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GPF, Webcomics

First all-digital GPF strip is in the queue

January 22nd, 2008 by Jeff | Dump Core

As previously forecast, the first all-digital GPF strip is now officially in the queue. Since yesterday was a holiday, I was able to sit down and spend some time scripting and planning for Year Nine of the comic (after finally packing up and moving all our Christmas decorations into the attic). I then got my first chance to sit down with Hermes and work from a raw script to build a finished GPF strip, from start to finish, without the single use of pen and paper. Mind you, I’ve done a few strips that were up to 95%+ digital, reusing old art or having tons of digital effects. But even on those the panel boxes were drawn by hand or the original art lifted from other strips were drawn on paper first. This was the first time I “penciled” and “inked” everything in the computer without touching a single sheet of Bristol board.

It was… a learning experience.

I used my old process as a template and modified steps as I went along. I had created some panel templates a while back using Inkscape and imported that into Paint Shop Pro, splitting them into their own layer. I then created background, sketch, and ink raster layers (when imported there was no background, so I had to add one), then added a vector layer for the text. Just like working with my old process, I put in the text first; only this time, the typed text went directly into the panels as the finished product rather than measuring out space to add it in later. I sketched my rough lines in the sketch layer, which gave me the added benefit of being able to remove the sketch lines at will by turning the layer on and off. I found out my sketching technique doesn’t translate cleanly to digital work. I pick my pencil up quite often and quickly set it back down and sometimes this move is so quick the stylus doesn’t register it at first, resulting in missed lines. (I noticed this before with my Wacom but it wasn’t as obvious when I didn’t use it as often for sketching.)

Once penciled, I moved to a different layer and put in the inks. I haven’t been able to get pressure sensitivity to work with Hermes; I know it does work, as there’s a pre-installed app that supports it, but I haven’t gotten it to work in PSP yet. However, since I’ve always drawn with technical pens in the past, I’m used to working with lines of set sizes, fudging occasionally when I really need to taper something. (Bill Holbrook of Kevin & Kell does the same thing.) So I used varying sizes for my paint brush, mimicking the approximate sizes of each technical pen I used to use. It took a few tries at first to get what I wanted, but it worked out fairly well. I decided to do my character flat colors in the ink layer as well so they would sit above the background gradients, which was an added step I never had to worry about before.

I tried to do vector word balloons for the dialog, but I’ve never been happy with the predefined “callout” objects PSP came with. So I drew those by hand as well, making them not a far departure from the way I used to draw. Of course, one advantage I have now is that I can flip and rotate Hermes around as I draw, making straight lines easier to freehand. That’s not something to do with Bristol board taped to a big, bulky art desk.

All in all, it turned out pretty well. I’m satisfied with the results. Not impressed, but satisfied. Admittedly, the first story of the new “year” is a pretty simple one artistically, which was a conscious decision. I knew I’d being trying out new things so I wanted to make things relatively easy on myself. This should give me time to find a new groove before the second story, which will be a bit more ambitious. (The only hint you’ll get for now: the honeymoon.)  I imagine things will get easier as I get used to my new process. The big advantage, of course, was that I wasn’t hidden away in the basement away from my family, so I was instantly accessible if my wife or son needed me. I do think it took me less time as well, but I didn’t bother timing myself to make sure.

So when do you get to see the final result? March 10th. Which makes this a good time to transition to the next topic of this post….

March 10 will mark the beginning of the next GPF “year”, Year Nine. Year Nine was supposed to start in November 2006, but because of the many delays that plagued me after Ben was born, I’m seriously behind. That can’t be helped, of course, so I’m just going to continue on as best I can. Year Nine will be abbreviated, running from March 2008 through October, with Year Ten starting on the day after GPF’s tenth anniversary, November 3rd. I’ll then try to return to the old November through October “year” schedule I maintained from the beginning, for as long as I can keep the strip running.

The best news: I’m going to try my best to move GPF back to a three-day-per-week schedule starting with Year Nine. So on March 10, expect to continue coming back Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but look for fresh strips throughout the week. By setting this as the start of the new “year”, I’m now back at my ideal eight to seven week optimal buffer; if I can produce three strips per week with this streamlined process, I should be set to keep this buffer. It will mean some modifications to my storytelling process, meaning I’ll be aiming for smaller, funnier stories and fewer “mega arcs”. (Pauses for cheers from some of the audience to die down.) However, look for things to become a bit more serial as I try to work larger-running plot threads into concurrent smaller stories.

Note, of course, that this announcement comes here and not in the official News. Ergo, it’s not officially official yet, so you can officially take it with an official grain of salt. This is a goal and not a policy yet, so don’t look for it to be set in stone (or at least Jell-O) until you see it announced there.

As I’ve hinted here and in the GPF News, there are a lot of changes in store for GPF this year. These are but a few of them. Look for several huge announcements (and I do mean huge) to be coming out in the next month or so. If you are not currently subscribed to the RSS feeds here and on the GPF site, now might be a good time so you won’t miss anything. Keenspot PREMIUM folks should pay special attention, as you will be the most directly affected. (If you’ve been ignoring the dusty old Rumor Mill page, now might be a good time to checking it periodically.)

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