Friday, August 30, 2013

Mechacon 2013 Recap

The Weeks Leading Up To The Con

Painted mini watercolors, completed freelance work that provided money to attend convention, perused Mechacon's Artist Alley site and checked out other artists, updated Tumblr, Instagram, and Deviantart daily with art I wanted to sell, wrote OEL manga post, sketched dinosaur designs, ordered Japanese candy from Amazon, wrote Mechacon announcement post, cleaned up and organized blog, updated DeviantArt Portfolio with new art, did a practice set up utilizing wire mesh storage cubes.

Mechacon is a pretty important con to me.  Because it's in New Orleans, it's a lot like coming home.  And it's important that I do well, as it's a bit like vindication.  While I may joke that I'm trying to prove to the people in my past that I'm making of myself, I'm really trying to prove to myself that I have what it takes to succeed as a comic artist.  To be honest, using Mechacon as an indicator of ability is a bit of a stretch, but I still can't get over it.  If I fail at Mechacon, then I really feel like I've failed.

It's a small convention with a lot of personal history.  Last year was my first year attending as an artist participating in the Artist Alley, and I had some fears that my past as a cosplayer would bite me.  Fortunately for me, all of those people have moved on with their lives, and I was able to participate with a clean slate.  Heidi and I were so impressed by Mechacon last year that we decided to try and make it a yearly thing.  I had a lot of reservations about this year's Mecha- we had an extremely tight schedule, I was using an assistant I hadn't really used before, I didn't have any charms and was intended to really push my watercolors and commissions.  To be honest, I had trouble sleeping the two weeks before the con, as I let my anxiety get the best of me.  Some of that nervous energy was harnessed into producing the ridiculous number of mini watercolors I painted, but a lot of it was also spent watching Master Chef until the sun rose, nervously nibbling my nails.

In the weeks leading up to the convention, I spent late nights juggling freelance work with rebuilding my mini watercolor selection.  I generally focus on painting fanart from series I actually enjoy, or series that espouse qualities I want to encourage.  Because Sailor Moon was a huge part of so many fans anime history (my own included), made sure I had plenty of nice watercolors for it.  If you're interested in seeing what I painted, you can check out  this post, which doesn't even contain all of it.

The Week of the Con

Finished Up Mini Watercolors, Inked and Colored Dinosaur Designs, Pressed Buttons, shopped for additional convention supplies.  Heidi arrived.

My top five favorite dinos when I was a kid.  Duckbill and plesiosaur are still big favorites.

When I made these, I'd hoped the glitter would be free moving, and would give an effect similar to a snow globe, but not quite.  These are just pop together plastic buttons, easily available at craft stores or on Amazon.

The Navi buttons were a surprisingly big hit.  Iridescent specialty paper that changes color depending on how the light hits it makes these buttons super special.

The Monday before the con, Heidi came down to hang out and help with con prep.  It was really nice having another comic artist around, and I managed to step up my game and get a bit more done than I'd thought I would.  It just goes to show that having another pair of crafty hands around the apartment can really go a long way. We drove down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Thursday, to spend the night at Alex's house so she wouldn't have to miss her Friday class.  After her class ended at 10, we made the drive down to New Orleans, hoping to still catch the Friday crowds.

The Convention Itself

Painted at convention commissions, did $5 sketches, networked
We arrived a couple hours after the Artist Alley had officially opened, and hustled to get checked in.  I thought I'd purchased an assistant's badge when I bought my table, but the staff couldn't find the additional badge, so I purchased another.   After talking with my mother on Saturday, I found out the staff had actually misplaced her and my brother's badges, but she had her confirmation email, so they were forced to replace them.  Had I been thinking clearly (instead of with an insomniac's brain) I too would've brought my confirmation email with me on Friday.  Next year!

When I'd arrived at my table, I was informed by the girl next to me that the hatters down the way wanted to switch spots.  While I was amenable to the switch, I was fairly annoyed that they didn't ask me themselves, since it forced me to hunt them down to make the switch.  I also lost time waiting for them to actually move their considerable collection of wares so I could put my things behind the table and out of the very busy aisles. At one point, one of the girls removed my comics and money box from one of the chairs, placing it back on the con floor, which I found pretty nervy considering they were now occupying both their old and new space, leaving me with none.  Next year I may not be so easy going about making switches.  Lesson learned:  If you want to switch spots, you should have your things ready to go beforehand, since they're the ones doing you a favor.  I lost even more time struggling to get set up alone, as Alex had long since wandered off to help Heidi instead.

My setup changed again on Saturday, when Alex and I rotated the wire cubes that had housed comics, and used it to display examples of my $5 sketches.  My sales really perked up after that switch.

This year, I decided to finally break out my metal cages and utilize a hybrid of the McDonald's Drive-Thru setup.  Because I'd painted so many mini watercolors, and wanted to focus on moving them, this setup became instrumental to my sales.  Unfortunately, a set up like this does take more time, and often requires a couple sets of hands to get it going.  In years past, I'd avoided these cubes as they are very heavy and tend to take up a lot of table space, but I knew I'd need a vertical display to really sell my watercolors.  Since we were driving, the weight wasn't really an issue, and with a setup like this, once those wire cubes are up, they can remain up all weekend.

Besides a million watercolors, I'd also pressed another set of heart and half heart buttons, finally utilized my button maker to make some chiyogami key chains, and pressed some brand new dinosaur buttons.  Together Heidi and I made some Legend of Zelda fairy buttons, and repressed more lollipops.  Since my newest batch of acrylic charms hadn't yet arrived, I picked what I figured would be the three most popular designs and made 2.5" buttons, complete with rhinestones, pearls, and glitter.

On Saturday, my mother and brother came to Mechacon, and Alex abandoned me to help Heidi.  Unfortunately for me, my mother is an awful assistant (compared to Alex), and I really struggled to keep up with commissions, make sales, and record my sales figures.  A word to the wise- a good convention assistant isn't there to make conversation and distract you, a good assistant's there to actually assist, allowing the artist to do what they do best- make art.   Not only did Mom chat up any and everyone (which isn't necessarily bad, but it doesn't keep the flow of customers moving), but she shared personal stories about me (and what an awful nerd I was) with anyone who needed a kind ear.  My booth soon became a confessional, and I felt a bit like a therapist who just so happens to doodle while she counsels.  In general, I really really do love talking to people, especially people who like my art, but rush hour Saturday isn't a good time to chat me up.  Perhaps I'd gotten spoiled by Alex's fantastic job being a table assistant while she was at my table- I literally never had to tell her what to do.  She assisted customers while I dealt with booth barnacles and drew commissions, got coffee and snacks when Heidi and I were fading, kept track of my sales and my running tally, and manned my booth alone on Sunday when I was too sick with a migraine to take sales.  Seriously, Alex should do a mini-class on being a table assistant, she was that fantastic.

So what did my sales look like?

Well, the nice thing about Mechacon is there are a lot of older fans.  Not only are there a lot of older fans, but they generally attend the convention determined to spend money.  In general, New Orleanians like to support local businesses, and that sentiment extends to the Artist Alley.  Thirdly, the Dealer's Room was supposedly awful this year, so the Artist Alley didn't have to compete with manufactured, licensed, mass produced goods.  All of this bodes well for artists.

I made a little over $500.  For me, this is fantastic, my prior best has been $250.  A lot of my sales were commissions, both graphite sketch and watercolor, but on Sunday, I was away from the table nearly the entire day with a sick headache, and Alex managed to move over $100 in prepainted watercolors and buttons. 

I was often too busy to get a photo of finished commissions before I packaged them and sent them to their new homes, but here are a few I did manage to photograph.

My watercolor commissions were fairly in demand (there was a fantastic crowd this year, a lot of customers were purchasing commissions from a variety of artists, and CAME WITH REFERENCE READY /me swoons with appreciation), but it was a really damp weekend and I couldn't take as many as I would have liked, as my dry times were too slow.  I was able to knock out simple commissions in about 5 hours while sitting at the table (most of that being dry time), and many of my customers were fantastic enough to allow me to bring it back to the hotel room and pick it up the next morning.  This meant late nights for me, but as an artist, I understand that conventions are a time of pushing personal limits and satisfying the customer.  I am happy to say that I think I did a good job of that, and was touched to see how many customers were genuinely appreciative of the work that went into their commissions.

Recently there was some discussion on Twitter about OEL manga and sales at anime conventions.  The participating artists (myself included) came to the general conclusion that original content comics don't really sell at anime cons unless you have an established webcomic audience.  Mechacon was no exception, I sold zero copies of 7" Kara, but I didn't really focus on moving them either.

On Sunday, since I was mostly out of commission (do do tish) when it came to commissions, Alex really pushed the existing merchandise- buttons, keychains, and watercolors.  As I was horribly sick the whole day (vomiting, migraine), she also had the pleasure of assuring people that no, I wasn't hungover.  When it was time to pack up, she and my mother cleared my table for me, which was a huge lifesaver as I couldn't even move without getting sick.

Something unusual and annoying that I've noticed is that when I share a table with someone, even if it's an assistant, potential customers will address anyone BUT me.  They'll also assume that the other person is the artist, and not me.  When they do figure out that I am indeed the artist, they assume that half the work belongs to the other person.  This happened even with Alex's insistence that everything on the table was my handiwork.  This happens pretty regularly, and I'm pretty curious as to why, and figuring out what I can do to improve the situation.

Because I was so sick, I sadly don't have any photos of the convention floor, nor did I really get to go around and network with other artists as I had planned.  I did meet Alexis, a talented and hardworking young artist who I think is really going to go places.  Hopefully next year, I can finally get out from behind my table and meet other Louisiana artists.

And just so you aren't left with ONLY my booth, here's a shot of Heidi's on Friday.

,As always, the people of Mechacon were a pleasure, although my experiences with the staff were slightly less than picture perfect.  If possible, I'll continue to attend Mechacon as long as I'm able.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Going to SPX

I've been sitting on this good news for awhile, but I've been waiting until the convention was closer to announce it.  I'll be sharing a table with Emily Kluwin at SPX this year.  It'll be my first time attending the Small Press Expo, but I've done MoCCA-Fest for a couple years, and Fluke a year back, so I think I'm ready.  This year I'll have plenty of goodies for kids young and old alike including:

  • 7" Kara Chapter 1
  • 7" Kara Chapter 2
  • When I was 13- I Rediscovered Cartoons
  •  My 2013 Ashcan
  • Mini watercolors
  • Commissions 
To give you a taste of what to expect from me, here's a photo from my most recent convention, Mechacon.

Recently, my newest baby arrived- my InkIt double sided clear acrylic charms.  I'd hoped to have them by Mechacon, but I'm still really excited to debut them at SPX.  I plan on doing a full product review soon, but here's a little peek.

New for this half of my convention year are dinosaur buttons.  So far I have stegosaurus, triceratops. apatosaurus, plesiosaur, and a duck bill, but I hope to add some more predatory dinos soon.

 Since I was so disappointed not to have my charms in time for Mechacon, I whipped up some extra large (2.5") buttons complete with glitter and rhinestones in my three favorite designs.

And used my button machine to make some nifty new keychains.

And finally, some Legend of Zelda fairies, which may or may not appear on my table, depending on what's moving at SPX.

So make sure you stop by A7 if you're going to SPX.  I hope to see you guys there!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Problems of OEL Mangaka

 NOTE:  There seems to be a massive amount of confusion regarding the work I do and whether or not I consider myself a 'mangaka' or an OEL 'mangaka'.  I call myself one for the sake of this post, because the manga-inspired community can't agree on a better name, although we'd desperately like one.  We are very much aware that it's an outdated term with nasty connotations, and managed to figure that out years ago.  Many of us have tried to ditch the 'mangaka' moniker and don't consider our comics to be manga, but have faced audiences, editors, professors, and peers who insist that this is what we are.  I personally consider the comics I make to be children's comics or indie comics, and the manga influences are mainly an aesthetic choice that reflects my taste for cute things.  I titled this post in such a way so that it would reach the highest number of people Googling the term OEL Mangaka, and am not labelling my current work as manga, nor myself as a mangaka.  If the post is read in its entirety, that fact is made evident.  Seeing people argue in my comments section over whether or not I consider myself to be a mangaka is rather annoying, as the entirety of my blog focuses on anything but.  Before speaking for me in the comments, or making an assumption about who I am as an artist, please have the decency to actually read some of my blog.

Becca: I have a confession to make. It probably isn't shocking to any of you.  Many of you probably harbor the same secret.

When I was 14, I wanted to become a mangaka and move to Japan.  I dreamed that I would make manga and direct anime, and that somehow, I'd overcome the cultural differences that stem from being a whitebread suburban girl who spoke not a word of Japanese.  Somehow I'd be able to show the country that birthed my major inspiration what I was made of and earn the respect of the manga-reading masses, despite the fact that there was plenty of native manga to be had.

I read a lot of manga at that time, and flirted occasionally with OEL (original English Language) manga.  I read Ninja High School.  I followed the Rising Stars of Manga contest, although sometimes it was with disdain.  But for far too long, I figured my 'real' audience would be Japanese.  I didn't go out of my way to support American artists who drew with a manga influence until late college.  For as long as there was a viable for American comics inspired by manga, I had no interest in an American audience. 

To be honest, I was naive and a bit ignorant.  I didn't really peruse the artist alley at the many anime conventions I attended, partially because I was usually rushing from photoshoot to cosplay competition, but also because a lot of the artists would attempt high pressure sales tactics that made me uncomfortable. The fact that at many conventions I attended, the Artist Alley was far out of the way of the main convention didn't help much either, and as I hadn't a strong interest in actually tabling there, I didn't go out of my way to find them.

After I gave up my dream of moving to glorious Nippon, I figured I'd become an American indie artist.  I didn't really see my drawing style as being particularly 'manga', I thought it was just cartoony.  Since being introduced to indie comics in late undergrad, I devoured a steady diet of both manga and indie comics, and took a lot of inspiration from these American comics, mainly in how I told stories. Unfortunately for me, editors viewing my work could see that there was more manga than indie to my style library, and cautioned me that American-drawn manga didn't really sell.  I hadn't really realized before then that many of the companies that sold OEL manga and manga-influenced comics were closing up shop or were simply no longer taking solicitations.  The aesthetic that inspired me to make comics in the first place was becoming a major hurdle to finding paying comic work.

So what happened?  So many comic artists draw heavy influence from manga in a variety of ways, and manga is becoming an acceptable comic solution in the West, so why are so many manga-influenced artists having a hard time selling their work?

Because we get zero support on the home front.

OEL manga doesn't sell in the US.  At least, not to the people we'd like to sell it to.  When I go to anime conventions, my comics don't sell to the audience.  They sell to other artists tabling at that convention.  My comics sell to other artists who are familiar with the situation OEL and manga-inspired artists face at nearly every convention we attend.  I might as well not even bring comics to anime conventions, because that audience isn't interested in seeing comics from American artists.  If I only attended anime conventions, I'd be better of churning out fanart prints, charms, and buttons.  Comics currently don't make me any money.

What's sad is that, when polled, a lot of those customers who are skipping my comics for my charms and buttons tell me that they draw comics too.  They tell me that they draw manga, and that they plan on moving to Japan one day.  They tell me that they aren't interested in reading American-drawn manga, but they sure are interested in producing it.  They want to show me their sketchbooks and portfolios, for my feedback, but cringe when I tell them the OEL manga is a huge bust.  They can't see that they're a huge part of the problem.

Any older manga-influenced comic artist worth their salt knows how that story ends.  I can think of TWO artists who have done that- Jamie Lynne Lano and Filipe Smith.  Two in all the history of comic artists talking about moving to Japan and finding love and acceptance.  That's a pretty small percentage.  So what happens to the rest of us?  Do we stop making comics because the style we use is a hard sell?

I wish I could say 'no, we're made of tougher stuff', but for a lot of artists, the answer is 'yes'.  Or the answer is 'change to something more marketable'.  But some of us are genuinely attached to this aesthetic.  Some of us genuinely enjoy American (or British, or Austrailian, or any other OEL) comics influenced by manga style tropes.  Unfortunately, we seem to be in the minority when it comes to buying, at conventions and at book stores.

The community who supports us is the community we've first supported. If you want to make manga-influenced comics, you have to SUPPORT manga-influenced comics.  And that sort of support is shown through dollars and cents.

Ways to Support Your Local OEL manga comic community:

  • Attend conventions, and hit up the Artist Alley FIRST.  Before you spend your cash on electronic cat ears and rubber dragons.
  • When hitting up the artist alley, look for mini comics and print-copy webcomics.  Consider starting a mini comic collection.  It retains its value a lot longer than fanart prints do.
  • Support artists with similar styles online.  If you're broke, you don't HAVE to commission them or contribute to their Kickstarters, but sending a kind email or leaving them a pleasant message can really do a lot to encourage them.
  • Share artists you like with your friends.  OEL manga and manga-inspired comics are a bit of the redheaded stepchild of the comics community.  These comics are just as legitimate as any other comics out there, and no more derivative than superhero comics. 
  • If you are an artist, help other artists when possible.  We're all going through this together, but our community is really fragmented.  We need to pull together as much as possible.
  • TALK ABOUT IT.  Not complain about it, but TALK about it.  Creating in a vacuum isn't good for you, and it isn't good for the community.  Purchase OEL manga, review OEL manga, recommend OEL manga.
  • As an artist, avoid becoming the stereotypical 'manga kid'.  Consider subverting your artstyle for assignments that don't call for such stylization (figure drawing, technical drawing), and focus on improving your basic skills.
  • Learn the basics and practice the basics of sound art.  Good composition, solid figure construction, airtight color theory will help you from being lumped into the same category Chris Hart is in.

And really, we all want to avoid these stereotypes.

When I was a graduate student in the Sequential Art Department of SCAD, every year there was an event called Editor's Day, when SCAD would invite in editors from various comic companies.  During my time there, every year, a student would ask about manga at the Open Forum, and every year, their hopes were shot down as they were told that American manga just didn't sell.

Every year, I bristled a bit, because this was a gross simplification, a dismissal of a problem that myself and many other artists are currently facing.  We know for a fact that manga is hugely popular, we know that American audiences are more than willing to buy fanart from American artists, that this is plenty good enough for the average anime fan.  Many of us know that for awhile, the American manga market was flooded, and that a lot of subpar comics were published because publishers were looking to take advantage of the manga boom, creating a generation of distrust from American comic buyers.  Some of us were able to create a name for ourselves during this time, and some of us came in just a little too late, and all we have are the ashes of other artists dreams.  Some of us are trying to create a reputation during a period when, if you draw with a manga-influence, not only do you have to be good, but you have to be so far above the competition that you exceed the editor's bias.  For many in this comic-crafting generation, being published by an existing comic publisher is probably not an option, and we need to take a grass roots approach.

This is where conventions come in.  New Orleans, Savannah, and Nashville share one awful trait in common- there's a severe lack of a comic scene.  Because my convention options are limited, I attend a lot of anime conventions, and try a variety of tactics to entice customers and develop a fanbase.  Unfortunately, comics are still a hard sell at these conventions, though I, and many other artists, strive to improve the reputation OEL and manga-inspired comics have earned among the audience that should be our biggest supporters.

Things were a little different in the days of Ninja High School, Cathedral Child, and the Rising Stars of Manga, a bit before the easy access the internet provides consumers.  Before scanlation sites that make it easy to consume all the manga one can handle at little charge, and before webcomics really took hold.  Maybe the customer base was more appreciative then, or publishers were willing to take more risks, to be honest, I'm not sure.  I was 14 then, and I had my head up my rear, stupidly assuming the market would never change.  Now I'm, well not 14, and the market has changed drastically, and it's up to my generation of comic artists to change things for the better.

Heidi: My own experience with OEL manga and the manga boom was very similar to Becca's, though it differed in places.  Like her, I consumed any and all manga from Japan, but scorned anything that was left to right (Korean or American, though at the time I thought it was all American).  If it wasn't “legit” manga I wanted nothing to do with it.

I actually remember when Dark Horse was translating Hellsing, in some of the volumes they translated Hirano's requests for an assistant (and the address on where to send your stuff to) and I was determined to fill that position – I practiced drawing Seras and Alucard for hours, readying my sketchbooks to be the amazing girl from the States who blew them away.  I even tried to learn enough Japanese to write my heartfelt letter about how I really wanted to be an artist and wanted to help him out.  (never mind that I was 16...)

I remember submitting to the Rising Stars of Manga contest as well, and being rather butthurt that they didn’t take MY AMAZING submission (this was again the same time frame, I was 15) and sending fanart to the addresses in manga hoping that the American staff of Viz or Tokyopop would send my art on to the original creators saying “oh look how good this is” (man, did I have my head up my ass... but I'm admitting all this now).  Of course these things were never going to happen.

I think possibly I didn't actually want a Japanese audience as much as I wanted to show up other Americans and be “the one who made it.”  Regardless, I scoffed at all kinds of OEL manga, pointing out all the ways I thought it was too American (never mind my art wasn't very good at the time . . . if you really wanna see, check out the last pages of my Deviantart page, I have stuff going all the way back to 2003!) 

Its taken a lot of time and maturity to get to the point where I can look at OEL manga and really appreciate it.  But I also see there's a continuance of the same attitude I had – kids who are in middle or high school, or even college aren't interested in the “American knock-offs,” they only want the real stuff – and the sad part is they aren't even willing to pay for it.  Even sadder, they won't even read FREE webcomics made with the same anime aesthetic, just because its not “good enough.” (or really, because its not Naruto and not popular).  Sadly though, we've idolized anything coming out of Japan without actually looking at the actual quality of it – and this is not meant to insult anyone American or Japanese, but I've looked back at my manga collection that I had when I was in high school and some of the art and stories are horrendous.  And as a young artist, I was hell-bent on copying that aesthetic, without understanding anatomy or storytelling. 

I think OEL manga gets a bad rep partially because American manga fans tend to be so much like I was – we only want the “pure” stuff, we want to think that we're special snowflakes or somehow better.  But we won't help other American artists who are working just as hard (possibly because no one is validating our own special snowflake-ness by buying our art.) 

But OEL manga has really dive bombed because our audience isn't buying.  We, those who consume and create it, won't necessarily touch it.  People who are in to American comics (especially the Superhero genre) scorn the OEL manga industry (not true of everyone, but many fans).  Indie comic artists and purveyors tend to hate that OEL manga gets lumped into their category, which has been its own thing for decades.  And the intended audience of 10-25 year olds, especially girls, that manga resonates with often has such a purist attitude towards manga that they won't touch it if there's an English name on the cover.  (I've even seen people make up Japanese pen names to combat this, but with the internet, if word ever gets out you do that you're shunned for life.)

I actually become curious at this point at how things like MegaTokyo have become so successful when the audience is so discriminatory in what they read, or those how to draw manga books, when they are almost always produced by American artists who may like manga style and be able to ape it, but haven't necessarily learned the art behind it.

I've actually said before that the term OEL manga seems like part of the problem to me too.  By giving ourselves “manga” in the title of the comics we make, and then having to specify that its English or American, I think we're creating a bias against our work from both sides – fans of manga and fans of other comics.  Many of the artists who create OEL manga and webcomics are really adapting styles into a very awesome conglomeration of American and Japanese aesthetics (see Winters in Lavelle, TJ & Amal, Mahou Shounen Fight, and so many more) and its obvious that manga has inspired us, but we're learning real storytelling techniques and real art to give actual substance to our work instead of filling it with pre-drawn backgrounds (yes, those are available in Japan) and an overabundance of shoujo bubbles and screentones.  And its sad that so many Americans are shunning that kind of hard work and dedication.  Yes, I know that Japanese manga-ka work very hard and are often grossly underpaid, and yes there are a lot of amazing manga out there that I also read.  But their American counterparts are often working just as hard, without the aid of assistants or screentones or having been someone else's assistant (and often times getting a jump start into the field) and are often not even making enough to eat – sometimes even WITH the assistance of a second job.  And because the publishers here in America have discovered that there's no profit in OEL manga, they can't get in with companies. 

Perhaps the long and the short of it all is that we've doomed ourselves. But as an adult I consciously make an effort to change for the better, and I suppose I can only hope that there will be more people who do the same.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mini Watercolors for Mechacon

I thought I at least posted some of these, but going through my blog, I can't find em.  So if you've seen these one too many times, I apologize, I thought it'd be nice to have em all in one place.

I'm going to have these little cuties at Mechacon, and they aren't YET listed in my shop just yet, so if you see one you can't live without, just send me an email and I'll hold it for you. 

 A couple little Solid Snakes of the box and party variety. 

 A Chibi-Ratsu scratchin' at fleas.

 A Lumpy Space Princess with iridescent stars.

 A Chocobo.

Sailor Scouts!

 Rei was always such a pair of sasssyboots, but she's probably my least favorite inner senshi. 

 Whereas Venus is one of my favorites.
 Can't have enough Sailor Venus, right?

 Though some Sailor Moon is a good thing too.

 A blurry Lady Rainicorn ATC.

My other favorite scout, Sailor Jupiter!

Man, her and Sailor Venus are my BFF OTP.  They can go boy crazy together while Makoto makes awful puns while Mina plays vidoegames.

 A test watercolor to see if the simple style of watercoloring holds up ok for more complicated styles.

 Sailor Mercury!

And more Sailor Jupiter.

A two-fer--the Lemongrabs.

How about some ponies?

A Pinkie Pie?

An Applejack?
 Or a Rainbow Dash?

What about some nostalgia, then?

Like a Jem?

Or a couple Sakuras from Card Captor Sakura?

And last but not least, a real blast from the past, Rumiko Takihashi's Lum.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Introducing a new 7" Kara Story

The Hana Doki Kira Shoujo anthology is now available in the Nattoshop!

Recently I did a mini Kara comic for an upcoming shoujo manga anthology, Hana Doki Kira.  While I'd prefer to save the entire story for those who contribute to the anthology's upcoming Kickstarter campaign, the contributing artists have been asked to share some of the art online, to help raise awareness about the project.  I am very much excited to comply.

I wasn't specifically asked to contribute a story about Kara, but with six pages to work with, I didn't want to create a whole new 'world' or all new characters, and preferred to explore my own.  7" Kara in general is what I'd consider a shoujo story, but for my anthology submission, I wanted to explore a theme of love, and what it means to one particular little girl.  My mini comic is about a younger Kara (about six years old) finding a gecko egg and raising it. 

This story differs from my other Kara pages in many ways, and I consider it a Kara gaiden (a side story), that's part of the continuity, but isn't really important to the overall major story.  These pages required a lot of planning to get right.  I wanted a more shoujo aesthetic to my art, but lacked the ability to really rely on color to convey emotion.  I needed to soften my style, but I wanted it to be recognizable as my work.  I wanted it to fit into the shoujo genre, but I wanted to avoid anything heavy handed.

I needed to develop an entirely new approach to inking, but for this comic, I was forced to rely on tech pens as I was in the middle of moving from Savannah, GA to Nashville, TN, and needed to be able to work an uncomfortable working environment.  In the past, my inking with fude and technical pens has been criticized as heavy handed, but I didn't want to lose lineweight.  In the end, I decided to make strokes appear to be broader by applying many smaller strokes with a .1 tech pen, which was time consuming, but does indeed appear lighter.

I'd also never used a color tone before, although I've wanted to for awhile.  Contributors to Hana Doki Kira were assigned Pantone's Seafoam green, a cool tone that is very cute, but if misused, can make the story read differently.  In order to prepare myself, I did several test sketches in my sketchbook, first to decide how to ink the comic, then to decide where to apply the spot blacks (which are pretty rare in real shoujo, they make the page appear heavy), and finally to get a rough approximation of where I would want to utilize tone.

 This was the first real sketch of Kara for this particular comic.

One of the first ink tests, done right in my sketchbook over my non-photo blue pencil.

I really pushed myself to find way of juggling tone, spot blacks, and the inks in a way that didn't become too heavy.  To aid me in this search, I utilized a pthalo green Pitt Pen, since the Indian ink can go right over non-photo blue pencil.

 I bet you guys noticed how similar is to the one I posted all the way at the top.  I was so anxious about handling a large expanse of green (grass, leaves), that I did a sample doodle.  In the end, I decided to avoid having Kara wear black for this comic, leaving the spot blacks mainly for her hair and to help push areas of interest.  It's particularly noticeable on the original black and white pages.  I talk a little more about this process and my inspiration in some detail in this sketchdump.

Overall, I'm very pleased with how this mini comic has turned out, and I'm excited to share it with an audience new to the world of 7" Kara.  I've been a fan of shoujo manga since I first got into comics (at 14), and am happy to have the opportunity to work with other artists interested in telling the same sort of stories I'm interested in telling.   Hopefully a heartfelt story about a little girl raising an unusual pet will be understood for what it is- a different sort of love story.

For those of you who saw the original 7" Kara at it's MoCCA-Fest debut, the above image might look a little familiar.  It's pretty similar to the cover for Chapter 2!

This is no coincidence, I wanted to neatly tie this side story into the main story.

So I hope you guys look forward to 7" Kara- Small Blessings, and I definitely hope you'll consider supporting Hana Kira Doki when it's Kickstarter launches!