You would think a graphic designer that has spent most of his career in advertising and shaping the marketing messages of other people's projects could do his own.
Not so much.
I was reminded of that fact last night during a recording of a podcast from a couple of guys I met at the Ashland Highlander's Comic Con. Bruce and Chris of CHUBBY WIZARD podcast were nice enough to invite me on their show for their indie spotlight.
I didn't do very well as far as getting the point of the book across. I had rehearsed my spiel all day yesterday, but when I got the actual questions asked to me, I blanked. I loosened up towards the middle of the interview at least. But that experience definitely had me thinking what message I'm putting out into the world about this book.
My main mantra for this book is fun. Not just in the reading of it, but in the creation of it. I admit I have been a little selfish about that part. I've planned this book for so long, I am producing it more for me than I am anyone else. But I do try to offer it to other readers at conventions as well as family and friends.
I do work in a vacuum because of many reasons. In a days time, things compress really quickly and the day is over. As much as I'd like to, I just can't devote a lot of extra time hyping the book, especially when I know it's still undone. I guess in my mind why would anyone want it unfinished. Serialized stories work best when they come out in a decent timeframe. Six months isn't a good time frame. Because of that, I do recoil a bit when it comes to marketing and trying to get buyers or stores to get copies. It's the main reason I'm going to back to the idea of printing larger volumes. I feel secure in selling a whole story than a piece of it, I have no idea when I'll be able to get to the other parts. I'm sure when I was asked where someone could pick the book up and my reply was very sketchy or vague, that raised a few eyebrows. "Why would you produce something, you're not trying your best to get out into the world as much as you can?"
No, I don't have a storefront to sell my books. Or, I haven't approached retailers to stock them on their crowded shelves. It's not like I don't care about those parts of this books creation. My first and only intention is making the best book I can. Once I've gotten to that point, I truly feel everything else will fall into place. Until then, look over me. Check the site time to time. But please feel secure in knowing I'm trying my very best to make a good book I would read. And as such, one I'm proud to hand over to you.
I've done about every part of the production process except the thing I've probably done more in the world of comics, lettering.
A lot of people overlook lettering, if you're a reader and you don't notice the lettering, the person doing the lettering has done their job. But if you ever notice the lettering, chances are it wasn't very good and took you out of the reading experience.
It's a thankless job, especially now in the days of digital lettering and the fonts that are out there. I actually started lettering comics in the late 1990s and yes I did get paid for the jobs (mostly). It was during my first times freelancing my graphic design skills. I figured that the emerging digital lettering process fit right into my design abilities it would be a good way to get into the business.
For the most part, it was successful. Met some nice people that gave me a break (thanks Roland!). And I got invaluable experience. I had my chance to stake my ground in the emerging market. I even had some people asking me for tips (some which work for major indy books nowadays). But something personal happened, and I had to leave it. I rejoined the workforce and the rest was history.
What's funny is that while I was doing it, I was frustrated I was just the letterer.. When I left it, I missed it.
Am I a great letterer? No. But I do respect the thinking behind it past the ease of the computer. You're guiding the reader along the path of start to finish. You're the translator of the writing and art. It is just as much of the art as anything about a comic. You must follow basics of how we read. You help evoke the sounds of the background or tones of the scene.
I have very specific guides to my comic and what lettering I use on it. I think it's worked out pretty well so far. Like the book in general, I try not to over complicate the use.
ISSUE #3 UPDATE: I've redrawn some pages I wasn't happy with. Remember, I'm not allowing myself redraws or "remasters" after printing. So I'm trying my best to make it the best issue I can. It delays the book further I know. I really appreciate you still coming to the site to read this and see my progress. I'm really proud of #3. It deserves the best I can give it. As do my readers, deserve the quality I'm striving for. I think the worst thing about indy publishing and the venue I've decided to go, is the fact it's done when I'm done. Schedules are hard to keep with my business. And since I've just sold these by conventions, my brain can go into to "next convention isn't until...so I have that long to get it done."
To remedy this, I am seriously reconsidering only selling them at conventions. I'm going to see about getting the books into some comic shops before Christmas. I'll let you know if that happens. Chances are most of you live close to the ones I'm going to approach. Others I can come up with a solution if not another convention. My hope is that I can get into a publishing schedule and have a venue past conventions to get them out.
I've been reticent to try shops because of the printing costs and what I would have to discount to get the store to carry them. So if I can figure that one out, maybe I can find a shop willing to work with me and give my little book a chance on their very crowded shelves.
In 2015, comics are trying to stay contemporary as they can. As such, most of the material in most books (not all) isn't what I would consider to be for a general audience. I get the impression that most of them are being written for 16 year old guys. They are overtly just about every category you can come up with. And while that's ok for some, I find it a bit daunting to be in that mix.
I'm an old guy by comparison to the reader they're trying to reach. I look at these books and think they can do better. I'm not just talking about ignoring the younger reader, I'm talking about the older one also. Even older than me, gasp!
Now I'm about to do an "In my day" tirade. I'm grabbing my cane and sitting back in my favorite recliner and comfortable slippers. So beware.
My prime reading period was the 1980s. Those writers and artists had to contend with the comics code authority. Yes, it was created out of censorship, but it did establish a guideline that companies that wanted its mark on their covers had to go by.
Those creators had to step their game up to work within the authority. And before you roll your eyes at me saying how much freer things are today, might I remind you that the death of Jason Todd in "Death in the Family" had the authority mark on it? Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo were able to get that story across without too much trouble and I certainly didn't feel it was sanitized or watered down.
Most of what is considered classic during that time period had the mark on it. Batman Year One with Gordon's infidelity, Selina Kyle as a working gal, and so many wonderful stories were told with the mark on them. You honestly could give many books to MOST readers of just about any age and it didn't feel like something was missing.
What happened to that? I'm glad the code is gone mind you, considering how and why it was created. But it seems the anything goes mentality that has followed it, has certainly compartmentalized comics.
I think comics should have a large, diverse audience. There should be something for everyone. But I think the everybody area has been relegated to "All Ages". Or as translated by most companies, any one under 10.
That's not what it means.
In the mid 90s to the current market, All Ages meant books with animation art styles and simple one off stories. That's fine. But remember that Jim Starlin/Jim Aparo Batman example was my All Ages. It wasn't just for one audience. It was for any one who liked to read a Batman comic. What was wrong with that?
I've hesitated to use the term "All Ages" to describe the content MAN IN THE MASK contains due to not relegating it to only a certain readership. It's the same as me saying I'm only going for the over 40 crowd that remembers when comics were cool and less complicated. It's self defeating.
I want everyone to read it. I'm not purposely trying to water it's content down to fit a certain audience. It's just how I want the book represented. No politics, no harsh (the occasional, crap) language or overt adult situations doesn't make the book less something an adult would want to read. I don't write to avoid those themes, my book just doesn't need them. I can chose the degree of the themes MAN IN THE MASK visits. That's my right as a creator. Why would I want to cut off any potential reader just because I want to be "cutting edge?"
So if anyone asks, Mike W. Belcher's MAN IN THE MASK is for a general audience. It's for everybody. It can even be called All Ages if that means you'll read it and then pass it on to All ages.
Had some time this afternoon so I worked on updating and cleaning up some pages. Especially for visitors that are coming here without buying a book first.
Been toying around with the idea of a BIO section, but again was afraid I'd give something away. So instead, I put some new images (my Inktober work) with the origins of the creation of the characters instead. Take a look if you want in the main book section. Not too bad if I say so myself. Plan on adding when I can, when I can find the time.
I will be adding a store soon, but still plan on using cons as the main way of getting the books out. However, before that, if you would like any copies, use the CONTACT button and let me know, I might be able to make arrangements, especially when issue #3 is done.
This might go along with the (art) style post from the other day.
For years, inking was a great enemy of mine. I would pencil something that looked really nice and then I would lay some ink down and hate it immensly. It just changed my style so much. In addition, inking is a little more technical than penciling. It's a whole lot more than just tracing (and I'm not just saying that to keep Banky from sticking a pen in my thorax). As loose as I was with my penciling, with inking I just seized up and froze.
A few years ago, I purchased Manga Studio. While most of it is more than I'll ever use, the inking component is exactly what someone like me needs to find courage so to speak. It allows me to try things without worrying about ruining the original. It has taught me to be a better artist and inker away from the computer.
Most of my general attitude on inking is from Frank Miller's work in Dark Knight Strikes Again. Yeah, I know. Not a very popular choice amongst some people. I liked it. But it was within that work, I honestly focused on his ink work. In his penciling, he really dialed down the anatomical approach and started what is referred to as "bigfoot drawing" really going out there and not trying to make it look real. But it was in his inking I noticed a real just go with it mentality. Don't worry about every line, or if it makes sense, just go for it.
Whether or not that's what he was going for is beyond me. My interpretation. But it does help when I'm inking, just to go for it. Trust me, the undo feature is the only computery thing I'm doing. That line is my unedited line. And by just going for it, it actually simplifies my art further. I am much more specific in my pencils. But when I hit the inking stage, I just distill things down. It helps with a lot of the forms and helps me come up with my black fills and shadow. Handy tool that I would suggest to anyone being held up by the inking process in their work. Takes the pressure off a bit and does let you breath.
I wouldn't have finished 2 issues without it.
Sorry for the lack of new posts, been a real busy non-comics time around here. Which of course, messes around with a lot of things, but hey, gotta pay the bills.
I have tried to at least doodle a little at night despite being really tired from my daily work. I've tried to keep up with the Inktober challenge. Haven't done very well, but Aiden has every night. Might post some of his stuff if he'll let me. It's amazing how much he's growing as an artist. Probably won't be anytime, you'd rather see him draw the book than me.
Finishing issue #3 kind of came to a stop last week when a big design job came in, so it will probably be the later part of this month before it's done. I hate it. I have yet to hit any of my deadlines with this book. But since, at the moment, it's not bringing much revenue in, I can't replace it on my schedule like I would like. I am taking some steps over the next few months that might help me not only finish it, but get BOOK TWO done for the new year.
Doing this book on my off time is quite a challenge. The biggest one is keeping from putting the paid stuff to the side and just work on it. My art desk is just five feet from my computer and design desk. So close, I have to fight it off. And everytime I slip, I usually have someone emailing me or calling me about a job they need NOW. Which makes me straighten myself up and fly right.
It's frustrating. And it also affects how much PR I can do for the book. Thank you for coming to site, if I haven't said that in awhile. I actually have a pretty decent stream of weekly traffic. I wish I could put more and more stuff up but time isn't always my friend and I try to use my free time to work on the book. Then, I'm also cautious what I put up. I figure most of you are those that have read my books and are coming here for updates. But I'm afraid to post sketches or comments that might spoil parts of my story to those that have been referred here and don't have the book. But then that opens the whole, "I need a store to sell the book thing" and I just haven't set that up yet. I do have one convention I plan to go to in November (tentative so I'm not jinxing saying which one until it's more firm) and I'll have everything for sell then.
I'm rambling. I'm good for that. Just wanted to post a quick message to everyone what was going on. Gonna have some time today to draw, might have to turn off my phone to do so, but trust me, I won't mind.
A lifelong comics fan, Mike W. Belcher is the writer/artist of MAN IN THE MASK. A story he's had with him for over 20 years.