< Piro >
Tuesday - October 3, 2006
It's funny, but this 'change' in the way i create comics -- drawing the comic on a whole sheet rather than each frame on separate pieces of paper -- is about as big a change as when i switched from a four panel comic to the full page/variable layout comic back towards the end of Chapter 0. The only problem is, most of you probably can't really see what has changed. A least not yet.
Oddly enough, drawing all panels on a single sheet of paper was exactly how i did the first couple of Megatokyo comics. I was using a single sheet of 8.5x11 paper with four blank squares on it that i printed from Illustrator. After a few comics, i started drawing each box separately (2 per sheet) so i could draw more details into the frames. I've been doing the comic that way ever since. Even when i switched to a full page layout, i was still doing each frame separately, i just had to (vaguely) try to draw the frames to the right proportion so it would fit on the finished page..
The benefit of doing each frame separately is that it gives you a lot more flexibility in fiddling around with the layout in the final stages of putting the comic together. You can adjust the size of the frames as well as crop and scale each drawing as needed to fit the dialogue and overall layout needed to make the comic work. Need more space in a frame to make more of a sense of time? Adjust the widths of the frames to give more of a sense of space. The drawbacks to this approach is that layout is almost left out of the drawing process. I suppose I could more tightly plan a final layout in the first place, but the method doesn't lend itself to doing that easily. It enables me to be loose about it and not worry about layout until the drawings are done and i'm assembling things in Illustrator. Each drawing tends to stand on its own, and as such i sometimes inadvertently overdraw or underdraw frames. You'd be surprised how much stuff gets cut out sometimes. :)
I've tried many times to take a more progressive look at frame layout, not because i want to create dynamic, crazy, cutting edge page layouts - but because the method i've been using creates really static layouts with little variation. I have not experimented with the sense of time, projection of space, etc, that can be done with layout. My frame sequences tend to be very straight forward, and balancing them after everything is drawn can sometimes results in a lot of hair pulling. Yes, i'm aware of all the books and whatnot that talk about frame layout and comics and crap like that. I've found a some of them to be rather cloying and high-browed. For me, i prefer looking at comics themselves to deduce how i can use it, rather than try to apply ideas spelled out for me in how-to books from so called experts. So, with the same spirit of experimentation that will forever be my excuse as to why Megatokyo sucks as much as it does, I decided to give a full page approach a try to see how it works.
The biggest challenge for me when drawing the comic as a single page is having to be decisive about layout before i start drawing. I have a tendency to muddle around with layout and often don't have it really settled until several drawings are done. Also, i need to make sure that each drawing takes space for dialogue into account from the outset. I have enough experience at this point to do this, but i'm used to not thinking about it as i draw.
Monday's comic was, for the most part, a pretty successful experiment. Sure, the frame layout is really not that different, and i could have easily done in my old method, but it opens up the door to many other things i can do. One thing i found, and it surprised me, was how satisfying it was to see an entire page come together as you draw it. Usually, i set out the sheets i'm working on and try to visualize the final comic, but with this method you can actually see it. It sounds weird, but its actually nice to start drawing a frame next to the previous one, rather than grabbing a blank sheet of paper. Maybe i'm weird, but i had a better sense of momentum. Also, for this comic i was originally going to duplicate the last two frames and just change the expressions, but i was inspired to just draw the final frame as well so the page could be a complete page.
Assembly is still something i'm working on. This comic is kind of a transitionary comic - it was done in illustrator with some modifications to my normal way of working (to accommodate a single drawing rather than multiple cropped ones). In this new approach i'm trying to accommodate both print and web versions of the comic so i don't have to spend an entire month going back and fixing up old comics. THis alone is worth the doing things this way. :) I'm also want to experiment with doing all the assembly in Photoshop, to try to get the workflow on these streamlined as much as possible (i can do more with text and other things in photoshop than i can in illustrator, and keeping things to one file would be nice). That part of the comic process still needs work, and i'll be experimenting with that tonight as i finish up Wednesday's comic.
I'd also like to make a quick comment about the content of Monday's comic. As you know, i tend to be pretty clean with the language and content of Megatokyo. It's not hard for me, given the way my sensibilities work, so reading MT is no worse in content than watching Friends or a PG-13 movie. I rarely do fanservice for the sake of fanservice... in fact, technically, i never do fanservice. How can i claim that showing the two main girls working on a computer in their underwear isn't fanservice? Because it's part of the story. Fanservice is when you do a cut panel showing gratuitous undressing for no reason other than you want to. It is showing a upskirt shot and a peek at undergarments because you can.
I play with anime and manga cliches a lot in Megatokyo, and part of the challenge is to work with them in ways that comment on them and question them. I've been concerned about this particular comic for years (yes, years) because i have been balking at drawing Kimiko and Erika like this. In the end, i decided that it was the way the story worked, the way it flowed, and that if done with the right amount of tact it could work pretty well. I think it did - i tried to make this seem as natural as possible (well, the first three frames is a humorous thing is a setup i couldn't really get around if i wanted to :P). Of course, i'm hardly done with this arc, so we'll see where it goes.
If this comic offended your sensibilities, i am sorry. This is not fanservice for the sake of fanservice - i have neither gone to one extreme (having the scenes that are more about showing off female bits rather than the story) nor the other (ridiculously blocking everything with boxes and bottles and showing mostly their heads). I think it's a good compromise. These characters are human, and these are parts of the story that have been part of the plan for a long time. Not every take on anime/manga cliches i do works, but we'll see how this one pans out.
Finally, you may have noticed that Megatokyo is loading faster than it has been for a long time. After much drama and piroko-channeling on my part, we finally managed to move the Megatokyo site as it currently stands to the new server (without all the problems we had when we tried it last month). I won't say that the new version of the Megatokyo site will be done soon, but it is back in the works (i restarted the project last month). For now, the current version of the MT site is running smoothly on Mishio and poor Makoto is getting a much needed respite.