am gong to teach you the three Râ€™s of freelance contracts: rights, royalties, and reversions. Note: I am not a lawyer, and none of this should be construed as legal advice.
REVERSIONS is the most common way creators get screwed out of their stuff. Itâ€™s where DC got Alan Moore, and itâ€™s why many of us Tokyopop creators never got our books back even though Tokyopop went bankrupt. Whatâ€™s reversion? It means when and under what circumstances does ownership of your book and/or the right to publish it or make films out of it go back to you, the person that created it. (But Alex! I only sign CREATOR-OWNED contracts â€“ shush, child, and keep reading.)
The two most common reversion clauses in contracts say you will get the rights back when 1) the book goes out of print (ask Alan Moore how that worked out for him) and/or 2) if the rightsholder goes bankrupt. The out of print clause is actually the preferable one, but it has to be worded in a very specific way to keep companies from indulging in the sort of jiggery-pokery DC did with Watchmen, keeping it deliberately in print to retain rights, even at a loss. Also, â€œin printâ€ is a meaningless statement in an increasingly digital era. How does anything go out of print? Instead, look to phrase the reversion clause so that if sales of the book drop below 1,000 units per year, the rights revert to you.. You can also use a dollar amount rather than a unit amount. Your lawyer will have an opinion on this.
You absolutely do NOT want the bankruptcy option bcause thatâ€™s how Tokyopop kept rights (and Platinum Studios, and everyone else in the Comics Dipshits Hall of Shame). Lemme â€˜splain: your company is about to go bankrupt and creditors are circling. You have a bunch of stuff thatâ€™s not worth much money (office furniture, old computers) and then you have these comic book IPs that you spent a lot of money on, and youâ€™re convinced you will get a movie deal with at any moment. So you call up a friend or relative and sell them all the ownership in all this IP for a fiver. Then, later on, you buy them back off him for $100. Totally legal! Dudes: by the time a creative company actually hits bankruptcy, all the IP assets are always already out the door. And the contract you have (the shitty, shitty contract) stays intact and transfers to the new owner.
Meanwhile, Stu wants creators to pay back the full amount of advances and editorial costs to get rights back (or at least thatâ€™s what he told me with Kat & Mouse) BUT my IP was not part of the Tokyopop bankruptcy (none of the OEL was, to my knowledge) which means he already wrote down all those costs when he shuffled the assets around in the traditional game of pre-bankruptcy monte.
That, folks, is why reversion-on-bankruptcy clauses are a surefire way of kissing your work goodbye for-fucking-ever. Also, more insight into Stu!
RIGHTS. There are all sorts of rights, and this is where I want to pat the head of children who talk to me about how they only do creator-owned and ask them who holds the foreign translation rights for their books, or TV/Film, or merchandising. Folks: if you got no money up front and the company took foreign rights (especially without royalty, see below), all of publishing in perpetuity (except for reversion on bankruptcy, oh yeah), and 50% or more of film, you do not have a very good creator-owned deal.
But, you kow, that can be okay. We all sign at least two bad deals in this business, and itâ€™s often the first two. The people that will take you straight out of art school (or off tumblr) and give you pennies to draw your comic are the people who will screw you. In some ways you have to put out the book with folks like that so you can use it to get gigs at the companies that wonâ€™t screw you.
(But they still try it. LORD how they try it. I had a guy from an upstart publisher tell me cold last week that NO publisher EVER offered advances for creator owned work, and the best I could hope for was no advance and giving up half of film. He said it with such conviction that if I was a newbie, Iâ€™d be inclined to believe it. But I have four creator owned series on the go and they all have advances, so I know this guy was just trying to be an exploitative asshat.)
Whoops, went on a bit of a tangent there. The usual-ish indie ontract takes 50% of publishing profit, and they try to take foreign translation rights (eg the right to negotiate/sell them) â€“ this is not such a big deal; unless you have an agent the publisher will probably do a better job than youâ€¦ but make sure you also get a similar split of profits as you do for domestic publishing.
And now to film, the great white hope of the crappy publisher. Should you give up a % of film? Again, this comes down to personal preference and your own circumstances. Iâ€™m hardline, and will never give up any of film, so there are only certain publishers Iâ€™ll work for. And I still get advances.
The problem is, as a n00b, your book probably isnâ€™t going to sell more than about 2,000 copies, which means that it hasnâ€™t even reached the circa 4-4.5k breakeven of a book with no advance at all. So thatâ€™s why publishers do that â€œtake 50% of filmâ€ thing. Nobodyâ€™s ever going to make any money on your book â€“ not you, not them â€“ but somebody might get rich if yours is the successful sprout at the IP farm. Like I said, the early deals are the bad deals, and your untested ability to sell books is partially why.
Try to negotiate. Be polite. Be aware that they may say â€œitâ€™s my way or the highwayâ€, and that self publishing is a lot less fun than some of its boosters make it out to be. (But then Greg Pakâ€™s just had to create an entire pre-order system for his next creator-owned book, because comics distribution and marketing is THAT broken. So be aware that even if youâ€™re published, youâ€™re still self-publishing in a way.) And, as alisayangds mentioned in a reblog of this, MANY companies have theÂ â€œidiot contractâ€ they send out first, and then a nicer contract they send out immediately if you politely request to negotiate the terms of said idiot contract. Folks, they EXPECT you to sayÂ â€œerm, noâ€ to your contract first time around.
Be very wary, last of all, of publishers with film production sister companies. Remember the whole â€œsell the IP to your buddy for a fiverâ€ thing we discussed up in bankruptcy reversion? Yyyup. We all sorta cheer for our fellow creators when they get optioned, but the dirty truth is that can be a check for $1-5,000 on promises of a big tomorrow that will never come. Iâ€™m not saying all publisher/production companies are like this, but I would be DAMN sure to get an entertainment lawyer with a strong knowledge of current option ranges in to fight my corner if I was in that sort of situation.
Oh god, and never agree to a shopping agreement, but thatâ€™s a whole â€˜nother story. In general, just remember anybody with a cellphone can call themselves a producer, and you donâ€™t want some dipshit giving you $500 then clumsily using your name and your book as his greasy calling-card all over Tinseltown. They have to pay, friends. If theyâ€™re serious and theyâ€™re worthwhile, they can pay. They need you more than you need them.
ROYALTIES. At last. This is mainly a work-for-hire issue as if you are going creator-owned you are talking % ownership and profitsâ€¦ though some foreign rights deals are % royalty thing. Folks, let me be very clear here: when things are not going well for you, and no rain has fallen in your career for some time, it is the unexpected royalty check from new German hardback edition of your brief stint on CAPTAIN PATRIOT or MERCENARY VENGEANCE GUY that will pay your grocery bill. If you are doing work for hire (and there are many great reasons to do it â€“ from a childhood love of the characters, to wanting to work with fun people, to boosting your fanbase for your creator-owned work) for the love of Chthulhu, GET ROYALTIES.
Yes Virginia, there are work for hire contracts out there where all you get is a check and a peck on the cheek. Dassit. And Iâ€™m talking major properties that kids are dyyyying to work on. The kind where young artists at cons tell me theyâ€™d draw a variant cover FOR FREE (Seriously, stop it with that. Get paid, for everything, or youâ€™ll never make it in this industry.) Your story comes out in trade? No more money. It comes out in French? Still no more money. It becomes a beloved classic of the comics medium like Dark Knight? NO. MORE. MONEY. EVAR. Theyâ€™ll send you these gorgeous hardback editions of your stuff, and youâ€™ll look at it, and there will be no check. (Sometimes they donâ€™t even send you the book.)Â And again, we all have rent to pay. Weâ€™ve all taken that one and done gig because $1500 now was really quite necessary. All Iâ€™m saying is, it isnâ€™t a good idea to make your career out of that.
As you navigate the difficult path of being a comics pro, you will be faced with almost Faustian bargains on a regular basis throughout your time in the industry. As I say, weâ€™ve all signed bad deals. Weâ€™ve all taken quick-hit gigs under not the best of terms for a rapid check. Just beware of getting into situations where you are paid almost nothing and much is taken from you. Be especially wary of companies with no, or with poor track records. Every few years, a company pops up that is going to be the next big thing, and then it explodes, usually messily, in a fury of unpaid invoices and missing art.
But we can be thankful that the world is a very different place than when Tokyopop was in its heyday â€“ we all still read manga, but itâ€™s only a small selection of good stuff that is brought over, rather than mountains of dreck. There are a lot more options for young creators with a variety of styles to get into comics now â€“ such as the open submissions at small but well-respected houses like Oni. There are several genuinely good indie publishers out there, with honest management and fair contracts. And you have much more ability to simply do it by yourself without a publisher, from Kickstarter to Comixology Submit.
So, should you show your portfolio to Stu Levy at San Diego?
My answer is, why would you need to?
EDIT:Â If you enjoyed this post and/or theÂ â€œManaging Toxic Environments As A Comics Proâ€ one, please consider buying one of my comic books (the Sensation/Wonder Woman issues I did and No Mercy 1 & 2 are both 99c right now on Comixology; and paper comics can be mail-ordered from TFAW in the US).
EDIT EDIT: Tho obviously not the Tokyopop ones because I wonâ€™t see a cent from that.