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A* Episode 17 
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Discussion thread for A* episode 17, which starts post-haste!


Wed Jul 04, 2012 11:53 pm
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I tried using my old non-waterproof white ink to sort of squidge in the planet's cloud layer here, but I probably won't try doing it quite this way again as it was a pain and came out sort of soupy or omelety. =p Oh well it was a learning experience and I only got a *little* ink on myself!

Wondering where the silly names in today's subtitle came from? Well you could try looking them up yourself...or...just keep reading 'cause I like explaining my silly names. :P Ready? Okay.

"Mellifera" is from Apis mellifera, the scientific name for the "Western" or "European" honey bee--they actually came from Africa, mind you, which still boasts the most honey bee subspecies. And the scientific name was something of a disaster too:
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The genus Apis is Latin for "bee", and mellifera comes from Latin melli- "honey" and ferre "to bear"—hence the scientific name means "honey-bearing bee". The name was coined in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus who, upon realizing the bees do not bear honey, but nectar, tried later to correct it to Apis mellifica ("honey-making bee") in a subsequent publication. However, according to the rules of synonymy in zoological nomenclature, the older name has precedence.

Smooth move, Linnaeus! Oh well; "bearing" makes more sense than "making" for the "bee" connection that will be coming along later in this episode.

"Nena," the name of the planet in this episode, comes from the name of an ancient supercontinent of Earth:
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Nena was an ancient minor supercontinent that consisted of the cratons of Arctica, Baltica, and East Antarctica. Forming about 1.8 billion years ago, the continent was part of the global supercontinent, Columbia. Nena is an acronym that derives from Northern Europe and North America.

(The supercontinent Nena contained pieces of what are now Northern Europe and North America, you see.)

Being a short word, there are of course a lot of other "Nenas" that have sprung up, according to Google; for instance, there's Nena the German pop singer, best known for her 1984 hit, 99 Luftballons ("99 Balloons").
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Having achieved widespread success in Germanic Europe and Japan, plans were made for the band to take the song international with an English version by Kevin McAlea, titled "99 Red Balloons". The English version is not a direct translation of the German and contains a somewhat different set of lyrics. The later-released English translation, "99 Red Balloons," was the version that became popular outside of Germany, with it topping the charts in Canada, the UK, Australia and Ireland. Interestingly, it was the original German version that American audiences preferred, becoming the highest Billboard charting German song in US History, when it peaked at #2 in the US.

Here's the original German version, which was indeed the one I remembered:



The 1984 English version is here, and there's a translation of the lyrics (which are still a bit hard to make out) in the uploader's comment on the 2009 German/French version; it's a song about an apocalyptic war that starts when a trigger-happy military mistakes a flock of 99 red balloons released by children as hostile UFOs or something. :o This will actually fit in with this episode in some ways, how about that!

And if that isn't enough coincidence for you, Nena herself has a bit of dark-haired Selenis (yeah she'll still have her hair dark in this episode) about her, as you can see in this photo (source).

Uh... Oh and "Earth's Revival" was first mentioned to Selenis by Solvan Mar, as the source of his information on advanced technology, way back in episode 11.


Thu Jul 05, 2012 7:35 am
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No real blogging today 'cause it's past my bedtime already! :P I didn't really plan on doing an exterior shot for this panel but then it seemed like the best place to get one in, and I thought I wouldn't have fun drawing it but actually it was fun! Hm.

The "I <3 NY" T-shirt was kind of fun, too. ;) I've never actually been to New York...but neither has Selenis, so it's okay!


Fri Jul 06, 2012 6:53 am
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The angst of losing a comic or social networking subscriber, Roy Lichtenstein style:

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Although in the long run, as long as you keep doing good stuff, it will generally work out okay.

The source image for that is Lichtenstein's 1963 piece, Drowning Girl--the words having been changed somewhat, of course; the replacement font is an itailcized form of the free font VTC Letterer Pro, which doesn't really match Lichtenstein's lettering, but I think it still looks pretty nice anyway. :P

While this is an outright copy-paste-Photoshop rip-off, it is interesting to note, as Wikipedia tells us, that Lichtenstein recreated the image and dialogue pretty directly from another source: a splash page in issue 83 of the DC romance comic, Secret Hearts, that came out in '62. And the waves, by Lichtenstein's own admission, were adopted from prints by the famous Japanese Edo-period printmaker, Hokusai.

Lichtenstein's real genius--the one for which he quickly became famous, anyway--was in the selection, distillation, arrangement, and presentation of comic art, and the style of crude emotion and violence it was used to convey--and he cranked this up to the maximum in his bold minimalist way. One trick was working big: Drowning Girl is nearly six feet by six feet. But he's also found and heightened a notably absurd moment of despair--couched in the odd language male comic book writers of the day often gave to their stereotypically emotionally overwrought and physically helpless female characters--popping out in the bold, super-sized Ben-Day print-style dots of color he used so powerfully.

And I just like the name, "Brad"--that was all Lichtenstein, I think. He used the name in several pieces (depicting domestically anxious women, generally, which was a peculiar and popular specialty of his), and once "stated that the name Brad sounded heroic to him and was used with the aim of cliched oversimplification." In the original script for the panel in Secret Hearts #83, the boyfriend's name is "Mal." ... I would say "Brad" was quite an improvement. (What the heck kind of English name is "Mal"? In French it means "Bad"...)

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Re: page 5: I hadn't realized there was a an Elvis Presley song called "Earth Boy" until I was Googling it today in my usual lazy procedure for gauging how likely I am to get sued when I give something a name. I figure I'm probably pretty safe in this case.

Re: page 6: I kinda like this style, but like most of my stuff it sort of happens unbidden, and I've only had it happen like twice before in A*, I think--those were fairly recent pages, though (episode 16, pages 82 and 95), so hopefully that means it's catching on in the part of my subconscious that decides how to draw things.


Sat Jul 07, 2012 8:32 am
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Two pages! And it is past my bedtime, dang. Gotta get up to collect the stuff that didn't sell from my art show here in Seattle that just ended--a good deal of stuff did sell though, so that was pretty nice. Ummm oh and I made some good progress on the subscription mode for A* (HD-sized comics, no ads) over the weekend, finishing up the back-end account management stuff...except for a FAQ I should write for it, I suppose...and then getting on to the actual comic displaying part, starting out by tidying up the comic interface a bit; it's mostly small stuff you wouldn't notice anyway even once it does go up (it isn't up yet), but tidying up interfaces makes me happy, *and* unless I hit a major speedbump somehow (famous last words! :p), the rest of the stuff I have to do for the subscription mode shouldn't take all that much longer, I think.


Tue Jul 10, 2012 6:51 am
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Eep! Getting later and later, how does this always seem to happen to my weeks? ;)

Picked up the unsold stuff from my summer art show--and a check! Enough to cover a month's rent, yay for art! (I have stupendously low rent, but still. :P) And the owners of the place told me that they had a bunch of people come in because they'd read about the show on my site, so that's pretty cool. Thanks to everyone who checked it out!

Man there are so many layers of white and black ink on this last page, urgh! And no I'm sure Selenis' look here has nothing to do with me currently watching my way through the old 70's live-action Wonder Woman show on The WB. >_>

... Also I'm sure that has nothing significant to do with my schedule slipping a little more each day. Nope!


Wed Jul 11, 2012 9:07 am
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Just about a year after researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope to look for a ring system around Pluto discovered Pluto's forth moon, researchers using Hubble to check for objects that might collide with the New Horizons probe when it passes near the (dwarf) planet have discovered a fifth moon of Pluto, according to NASA. With an irregular shape that may be something from 10 to 25 km across, moon S/2012 P 1 (or more simply, "P5") has taken the record from P4 for being the smallest known moon. Here's the updated family photo:

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image by NASA; ESA; M. Showalter, SETI Institute (source)

Scientists have been surprised by the complexity of the Pluto system, and think it may be the result of a collision between Pluto and some other object out in that distant and mysterious part of our solar system known as the Kuiper belt. One thing that suggests this is the nearly circular and nicely resonant orbits of the moons; if they were captured objects rather than moons that formed around Pluto from orbiting debris, their orbits would likely be more elliptical.

Pluto's shaping up to be a pretty funny little dwarf system indeed! Its inner, largest moon, Charon, is fully half as far across as Pluto itself is (1207 vs 2306 km), while the other known moons are wee little things possibly under 100 km across (source). There's a nice diagram showing just how much Pluto and Charon dwarf the other moons (except for P5, which wasn't discovered when this diagram was made) right here (wide image).

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Some rather awfully rough character design sketches from the past few days:

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Thu Jul 12, 2012 7:38 am
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I have stuff I should post but for some reason drawing two pages is taking more and more time. Rawr! Need sleepy!

EDIT: Put the eye completely in shadow--notice how that (and raising the corner of the lower lip slightly) magically resolved some parts of the face and background that were sort of fighting with each other in presenting slightly conflicting viewing angles to the camera ;|:

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Hmrrr. More and more often I'm finding that I do a page, scan it in, then sit around experimenting with tweaks in Photoshop to fix something that's been bugging me that I haven't quite been able to put my finger on--then of course have to go get the ink and brush back out, touch it it, re-scan it, etc. Dang Photoshop! It keeps pulling me back *in*! :"o


Fri Jul 13, 2012 9:38 am
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I've been doing something silly on recent pages--I've been drawing a figure with detailed interior, spending a lot of time doing hatching and cross-hatching on it, and then finally getting tired of that and blacking out most of it; if I could just go straight to the solid black phase I'd save a lot of time! Here's an earlier stage of today's page:

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I think I often feel like I start drawing in too cartoony of a fashion--and I don't really want to draw cartoonishly, but that just kind of happens because it's easier.

I'm also not drawing quite as I keep imagining I would like to draw, which is this sort of nutty slashing at the paper and carving things out in tapered lines. Maybe I've got that idea from looking at brushwork by Sean Murphy, who gets very angular brushwork somehow. I dunno. But these nice and expensive sable brushes I've been using bend and flex and make squiggles rather than slashes. I suppose I could try diluting the ink a bit and going with lighter pressure on the strokes, but eh then it wouldn't be dark enough.

Anyhoo on G+ yesterday a reader asked if I'd done any sumi painting, and I said no but the ink I used up through the bar scene in the last episode was black sumi ink, which is pretty much like any black pigmented ink really. But that got me thinking about those cheap-ish bamboo sumi brushes one sees at art supply stores, with their really stiff bristles. They don't seem like they'd be capable of really intricate detail work with the rough tips they have, but I've been wondering about them enough that maybe I'll pick one up to play with and see what it does.

~~~~~~~~~~

Reader Latrans strikes again with his interesting A* inversions; this one is from a recent page that showed an exterior view of some domes on the surface of this planet, Nena:

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Switching the black and the white makes it look like something else entirely, doesn't it? :o Well...we won't get to that until later in the episode. ;)


Sat Jul 14, 2012 10:09 am
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(^ In cheesy old TV shows this would be where they bushwhack her! Hm come to think of it that beardy guy in profile there probably does look like a bushwhacker.)

Exciting art day! I tried out a new brush! A Google+ conversation last week got me thinking again about those bamboo-handled "sumi-e" paint brushes you see in art supply stores, and today I swung by the art department in the University of Washington's bookstore, which has a good selection and pretty good prices too, and I knew they had a whole sumi-e section. Their selection of regular "Yasutomo"-brand (that seems to be the one (and usually only) brand most of the art supply stores around here carry when it comes to Japanese art supplies) brushes was pretty picked over, but off to the side were all these jars of big Haboku Artist Brushes, in four sizes from Small to XL. A handy booklet nearby explained that these were stiff brushes with a blend of horsehair and synthetic bristles that gives them a lot of spring and carrying capacity, which sounded nice. Even the S size is wayyyy bigger than the European sable brushes I've been using, so I got that one. Turns out the UW bookstore is the place to get these things, because it rang up at just under $8, which you'll notice is 50% less than the price in Yasutomo's own shop at the link above--50% less than Amazon, too! And they had the XL for $12-something.

If you do look at that Yasutomo shop page you'll also see a "Haboku Stroke Brush" listed at the bottom as an "optional accessory." It's actually a completely separate brush, but the brush head is the same size and appearance as the "Artist Brush," and the description might as well be describing the Artist Brush--only the Stroke Brush has what I guess are probably Japanese characters printed down the side--and is 4x the price. HM. Guess I'll stick with the Artist Brush.

As the descriptions say, the brush has both horsehair and synthetic bristles: the stiffer synthetics form a central cone, with the coarser but more flexible (that doesn't sound right but it is) horsehair bristles forming a ring around it. Seems like a funny setup but it means that you get a really sharp, strong tip from the synthetic bristles, but with a boosted water carrying capability from the surrounding horsehair; plus, if you sort of hold the brush sideways a bit, you can get all soft and brushy with those softer bristles.

As I mentioned, even the S has a pretty big head, and the smoothed and painted bamboo handle is quite long; it's weighted to be held midway and dangled straight down from between thumb and forefinger as shown in this video, but I need to work not so abstractly, so that won't work--for the standard pen-type illustrator's grip, holding it right up near where the bristles go into the handle, the weight is way too far back. So I sawed the end of the handle off, learning that bamboo is surprisingly tricky to saw through in the process. It took two clumsy slices to find the right balance, and it might be a little front-heavy for someone working on a flat table surface, but since my hand is pitched upward on my sharply inclined drawing table, having the balance more toward the front of the brush is a good thing. Here it is dwarfing the brush I've been using before this, a Raphael 8404 size 4, and the brush I used before that (and which I still use for white ink), a Winsor & Newton Series 7 size 3:

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I did a bunch of little sketches to test it, then I used it for today's two pages. And--it's neat! Its stiffness and ink/water capacity mean that I can do bigger/sharper/longer lines with it, yet it can still do pretty good detail with its tapered synthetic cone tip. This lets me work a lot more expressively, which is fun. I'm almost tempted to try a larger size like the XL, whose head is half-again as long as the S's, but that probably *would* be pushing my hand too far off the paper for good control, not to mention ergonomics. And I'm not even filling the S to capacity when I dip it in ink, anyway, because it can just swallow so much ink.

I've seen it shed at least six bristles so far; I think they were all horsehair, so that doesn't worry me too much, and it probably won't shed at quite that high a rate after its first day of use. I hope. :P At a third of the cost of the Raphael 8404, though, it should still pretty easily last long enough to be cost-effective; the 8404's tips have stayed in good shape through about 20 or 25 A* pages, I guess, and have pretty much been toast after about 40 pages (I guess I am hard on brushes :P), so if the Haboku's tip can stay in good shape through 8 pages or so, it's even. I'd think it will last a bit longer than that, but we'll see!

The other downside I've noticed so far is that the dark brown/purple paint on the bamboo handle comes off a bit--or, at least it leaves light reddish stains on the things I've rested it on for a bit, in spots where the surface was damp. Strange not to use waterproof paint to paint a paintbrush! Huh. Well as long as it doesn't start making the pages red (not that that would show up in the grayscale scans anyway), I guess that's all right.

Here are the practice sketches I made with it first!

This one is all Haboku except for the upper right corner, where I did some Raphael 8404 doodles for comparison--I noticed with those that I couldn't maintain lines like I could with the Haboku, just because the 8404 dries up a lot faster; from the central, Haboku-painted figure, I found the longer Haboku head probably can't cross-hatch quite as easily as the 8404--but maybe that's for the best since I kind of want to get away from tons of little hatched lines anyway (and in this set I prefer the figures in lower left and lower right, which don't have much hatching at all, but just a lot of black ink flowing out of that Haboku horsehair:

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And then this one was all Haboku:

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(It says "Black Star" on it because the other side is the test drawing I did with Black Star ink back in my ink round-up. :P And the first set has "D4" because that one's on the back of the Deleter Black 4 test page. Hey, this nice paper ain't cheap! :PP)

So I'll probably stock up on a few more of these Haboku brushes and keep going with 'em, at least unless they turn out to fall all to pieces after a few pages. And I'll have a new art store to check for them, because an actual art supply store just moved to Ballard (my neighborhood in Seattle), so yay! No more having to go across town, or mooning around the arts and crafts aisle in Fred Meyer ;P. Although Dakota's prices, at least when it was in its previous, Roosevelt location, weren't quite competitive with the bigger local stores like the UW Bookstore or Daniel Smith; still, it should be plenty handy for when I need (okay, "want" :P) something on short notice.


Tue Jul 17, 2012 8:07 am
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