Saturday, December 17, 2011

Propheteering

Last week, I visited a bit with Brandon Graham, the all-around nifty dude who draws King City and Multiple Warheads. He's currently writing a book called Prophet for Image comics, and the roster of artists he's brought onto the project is a murderer's row of new talent, including Farel Dalrymple and Giannis Milonogiannis. The first issue is drawn by Simon Roy, whose work I love very much:


I haven't been this excited about a new comic in... I dunno, forever. Having heard from Brandon what he has in store for future issues, I'm getting a little bit of that kid on Christmas morning feeling. Brandon gives his imagination a very long leash. I suspect that when I'm on my death bed and going over my list of regrets, close to the top will be remorse for not having been as brave as Brandon with my creative choices. If I could save game right now, live out the rest of my life the way it's currently headed, and then come back to today and live out my remaining days Brandon-style, I suspect the second game would be way more fun than the first.

Anyway, here are the first few pages that Brandon has posted on his blog. The first issue (#21, in deference to the previous Prophet series from the '90s) comes out next month. (Oh, and these very beautiful colors are by a guy named Richard Ballermann).






Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hat In Hand

Does anyone work at, or know someone who works at, a Seattle-area game studio that may be looking to hire a reasonably genre-agnostic concept artist/comic book creator/low-poly modeler? Because I know a guy... oh, who am I fooling? I need a job.

This does not spell the end of Nonplayer -- in fact, this is just about the only way that Nonplayer has any chance of getting finished. And if I turn out to work faster while holding down a day job, I'm going to be kind of mad at myself for this whole meandering sabbatical. More mad at myself than I already am, I mean.

If anyone knows of an opening, please contact me at nonplayercomic at gmail. Resume and portfolio available on request. Apologies for the blog-spam.

Thanks!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

One Way to Fail

Every thousand years
This metal sphere
Ten times the size of Jupiter
floats just a few yards past the Earth.

You climb on your roof
and take a swipe at it,
Hit it once every thousand years,
'Til you've worn it down to the size of a pea.

Where you gonna be?
Where will you spend eternity?
I'm gonna be perfect from now on,
I'm gonna be perfect starting now.

-Randy Described Eternity, Built to Spill

When you're working on something big, the most difficult part is always the middle bit. Starting a project is easy -- you're full of new ideas, untapped energy, and naively optimistic notions about scheduling. And you'd be surprised what kind of spiritual reserves become available as the finish heaves into view.  But the middle is a drag.

If you'll indulge another cycling metaphor: drawing a (slow) comic is like riding (slowly) in the Tour de France.  The peloton has left you behind, the cheering crowds that lined the streets of the last hamlet can no longer be heard. The next town lies somewhere over the horizon, and the surrounding countryside does not change. There is no way to mark your progress, nor are there other racers against whom to measure your pace. The motorcycle-mounted camera has disappeared with the fast riders, so you don't even get the satisfaction of knowing your struggle is being shared.

There's just the sound of your breath to distract you from the pain in your legs. Occasionally, you pass a lone spectator who has waited patiently by the roadside to clap for you. There's also the rare heckler, who jeers as you wobble past.

But no matter how much the world begins to feel like a demense-covered treadmill, you remind yourself that the finish line is up there somewhere. It may be far away, but every turn of the pedals brings you a little bit closer. It took Lance exactly the same number of foot-pumps to get there as it'll take you.

The only way to fail is to stop.

I'm somewhere in the middle of issue 2 of Nonplayer. With my shoulder back in shape, my work-days are approaching their former length. But I'm comically late -- my milestone schedule mocked me today with the words "End Nonplayer #2." The drastic inaccuracy of that prediction would be funny if it didn't also trigger shortness of breath and a cold sweat. It feels like I'm failing. In slow motion. In public.

But I have to keep reminding myself: the only way to fail is to stop. All the predictions of doom and gloom, the retailers wailing about betrayal, the publisher bemoaning the loss of sales, the general sense of having been forgotten -- it's all immaterial, as long as I don't stop.

You may not see me, but I'm out there somewhere in the dark right now, pedaling. And knowing that there are other folks out there on their own stretches of lonely road, putting away the miles -- that's just about the greatest comfort there is right now. That, and this video.

Don't stop, you guys.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Podcasts are Better Than Arm Casts

Hi guys!

Arm's out of the sling and I'm drawing again. Hopefully we can push through to the end now.

I participated in a couple of podcasts this week. First, I was interviewed by Gaincarlo Paniccia over at Complete Geek Radio, and we had a splendid little chat. Thanks, Giancarlo!

Then I had a fascinating conversation with a couple of other artists who have been climbing Mount Comics over the last two years, Jason Brubaker of ReMIND and Daniel Lieske of the Wormworld Saga. We talked for more than two hours, and the first half of that epic roundtable can be found here. These guys are industrious, talented, and articulate creators, and I expect that a lot of interesting stuff will come out of this podcast in the future.

Cheers!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Oops

On the morning of Wednesday, September 14th, I crashed my bicycle. I was standing on the pedals, accelerating downhill from the intersection of Pine and Boren, when the chain popped free of the chain ring and the pedal jerked itself free from my cleat. I don't remember the crash. There was a "ping" as the chain came free, and then I was on my back, trying very hard to breathe. Some other bike commuters dragged me out of traffic and stayed with me until paramedics arrived, at which point my shirt was cut from my body and I was loaded into an ambulance. My shoulder hurt something fierce, and I had some pretty nasty road rash.

So what did I break? Well, I'll start with what I didn't break, which was my head. My helmet was completely cracked open above my right temple, so if I hadn't been wearing a lid, I would now be either dead or waiting in line at the brain store, receipt in hand. Let this be a lesson to you fellow velocipede cartoonists: the quality of your comics is likely to suffer if you damage your noggin. Please wear a helmet.

As to the final toll: I'll let this x-ray do the talking.


That thing that's in three pieces -- that used to be a collarbone. One surgery later, it looks like this:


I also broke my scapula, which means that when I went over the handlebars, my right shoulder took a very hard hit. Every bone connecting my right arm to my torso was broken.

In accordance with Murphy's Law, I'm right-handed. So Nonplayer #2 will be on hold until my arm comes out of the sling. I've heard a few theories about how long it'll be before I can hold a stylus again, ranging from one to three weeks. I've tried to write my name with my arm in the sling, and I can say pretty confidently that I'm not ready yet. Because ouch.

So what to do in the meantime? Besides watching MST3K reruns, of course.

I'm trying to use this time to review how things were going with the book before the crash, so that when I jump back into the work I can apply all that stored hiatus energy in a useful way.

If I'm grading the last six months of work honestly, I think I've earned a solid D+. I've done a few things right, and a bunch of things wrong.

Here's what I did right: I put in the hours. Though some have assumed that I've been goofing off for the last several months, I have never stopped working on the book. In fact, I probably put more hours per day into the second issue than I did into the first one, at least partly because of the increased pressure associated with having a first issue out in the wild. In fact, go ahead and replace that word "pressure" with "abject terror," because as soon as retailers started telling me I'd committed career suicide by not releasing an issue a month, I went into full-on panic mode.

And that panic was the source of almost every mistake I made. I've written here in the past about going slow to go fast, and while I believe strongly in the theory, it takes real guts to put it into practice. From the day issue 1 hit the stands, I've been hearing the rumble of that big boulder of failure coming down the tunnel after me, and I hit the ground running as fast as I could with issue 2. I roughed 25 pages in a couple of days, and then jumped right into final linework.

After six pages were complete, it dawned on me that they were boring. I'd begun the story with several pages of exposition-heavy dialogue between two people sitting in chairs. As with many prior impasses, this problem was resolved by talking the scene over with my wife. The solution turned out to be a fairly neat application of the adage "show, don't tell." But the prospect of implementing the fix forced a showdown between two equally horrified parts of my brain: one side was scared to release the book late, but an equally-frightened mental faction was mortified by the prospect of releasing a bad comic book. In the end, quality won out. The first six pages were re-drawn from scratch.

That's several weeks of work lost, but the drama doesn't end there. Soon after I fixed the intro, I began to sense that the book's pacing was wrong. There were several pages in the 12-panel range (which is high), and there wasn't a single one-panel page. Too much story was getting shoved into too few pages. Again, in my hurry to get the job done quickly, I'd made some questionable editorial decisions in the early going. My initial mantra had been "25 pages, no matter what." But after living for several months with a clunkily-told story, I began to despair.

Once again, after talking it over with my wife, I decided to make some changes. In this case, it was determined that since I technically had 30 pages to play with (a standard comic book is 32 pages, including the front and back covers), that I might as well use all of them. The idea of pin-ups was shelved, and the story was allowed to expand to fill the available volume. Suddenly, everything felt right. But there was some bad news. Yes, some radical surgery had to be performed yet again on the first six pages.

By now you're probably thinking that I'm an idiot. I won't argue with you. At the very least, this last half-year has been an expensive lesson in panic-mitigation. None of these problems would have occurred had I spent a couple of calm weeks roughing out the entire issue without letting circumstances frighten me into jumping the gun.

For issue 3, I think I may end up setting aside some large chunk of time (say, two or three weeks), and not letting myself do anything but thumbnails for the duration. If I finish them in three days, that'll leave two and a half weeks for revisions. And I'll be subjecting the results of this planning process to multiple third-party reviews. Lesson learned.

My trepidation contributed to one other unforced error. In my eagerness to finish the comic as quickly as possible, I decided that I'd need to work day and night. While I'd happily worked in a shared studio space for the last year, I didn't want to spend every waking hour away from home. So I packed up my Cintiq and moved my operation back home so that at least my nighttime work hours would take place in the general vicinity of my wife.

Now that I've worked at home, then at a studio, and then at home again, I can say one thing with certainty: working at home is a bad idea. There needs to be a clear distinction between the place where you work and the place where you relax. What gains I may have made by working at night were more than offset by all the extra recess minutes I snuck by sleeping in and taking long lunches. When my arm works again, I'll be giving some serious thought to moving back into a studio. If homework is still something I need to do, I'll go ahead and buy a second Cintiq (who needs to buy food anyway, right?) and set it up at home.

So where do things stand now?

Band-Aid removal in three, two, one: I was working on page 13 when I took my spill.

As bad as that sounds, I'm very happy with where things stand. Some really cool stuff happens in the second issue, and what's been drawn so far looks pretty good. In addition, the rest of the issue has been roughed out to the point where everything works well. The trick from here on out is to work quickly and efficiently without letting panic set in again.

What does that mean in terms of a delivery date? In the afterword to issue 1, I said it would likely take less than a year. In an effort to satisfy the letter, if not the spirit, of that promise, I think I'm going to shoot for March. This decision's a bit of a nail-biter, because I'll need to commit to that date before completing the comic. Which means that if page 29 suddenly turns out to be a trench-warfare drawing, things could get pretty ugly. But again, if I'm making sober decisions, uninfluenced by fear, everything should be fine.

So that's what I've been doing. How about you?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

NEAR MINTerview Podcast

Quickie post (because darn it, I should be drawing right now).

My interview with Ben Peirce over at the NEAR MINTerview podcast went up today. If you're interested in hearing the details about how Nonplayer evolved from pictures on this blog into a full-on Image comic, you may find our chat illuminating! We also talk about the reasons for the issue 2 delay, as well as what's being done to get it finished. Plus lots of other stuff.

Ben's a great interviewer. I really enjoyed doing this one.

BACK TO WORK.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Everything's Different But Everything's the Same

At around 1 p.m. PST today, Variety magazine reported that Nonplayer had been picked up by Warner Bros., which is a company that makes moving pictures. We (or at least I) had not anticipated this leak, so I was a little unprepared for the new experience of sailing Nonplayer out past the sheltering breakwater of the comics world and into the choppy seas of the Internet at large.

Over the past twelve hours, Nonplayer has become something of a lightning rod for certain angry constituencies inside and outside of the comics world. Probably most common is the "one and done" critique, which suggests that I have cynically created a single comic book with the express intent of selling it off to a movie studio, never to draw another comic again. Some see a dark portent in Warner Bros.' eagerness to sign on the strength of a single issue -- is this the moment when Hollywood's comic book strip mine hits the water table? And still others just think Nonplayer isn't developed enough, or good enough, to deserve this sort of attention to begin with.

So that I am not tempted to waste hours defending myself on the Internet, I want to lay out a few facts here and then leave this whole topic alone for the rest of time.
  • I will finish the Nonplayer story arc. It may take years, but it'll get done.
  • The second issue will not go slower because of the Warner deal. If anything, this deal makes it easier for me to devote myself completely to the comic.
  • I am very excited to see Nonplayer adapted as a live-action film. And because the producer behind the Harry Potter franchise is overseeing it, I think it stands a very good chance of being a visually striking, intelligent, and emotionally nuanced film. I don't see how the existence of a Nonplayer movie in any way effects the quality or meaning of the comic I'm drawing. I want to see Dana ride Pookie into battle on the big screen. That's going to be sweet, and you know it.
  • The deal was not made on the strength of the first issue alone. Warner was shown a very detailed breakdown of the entire story, and they liked what they saw.
  • Warner Bros. has shown a heartening eagerness to swing for the fences, creatively. Inception, Harry Potter, and the Dark Knight have taught them that there's a market for thoughtful fantasy, and I think you're going to see a number of unprecedentedly cool movies from them in the coming years. Yes, there have been too many superhero films lately. Does that mean that we should pooh-pooh every idea that finds its first expression in the medium of comics? It's a pretty broad medium, guys.  
Anyway, I hope that if you like the comic, you'll keep reading it as it (slowly) comes out. I'll be doing what I always do -- trying to figure out how to tell a story with pictures. I'm still wrestling with page composition and clunky dialogue, still using every blend mode to try and surprise myself with new color combinations. This morning, I spent way too much time trying to make a utility pole look good. Nothing has changed here at the studio.

This was all supposed to be fun, remember? 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Unmanned While Manning

It takes the same amount of effort to make bad art as to make good art, and you won't know which you've made until you release it into the wild. You can continue to refine a work until it doesn't set off your own quality alarms, but that's no guarantee that what you've made will touch anybody. A lot of artists, including many of the best ones, don't particularly care whether their art is "good" or whether anybody else appreciates it. Regrettably, I am not one of those artists.

The way that I deal with this uncertainty is to assume that everything I make is bad, which prevents me from being surprised by negative criticism. But a side effect of this stance is that I feel like a fraud when someone says something nice about my comic. That doesn't mean I won't revel in the attention -- I've developed quite a little addiction to praise. But I have trouble shaking the sense that the world will someday realize, en masse, that my work is crap.

All this is in my head right now because of the Eisner Awards. Last weekend, I flew down to San Diego to attend the event -- I'd been nominated for the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award, breaking a zero-nomination streak that had gone uninterrupted since the ninth grade. I shared a table with John Layman and Rob Guillory, the author and artist of Chew (who were both very nice and who went home with a well-deserved award for best continuing series).  My dad, my stepmom, and my wife came along, as well. Oh, my poor wife -- the Manning Award gets announced sometime near the end of the third hour of the ceremony, which meant that she was faced with the marathon task of preventing the vibrating, sweaty ball of nervous tension to which she was married from melting down. By the time the Manning rolled around, I caught myself wishing that I'd be spared the horror of having to go up on stage in front of so many people.

And then I won. Whew. My heart speeds up a little just typing that.

Well, I didn't trip on the stairs on my way up to the stage. That was my biggest worry, so I was already feeling pretty good by the time Chris Bailey handed me the award. It was so bright at the podium that I couldn't really see the audience, which was probably for the best. I don't really remember what I said. I'm told that many attendees were preoccupied with a clothing-related mystery -- I wore a white shirt and black tie, but I'd forgotten to pack a white t-shirt to go underneath, so at the last second I borrowed a Threadless t-shirt that I'd given to my dad. I'd turned it inside-out, hoping that the writing on the front wouldn't show through two layers. Alas, those lights were probably bright enough to penetrate to my skeleton, so the giant hi-def screens treated everyone to a dim message that read, in reverse, "I listen to bands that don't even exist yet."

The applause felt great. Famous people came up to me and shook my hand. My parents beamed with pride. My wife looked happy. It was an amazing moment.

And then right back to the self-doubt. In case you're wondering whether getting an award like that changes how you feel about yourself, let me share the insider's perspective: it doesn't. You think to yourself, "all I did was make 25 drawings. One measly issue. I do not deserve this." And now former Russ Manning winners have begun to tell me that I've made some sort of promise to the world to be awesome. Yikes. Perhaps not coincidentally, the frequency with which I've been asked what's going on with issue #2 has peaked.

I really hope the second issue lives up to peoples' expectations. But what I would like even more is to have the fortitude not to care. I look around me and I see other artists who create as easily as they breathe. And though I'm sure they all enjoy receiving attaboys, they'd be drawing exactly the same stuff even if the whole world told them they were talentless hacks. I'm not sure I can say the same.

Here are some of those artists, by the way:

Eric Canete. I know I mentioned him before. I'm mentioning him again. Just browse his DeviantArt gallery and feel the rock and roll.



James Harren. His sketchbook. My God, his sketchbook.





Little Thunder. The awesomeness of her name is only superseded by the awesomeness of her art. I really hope she gets published here in the States. I need more of this.

Little Thunder Drawing



I heard about this Merwan guy yesterday. Wow. If anybody has any links to a blog or gallery, I'll post them here.





Jordi Bernet! Also heard about him yesterday. Yesterday was a good day.



Cory Walker! What a lovely, economical line. And the proportions. And the feel! You may remember his work from Invincible, also drawn by the fantastic Ryan Ottley. I love them both.





Here's some new Ottley for you:



That's probably good for now.

Issue 2 is happening. Hopefully not too long now.

Friday, July 15, 2011

San Diego Do-Over

I've been making noises like I wouldn't be making it to San Diego Comic Con this year, but it turns out those noises were inaccurate. I'll be at the Image booth next Friday from 3:45 to 4:45. Feel free to swing by and say hello -- I'm happy to answer questions, talk shop, smile at babies, sign stuff, talk with babies, shop for questions, quest for answers, and sign babies.

See you there!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Home Archaeology for Fun and Profit

While helping my mom move to a new place last week, I discovered a portfolio full of old drawings. Most of it was pretty iffy stuff, but I did find this unfinished Captain America sample (please excuse the smudginess and crappy scan quality):


The year was 1995. I'd just driven back to school in Chicago after having my portfolio shot down by the Marvel editors at San Diego Comic Con (that story is told here). As soon as I got my drawing table set up, I funneled all of my embarrassment and anger into this new page. I wish I could find the sample I'd shown at the con, because it would make a nice contrast -- this version is sort of a watershed moment in my development as a draftsman.

It's definitely got some problems (Cap's musculature is... creative), but it was a giant leap forward in quality from what had come before. For the first time, I told myself to forget about speed and to just work on a drawing until it felt right. Until that point, I'd prided myself on my speed (you can stop laughing now), but the San Diego Smackdown forced me to reconsider my priorities. The front of that chopper is probably the noodliest thing I've ever drawn. I kind of like some of the hatching, too -- after Nonplayer is done, I think I may want to try moving away from the clean line stuff and back toward something a little more hatchy.

Other stuff I like about this page:
  • On the leading edge of the canopy in panel one, the seam is serrated to reduce radar signature. This despite the insanely-reflective gun assembly only inches away. I'm not sure if this was a joke or if I was too in the zone to think about the design rationally.
  • I'm pretty sure this is the first time I thought of attaching a motorcycle-style radiator to a piece of equipment (aft of the gun mount). I still use this trick (see penultimate page of Nonplayer #1).
  • Cap's boot in the last panel. Feet are always challenging for me, so I get really excited when one comes out right.
Some current events: 

I'm working very hard on issue 2, and progress is being made. I'm still not close enough to make a confident estimate about a release date, but I feel pretty good about how it's coming along.

Also, I got nominated for a Russ Manning award! The other nominees are amazing, and I expect that my Eisner journey begins and ends with this nomination. That said, I haven't been back to SDCC since the 1995 portfolio debacle. I can't imagine a better way to reconcile myself with mid-'90s Nate than by walking back into that building with a Russ Manning nomination. 

Well, I wouldn't mind also pouring pasta sauce down that Marvel editor's pants. That might speed the reconciliation process a bit.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chasing Windmills

I've been seeing lots of pretty art lately. How about I pull a royalboiler and just, you know, show some of it?

Here's M.C. Barrett:


You have to see this guy's sketchbook. Watching him go to town on that thing last week, I felt simultaneously inspired to start a sketchbook of my own and ashamed to even make an attempt. I love his composition instincts. It's like he's constitutionally incapable of making an uninteresting image:



One more by Mr. Barrett:



Next up, John Kantz. One day I want to write a comic and have him draw it.


But can he draw environments? Yes.



Here's Marcel O'Leary, who is going to be famous someday:


Check out this page from his 24-hour comic. I can't believe this guy graduated from art school this month.


This next thing is from Clement Sauve, a brilliant artist from Montreal who passed away a few months ago. He left us some rare gems:


What a tremendous loss. It's all so beautiful:


Oh, and I found Benoit Springer's blog! Here's what he does:


Sort of like Moebius and Mignola had art babies:


I'll sneak in one more by this guy. Wowee.


Man, I need to go back to school or something. I need an art tutor.

In other news, I'm still working on Nonplayer #2. When I've got the final color locked down for the first few pages, I'll post them here. Gonnamakeit. Gonnamakeit. Gonnamakeit.

P.S. If you've sent me a message in the last two months and I haven't answered, please be patient. I am slowly working through the backlog, and I will reply as soon as I can. Thanks.



Sunday, May 15, 2011

Vancouver Comic Con

I'm in Vancouver -- Canada's life-sized Sim City map! You can find me at the Vancouver Comic Con today from 11 am to 5 pm. I've brought a few stacks of Nonplayer #1 to sell, as well as some new posters (the first four pages of the comic are now available in poster form). My studio mate Moritat (The Spirit, Elephantmen) will also be attending. If you're in a gift-giving mood, I quite enjoy donuts, while Moritat prefers alfalfa sprouts. 

See you there!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nonplayer #1 Back in Stores Today

Nonplayer #1 is back on the stands today! If you live someplace without a comic shop, I have bad news and good news. Bad news: you don't have a comic shop, which is sad. Good news: you can now also buy Nonplayer #1 at the Nonplayer online store! International shipping is available, as well. 


Here's the product description:


Nonplayer #1 - Second Printing.
32 pages, full color. Contains pinups by Brandon Graham, Ben Templesmith, and Moritat. Final page includes a letter from the artist.
Includes polypropylene bag with backing board. Shipped in a 9"x12" non-bendable envelope.
All copies will be signed inside the front cover. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Free Comic Book Day Signing at Arcane Comics

Yet another hit-and-run post. I yearn to sink my teeth into a long post soon. Could someone please call God or Obama or whoever handles these things and ask them to add one more day to the week? I need a day for blogging. Anyway, on to business:

Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday, May 7, and I'll be making an appearance at Arcane Comics from noon to 4pm! I will be selling and signing advance copies from the second printing of Nonplayer #1, as well as selling some very handsome little posters. Please drop by to say hello!

Arcane Comics is located in Ballard -- they're my hometown shop, located only a few blocks from my studio:

5809 15th Avenue Northwest
Seattle, WA 98107-3006

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Second Printing Info

Two posts in one hour! Clearly the internet isn't distracting me from my work AT ALL.

I just wanted to remind you guys that the second printing of Nonplayer #1 will be hitting stands on May 11. Image bases the size of their print runs on the number of preorders they get from retailers, so if you want a copy, now's the time to call up your local comic shop and reserve one. The deadline for ordering is April 18 -- this coming Monday. Please tell your friends!

Content-wise, the second printing is identical to the first -- the cover will be slightly different (and slightly prettier, I think) and there may be some different bonus stuff in the back, but the comic itself is the same. There's really no need to go to Ebay for a copy unless you're a super hardcore collector.

Okay. Really working now. Really.

Stumptown Bidniz

Quick morning post before I commence to doodlin'.

This weekend, I'll be at the Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland, OR. If you're in the area and you'd like me to sign your copy of Nonplayer, please visit! I've got my signin' wrist all limbered up. I will also be selling (and, if you like, signing) posters.

I had not anticipated the shortage of issues of Nonplayer #1, however, and I'm only able to bring ten copies to the convention. There will be a raffle, with five issues given out on Saturday at 4pm and the other five awarded on Sunday at 4pm. But wait, that's not all! When you enter the raffle, you're guaranteed first priority when second-printing copies of #1 go up at the Nonplayer store on May 11. So in the loosest possible sense, everybody wins! I'm hoping that everybody who wants one will get one this time around.

Also, if you have sent me a message online over the last couple of weeks and haven't yet received a response, please know that I am not ignoring you! I am slowly chipping away at my inbox, but I'm doing my best not to let the internet derail my work on issue 2. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

I will post more here soon, hopefully. Now that the embargo is lifted, I can show some more pages from the first issue -- I tried some very clumsy perspective experiments that I want to bounce off you guys. And after that, I can start posting the first pages of issue 2, just like we did the first time around. Fun!

Thanks to everybody who bought (or attempted to buy) Nonplayer last week. It's been a very exciting time, and I owe it all to you guys.

Okay, off to work!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

No matter how much an astronaut sacrifices, no matter how hard she's worked to get her shot, there has to be a moment -- probably right after a million and a half pounds' worth of propellant lights up under her -- when she wonders if she's made an error. Having put every last ounce of myself into the promotion of Nonplayer over the last few weeks, I suddenly have a similar feeling of unease going into the debut weekend.

Promoting something does some pretty strange things to your head. For one, there's the endless bragging. I've been looking at my comic for long enough that it's hard to see past my own mistakes, but that doesn't square very well with the job of being a salesman. Sadly, I don't think people will rush to pick up the book when I tell them to "check out Nonplayer -- on one panel, a character's eyes don't quite point in the same direction!" So I'm trying to be a good cheerleader for the book. I recognize the necessity of it, but it does go against a lifetime of programming that says "stop talking about yourself, douchebag."

The tone of my relationship with the public has also changed. When that relationship was conducted solely through this blog, I was able to interact with commenters as individuals -- to look at their work, to get a sense of who they were as people. There was a refreshing lack of anonymity. We were sharing and caring! And since very little was said about Nonplayer outside the walls of this comfy little garden, I was able to parse every comment and benefit from it, regardless of whether it was critical or supportive.

Well, now there are more people talking about the book outside these walls than there are here in the garden. It's tempting to wander the web to read what people are saying -- few things are more intoxicating than hearing a stranger say something nice about you. But it doesn't take long before the whole thing starts to make you a little queasy. When that anticipation gets whipped up past a certain point, you start to wonder if there's any way the work itself will live up to readers' expectations.

Regrettably, I've even bought into some of this hype -- when I finally opened the first shipment of books, my first thought was that they looked awful small. Apparently my sense of the book had become so inflated that some part of my brain had expected the book to be physically larger than a normal comic. Weird, right? I'll be selling copies of the first issue at WonderCon this weekend, so we'll see if others have this reaction.

Out there beyond the wall lurk negative comments too, about which the less said the better.

Of course, there's one very big elephant in the room: each issue of Nonplayer will take a few months -- maybe even many months -- to create. Nobody wishes more than I do that it would come out faster -- after all, I'm trying to make a living off of this thing, and more than one retailer has explained to me that every day that passes between issues is money lost. My stomach makes a foreboding gurgling noise just thinking about it.

I certainly get why both I and retailers have cause for concern -- in both our cases, it's a matter of making financial ends meet. It was that financial imperative that prevented me from doing all six issues before releasing. I'd never have gotten anywhere near the finish line on my own dime.

I also remember what it was like to be a kid waiting for a late comic. I had a vision of the artist spending his days jet-skiing and partying while I waited patiently for him to get back to work. Sometimes I still fall prey to that kind of thinking, which is why I get antsy when I spend even a couple of hours away from my desk.

But that's probably not very good for the quality of the book, in the long run. Nonplayer #1 was made in a commercial vacuum -- no deadlines, no editors, no readers to impress. And though the commercial context has changed, I'm doing my best to preserve that sense of calm while working on the second issue. I need to be able to take chances, to make mistakes, and to start some things over when they don't work. This started out as a learning process, and I want to keep on learning. I want the second issue to be better than the first.

I'm very sorry for making folks wait between issues. I really do hate to inconvenience anybody -- I'm pretty sure I hate it enough that it qualifies as a neurosis. And the thought that I'm grabbing the attention of so many readers, only to disappoint them en masse, is putting a bit of a damper on all the recent good news about the comic's reception. I feel like I'm jumping up onto a big stage, only to have my pants ripped away at the last moment. Ta-dah!

All that said, if you'd one day like to hold a nice fat Nonplayer trade paperback full of noodly, self-indulgent artwork, then you may want to say this when you meet me:

"I can wait. Pace yourself."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pounding the Pavement

Four days to Final Order Cutoff, the last day that comic retailers can order copies of Nonplayer #1 (which hits the stands in less than a month).

It turns out that the work of making a comic doesn't stop when you send the finished pages off to the printer. There's this whole other magical, impenetrable thing called "promotion." I don't have much experience to inform my decision-making in this area, so I've opted for the blunt-force approach: I'm contacting individual retailers and reviewers one-by-one via email. I'm sure there are useful force-multipliers that I'm overlooking (for example, a shout-out from somebody like Patton Oswalt, Chris Hardwick, or Felicia Day would probably quadruple my sales, but I don't really know how to make it across their fan-moats). If anybody has any good ideas, I'm putty in your hands.

So far, I've focused on Twitter, the Nonplayer website, this blog, DeviantArt, and the Project Waldo Facebook page. A word to the wise about DeviantArt: when you open your account, pick a username that relates in some way to your real name (or which is at least relevant to your interests). I chose "hughferriss" out of habit (many years ago, it was the only numeral-free name I could find for a Yahoo account). Now I've got thousands of people out there who think Nonplayer was written by a guy named Hugh Ferriss. I am not Hugh Ferriss. Hugh Ferriss was an extremely talented architectural renderer of the art deco era, and I certainly wouldn't mind being him, but sadly I am not him. This is enough of a problem that I'm considering opening a new DeviantArt account, even though I've already got a couple thousand people following the hughferriss account. It'll take many hours to get everything set up again, and I'll lose a lot of followers. Don't do what I did. (Edit: I went ahead and set up a new account -- one with the word "Nate" right there in the username. That's two hours I'll never get back.)

One weird thing about promotion is that it requires constant bragging. It's awkward in the same way that writing a resumé is awkward. I've decided to treat the Nonplayer website as the rah-rah outside voice and let this blog be my inside voice. Also, I'll be posting new art here soon.

Anyway, I've been sending personalized emails to comic shops, websites, blogs, podcasts, and magazines. I'm seeing about a 30% response rate, which is a little better than I expected to get through the unsolicited email approach. If you do something similar, I recommend finding out the name of your key contact and using it in the greeting, and then working the name of the store or website into the first couple of sentences. This is your way of saying "this is not spam." The other thing I try to do is keep it short. My story synopsis is one sentence long, and then I toss out four positive one-sentence reviews. I try to keep in mind that retailers and reviewers probably get thousands of unsolicited emails, and they're not likely in the mood to follow me on a wondrous journey through the labyrinthine backstory of Nonplayer.

By far the biggest promotional boost has come from you guys -- many of the shops I've contacted have told me that preorders have been coming in, and they've upped their orders as a result of customer interest. One good example is Comics Heaven in Stockholm, Sweden. When I first contacted them, they wrote back to tell me they didn't plan on stocking Nonplayer until it came out in trade paperback. A week later, I got an email from Dan Cooper at DICE, who said he'd gone around his office talking up Nonplayer and then gone into Comics Heaven to order fifteen copies. And a week after that, the shop contacted me again to report they'd upped their orders. That was a great feeling, knowing that somebody was excited enough about the comic to go to bat for it like that.

If you're interested in helping out, please swing by your local comic shop this weekend and remind them about Nonplayer. Tell the owner that if he/she contacts me at nonplayercomic [at] gmail [dot] com, I'll send them a signed poster. I've listed the shops that haven't gotten back to me below -- if you see your favorite shop on this list, please hit them up for a copy! And if you don't see your favorite shop on any of these lists, now's the time to drop them a line. After Monday, it'll be too late.

North American shops that have not confirmed interest in Nonplayer, in alphabetical order:

8th Street Comics, Saskatoon
A-1 Comics, Sacramento, CA
Alternate Worlds, Cockeysville, MD
Amazing Stories, Shrewsbury, NJ
Atomic Comics, AZ
Bedrock City Comics, Houston, TX
Books, Comics, and Things, Ft Wayne, IN
Bridge City Comics, Portland, OR
Captain Nemo Comics, San Luis Obispo, CA
Chicago Comic Vault, Chicago, IL
Chicago Comics, Chicago, IL
Comic Heaven, Willoughby, OH
Comic Smash, Los Angeles, CA
Comic Stop, Redmond/Lynwood/Greater Seattle, WA
Comic Store West, York, PA
The Comics Keep, Bremerton, WA
The Comics Place, Bellingham, WA
Comix Connection, York, PA
Comix Experience, San Francisco, CA
Corner Comics, Totem Lake, WA
Cosmic Comics, Bellingham, WA
Cosmic Monkey Comics, Portland, OR
Danter Room, Olympia, WA
Dark Tower Comics, Chicago, IL
Desert Island, Brooklyn, NY
Dr Comics and Mr Games, Oakland, CA
Dreamworld, Culver City, CA
Earth 2 Comics, Sherman Oaks, CA
Excalibur comics, Portland, OR
Fantasy Shop Inc., Saint Louis, MO
Forbidden Planet, New York, NY (note: Forbidden Planet UK is fully on board)
Golden Age Collectables, Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC
Golden Apple Comics, Los Angeles, CA
Heroes Comics, Fresno, CA
Isotope Comics, San Francisco, CA
Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, Red Bank, NJ
Karen's Comics, Portland, OR
Lone Star Comics, Dallas, TX
Lost World of Wonders, Milwaukee, WE
Meltdown Comics, Los Angeles, CA
Midtown Comics, New York, NY
Mile High Comics, Denver, CO
New England Comics, MA
Olympic Cards and Comics, Lacey, WA
On Comic Ground, San Diego, CA
Phantom of the Attic Comics, Pittsburgh, PA
Purple Earth Comics, Huntington, WV
Ron's Coin and Book, Yakima, WA
RX Comics, Vancouver, BC
Silver Snail Comics, Toronto
Source Comics and Games, MN
The Secret Headquarters, Los Angeles, CA
Things From Another World, Milwaukie, OR
Third Coast Comics, Chicago, IL
Universe of Superheroes, Jacksonville, FL

And stores outside the United States that have yet to respond:

The 3rd Place, Dublin
The 4th Dimension, Dublin
Album Comics, Paris
Alternate Worlds, Windsor Victoria
Comics Etc., Brisbane
Comikaza, Israel
Comix, Brazil
Dynamic Duo Comics, Adelaide
Good Fellows, Helsinki
HQ Mix, Brazil
Pep Comics, Netherlands
Pulp's Comics, Paris
Story, Dublin
Sub City, Dublin
T3 Terminal Entertainment, Frankfurt

But let's end on a high note! These are the North American stores that HAVE shown interest in Nonplayer:

A Comic Shop, Orlando, FL
Alakazam Comics, Irvine, CA
Arcane Comics, Seattle, WA
The Beguiling, Toronto, ON
Challengers Comics, Chicago, IL
The Comic Bug, Manhattan Beach, CA
Comic Oasis, Las Vegas, NV
Comicopolis, Santa Cruz, CA
ComicReaders, Regina, SK
Comics Conspiracy, Sunnyvale, CA
Comics Dungeon, Seattle, WA
Cosmix, Montreal, Quebec
Downtown Comics, Indianapolis, IN
Dreamstrands, Seattle, WA
First Aid Comics, Chicago, IL
Floating World Comics, Portland, OR
Graham Crackers Comics, Chicago, IL
Heroes Aren't Hard to Find, Charlotte, NC
Newbury Comics, MA
Planet X Comics, York, PA
Strange Adventures, Halifax, NS
Third Eye Comics, Annapolis, MD
Titan Gaming, White Horse, YT
Unreal City, Saskatoon, SK
Vault of Midnight, Ann Arbor, MI
Westfield Comics, Madison, WI
Zanadu Comics, Seattle, WA

And the fine stores abroad that have shown interest:

Comics Heaven, Stockholm
Dave's Comics, Brighton, UK
Forbidden Planet UK (in a big way, at 16 stores -- all but Edinburgh, the manager of which reportedly isn't all that into the comic)
Gosh!, London
Kings Comics, Sydney
Mega City Comics, Camden, UK
OK Comics, Leeds, UK
Paradox, Poole, UK
Travelling Man Comics, Manchester, UK

Thanks for all your help, guys. None of this would have happened without your support.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Emerald City has come and gone, and it's time to sit down with this big sack of memories and sort them out into neat little piles.

First off, thanks to all of you who came by to visit the Nonplayer booth in person. Everybody was eager to talk shop, and it was a pleasure getting to put faces to names. I feel like I'm writing this blog for real people now, rather than for a bunch of disembodied internet beings. I hope the folks I met this weekend turn out to be an accurate sampling of Nonplayer readers in general, because every age group, gender, and lifestyle was well-represented. The only thing you all had in common was niceness and smarts. I especially enjoyed meeting all your kids (and I'm proud that I thought to laminate my sample comic before it was drooled upon by so many babies). And to all of you who bought posters, I hope you like them!

Which brings me to a bit of business: those very posters are now available for purchase at the Nonplayer online store. One last time, here's what the two 11" x 17" posters look like:

 

Thanks in advance for supporting Nonplayer -- as has been previously discussed in this blog, my wife and I ended up dipping pretty deeply into our savings to get Nonplayer out the door, and this is our first opportunity to slow (or even stop) our inexorable descent toward coal-faced street urchindom.

If you do get a poster, please let us know how the ordering and shipping experience went -- this is our first time selling merchandise online, and we want to make sure nothing's amiss in the poster pipeline. I'd love to hear what you think of your poster, as well. Those who saw them at the convention seemed very happy with the quality of both the printing and the cardstock paper, so I hope that trend continues!

Okay, back to the convention.

I met so many cool people. It was very strange to be sitting next to Nick Spencer during the Image signing. I mean, the guy who writes Morning Glories is right there next to you, and he's treating you like you deserve to be there! He's a really nice guy, and I'm sad I didn't get more of a chance to talk with him. And then just around the corner was Nathan Edmondson, who gave me a couple of free (and totally rad) comics of his own. How have I not read "Who is Jake Ellis" before? I have to say, people named "Nathan" sure do seem to be slightly more awesome than everybody else. And before I forget, Tonci Zonjic is amazing, too. That's one beautiful comic.

Image

Edmondson and Zonjic's "Who is Jake Ellis?"

Of course, as an artist, I was especially excited to meet some fellow doodlers. As expected, I was completely starstruck. Like, to my left during the signing was Ryan Ottley, of "Invincible" fame. The whole time I was supposed to be pimping my comic, I just kept looking over at his pencils and being blown away. There was this one spread of the Hulk punching a dude (I think it was the Hulk) with all these tiny action panels behind the main event, and it was like a little master course in how to compose a two-page spread. That guy. Wow.


Ottley's "Invincible"

And then a little farther down was Brandon Graham, who is another one of those guys who sends me into fits of I'm-not-worthiness. I don't know how much of his work you've seen online, but Multiple Warheads is going to incinerate the comics world and leave it badly irradiated for decades to come. Brandon's color is like ice cream for my eyeballs. If you aren't already aware of his blog, go check it out right now. It's my favorite.


Graham's "Multiple Warheads"

Maybe the biggest surprise of the con was Emi Lenox. I'd already known she was a ninja in the autobiographical comic genre, but when I saw her entry in the Monsters and Dames convention book, I realized she'd been keeping some very big guns in reserve. If she ever lets you beat her at a game of pool, resist the temptation to put money on the next game. If she plays like she draws, you're going to lose your shirt. I hope she gets to do more color stuff soon, because it's super sweet.


Lenox's "Monsters and Dames" Illustration

And those are just the guys I could see from my seat! I bet there were other supertalents just on the other side of the partition. How I'm supposed to make my mark in this sort of company is beyond me, but I'm happy just to have been there. I feel like Moonlight Graham -- somehow, I got bumped up from the minors to play right field for one inning with the Giants.

So that's Image. I still haven't gotten to Frank Quitely and Frank Cho, who frank-ly (HA!) were two of the nicest guys I met at the convention, and who both said some really nice things about Nonplayer. I have trouble understanding how guys who work at that level don't get completely full of themselves. Cho kept asking me if I wanted anything from the concession area. FRANK EFFING CHO. I'm supposed to be anointing his feet with fragrant oils, not taking bottled water from him. And Quitely just showed up at my booth and starting chatting with me about Manga Studio -- we'd been talking for some time before my table-mate Joe whispered to me to ask the guy his name. I'd just thought he was some cool-looking Scottish dude. Sigh. Frank Quitely. Thanks to the devious Ales Kot for bringing Quitely over and then gleefully keeping his mouth shut while I lectured the legendary artist about IllustStudio. Ales, you are a bastard.

Keep an eye out for Ales, by the way. He's quietly wrangling the best artists in the business for some very interesting-sounding projects.

The high point of the weekend came yesterday, when Frank Cho introduced me to hero-since-childhood Geof Darrow. People say you should never meet your heroes, but I say pooh to that. Darrow not only looked at my comic and liked it (possibly for reals), he regaled us with all sorts of stories about Hard Boiled and then gave me one of his drawings! I'm sure I was a blubbering shmoo the whole time, but he was warm, funny, and generous. Geof Darrow: first he blows up my conception of what's possible in a comic, then he turns out to be a swell fellow. My wife said that when I got back to our booth I was beaming. Joe and I just kept giggling about it for the rest of the day.


Geof Darrow and some skinny dude

And that brings me to Joe Keatinge, who offered to share his table with me at the very last minute, long after I'd given up on having a place to sit. Joe is a force of nature -- I've never met anybody as enthusiastic about making comics, or as persistently supportive of everybody around him. He's sort of a volcano of pep. He co-edits the Popgun anthologies (which I finally read last night and enjoyed immensely), and I totally get why they gave him an Eisner for his trouble. He's working on some new top-secret stuff right now, and I can't wait to see how it all comes out. If you see him, be sure to remind him to keep drawing. He's another one of those double-threat guys who's way too humble about his chops, but I think if we work together, we can guilt him into making us some more pretty art.

Finally, Joe got me to start taking Twitter seriously this weekend (and then graciously told his many followers to follow me, as well). I'm @NateSonOfSimp, and I look forward to learning if the hashtag has any function other than turning a tweet into a mini-version of Stephen Colbert's the Word.

It was great meeting you guys -- thanks for making this weekend such a great experience.