My Comic Life Sundays: Penciling 101: The Layout

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Welcome back! Our Weekly Visions post last Thursday announced more details about my Smithsonian IMAX Get Creative Get Togethers launching this coming Saturday the 29th with an incredible night of Christopher Nolan 15/70mm films specials. We also announced the second event on February 5th with a double-feature of the brand new hit film about the ladies behind NASA, Hidden Figures and the mind-bending classic The Matrix. Signup for the first outing NOW!

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My Comic Life Column 017: Penciling 101 The Layout

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Last time I started to really get into this series on penciling by going over the basics, including tools of the trade, setting up safe, bleed and trim zones, etc. It was essentially focused on logistics and materials.

This time I’m going to start talking about the first and most important step in actually creating a page of comic art – the layout.

Anyone who’s done art on any kind of regular basis has learned the best way to start is to sketch, loosely and lightly, in order to get a feel for the image. Starting with a light, loose sketch allows the artist to frame out the image, get proportions and anatomy, as well as perspective and lighting roughed out to then build on. It’s essentially a ‘feeling out’ stage where the artist can explore options, angles, composition, etc. Keeping it light if using pencil and paper, means you can erase and make changes easier.

Now, some artists, after they’ve been doing this work for years, even decades, layout and then jump to more finished versions pretty quickly. Others of us struggle a bit more at this stage, trying to get the exact look we want. Every artist sometimes hits a total wall on a given piece and will wrestle with it to no end. Doing all this in simple layout sketches means saving a lot of work once you decide you need to change something.

I’ve included two samples below of my own layout stages for a couple pieces of art. The first set is a cover I’m doing for a short story, the second set is an art print of Wonder Woman for an upcoming event.

As you can see, each successive layout I shift elements, tighten linework, add details, sometimes scrapping a part of the work and starting over, sometimes really defining those parts that are working well.

So, it should be pretty clear that this process really is a process of composing the image – from the basics like getting the proportions and anatomy right (as mentioned above) to the finer elements of framing the main focus of the image, creating elements to guide the viewer’s eye, etc.

Now, the simpler the image, the easier the layout. A quick head sketch is pretty simple to setup and start rolling pretty quick. Make that a full body sketch, little more effort at this stage to get limbs and body in proportion, moreso if that body is at an extreme angle needing foreshortening etc. Add a detailed background? More characters? More effort. Now, take all those elements for a single picture – turn that picture into a panel – and make a page of 6, 8, or 12 panels. Hopefully, you’re starting to see how important the layout stage is to crafting a good comic page.

The layout is when the artist is creating the single most important element of the page and that is the storytelling. Remember, in an earlier column, I spoke about amazing artists who then try their hand at comics and don’t do well? A large part of that is a failure to take into account storytelling from the very beginning, starting with the layout of the page.

Getting the Lay of the Page

Now, if you’re working with a full script, the basic layout of the page has already started in the process of the writing – in other words, your script will dictate, basically, the number of panels for any given page. The number of panels can vary from 1, what is more often called a SPLASH page, to 3 stacked, to 4, 6, or 8 panel grids, or more. Some can use very basic layouts, others more complex. A well-written script will be sure to have the story pace accordingly with the number of panels, for example:

SPLASH pages should be scenes worth that full page. They should be great establishing shots to establish scene or mood, great action shots, or critical turning points of the story worth the space and focus.

From there it becomes a fairly simple inverse relationship based on two key content elements: text and art. If there is a great number of specifics needed in the art to show scale or the full complexity of the action (say a city being ripped apart, or two super-teams clashing), or if there is a lot of text, dialogue, captions, etc. then that panel needs to be bigger. If there are fewer elements of art and dialogue (say a headshot of a single character saying a single word) the panel can be smaller.

Again, if you’re dealing with a full script, its important your writer be thinking through this as well (as they learned during the Writing 101 series), but, ultimately, it falls on you as the artist to translate that script to art. In doing so, you may decide the panel count needs to change, or feel part of a given page needs to be pushed to the next page to pace and balance better. These are issues it’s fair for an artist to bring back to a writer, and ones a good writer should listen to from their artist.

Once you start picturing the general content of the panels on any given page, the next important piece to bring into the mix quickly is how you want to then arrange those panels on a page.

Keep It Simple – OR – The Stack and the Grid are Your Friends

To the side are several examples of typical page layouts pulled from the work of Jack Kirby.

As you can see, they show a range of not only panel counts, but how those panels are arranged.

But perhaps the most noticeable thing is also the most common thing about each of these: they are all fairly simple, blocked panels in simple stacked or grid layouts.

A stack is when panels stretching the width of the page are placed one atop the other, like the upper left image of three panels.

A grid is when smaller square or rectangular panels number across the page, then are in tiers down the page, with the most common being the classic six-panel grid seen at the lower left position.

Now, while having complex panel layouts may look cool, I usually strongly recommend artists just starting out in comics do more basic layouts. The reasoning is very simple – a basic stacked or grid layout means your storytelling will absolutely be clear and easy to follow as far as this stage is concerned.

Again, that is the single most important element of a sequential page of art, that the story flows easily for the reader and they are able to naturally and automatically follow through the proper sequence of panels to see the story unfold and enjoy it.

Those complex layouts you see by more accomplished artists that can blow your mind are actually incredible masterpieces of pacing, order, layout and composition in order for them to work. If you haven’t fairly mastered all those skills and try a complex panel layout for some ‘cool effect’ chances are you’ll end up losing a reader somewhere in the midst of it, and that will knock them out of the story and instantly be a turnoff to them.

Variety Really IS the Spice of Life (and Comics)

A final thing to mention this round, and we will come back to it later, is that it’s also important to vary your page layouts. Now, obviously, again, your script will hopefully include a good bit of variety in pacing and panel counts already, but you may find a good run of 4-6 panel pages, which is the general average. If all you do are basic grids, page after page, that’s going to get visually boring to a reader. Pretty much any kind of repetition, even at a basic layout level, becomes distracting and boring. So, add variety where you can. Maybe one 4 panel page would work better with slimmer, wider panels in a stack. Or a 6 panel page can use some varied panel sizes to shift the grid lines (as shown above).

NEXT

We’re going to continue focusing on layouts but start adding in actual composition of the art in panels and look at how artists can use layouts to add a lot of strength of story in the art as well as the basic panel setup.

Resources

Printable Paper has a number of basic comic page panel layout templates you can download for doing layouts and practice.

NOW DISCUSS…

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About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!

Weekly Visions 1.19.17: Get Creative Official Launch & Con Season is Coming!

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Get Creative Get TogetherVisionary is proud to introduce a new series of informal get-togethers based around, celebrating and providing opportunities for the creative arts. From film to comics, live performances to fine art exhibitions, these will be smaller, more personal events with Visionary staff and creators designed to celebrate, uplift and directly experience the arts. New events will be added on a semi-regular basis and sign ups and details will be included here.

 

Smithsonian IMAX

Sci-Fi Sunday Special Christopher Nolan 15/70mm Film Takeover
Sunday January 29th @5pm :: Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater
 Join us for an exclusive showing of Nolan’s visionary movie prologues for The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and his upcoming film Dunkirk, and then enjoy an exclusive screening of the full movie Interstellar! After the show join Visionary CCO C. Edward Sellner for a roundtable discussion of the film. Tickets are on sale now!

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Hidden Figures & The Matrix Double Feature
Sunday February 5th @3:00pm :: Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater
Join us for a Visionary Films Double Feature! We’ll be attending the new release, hit movie Hidden Figures, then sticking around for an exclusive screening of the classic The Matrix! Tickets for both available soon!
Then join CCO C. Edward Sellner for a roundtable discussion of both films afterward.

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NEW YEAR, NEW AUCTIONS LIVE NOW! The non-profit Inkwell Awards’ fundraising auctions are back and this week we have an eclectic assortment (books, prints, sketch covers, original art) of 15 collectible items donated by more generous supporters in our community! We have copies of our new and much-anticipated Ms. Inkwell Gallery book signed and available! Other items from Michael Golden, Allan Bellman, Andrew Pepoy, Bob Wiacek, Lee Weeks, V. Ken Marion, Ryan Stegman, Michael Dooney, Rafer Roberts, and Frankie B Washington! Thanks to all!!!

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My Comic Life Sundays: Penciling 101: The Basics

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First, in case you missed our Weekly Visions Post this week, I announced a new, semi-regular time to Get Together and Get Creative. Thanks to a cool new partnership with the Smithsonian IMAX, we’ll be turning select new releases and special showings into Visionary films – I’ll be attending the show, and those wishing to can join me for an informal roundtable discussion on the merits of the movie afterward. Our first one kicks off January 29th at 5pm. Get all the details here>>

Hope to see you at one soon!

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My Comic Life Column 016: Penciling 101 The Basics

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Last time I did a quick ‘sketch’ of penciling comics in general. This time I want to start digging into the topic and getting more concrete on specifics.

But before I do, let me put out two reminders that bear repeating:

First, the 101 round of series on each stage of creating comics is aimed at the basics, for beginners, just as I did with the writing series. So, a lot of what you read here may be stuff you’ve heard already if you’ve been at this any length of time, but, I try to include some pointers and tips I’ve picked up that will hopefully still make it worth your while even if you’re a pro.

Second, very little of what I share are hard and fast rules (though there are those as well). A lot of ‘creating’ is open to any number of options including tools you use, size you draw at, stylistic choices, etc. My goal is to share some of the most common used approaches and techniques for you to use or not as you wish, but are especially helpful if your goal is to produce work that may lead to you getting hired in the industry.

Tools of the Trade

9581209To do pencil artwork all you really need is a pencil and some paper. Once you start, you’ll probably soon after need an eraser, trust me. But if you want to start working to the norms of the industry you’ll start fine-tuning that process pretty quickly.

In fine-tuning that process, the first step is making sure you are producing art that fits the standard specs for whatever kind of comic you plan on doing. Now, again, lots of freedom here to just create stuff, but if you plan to submit this comic for print or digital release, or do it yourself, then you need to be more intentional in how you approach this.

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Most print comics are printed at a 6.875″ x 10.4375″ size, but the original art for those sized pages are most often done on 11″ x 17″ sized paper. For printed art of most any kind, it’s pretty standard for an artist to work on anywhere from a two to three times larger size space than the final printed format. The reasoning here is simple – the amount of detail you see in a printed comic page would be hard to include if the work were being created at that size. The additional advantage is that any small mistakes that creep into finished art at a larger size are even more reduced and fade out when the art is printed smaller.

Some artists work on different sized paper, to begin with, which is fine, but what is critical is that the ratio relationship stays the same so the page of art can print properly set on a standard comic sized page.

The most common used paper for comic art is bristol board, which is a high-quality, thick paper stock with a very smooth finish. Bristol board has even more advantages for inking, but still stands out even just for penciling work. The smooth finish lends itself to tighter, smoother lined artwork. It’s also sturdy for erasing (I’m telling you… erasers… lots of them) so that the paper does not scrape or tear. One negative is the smooth surface can also lead to smudging or smearing, so it does pay to be careful as you work.

On the actual pencil front, you’ll find a wide range of tools there. A good starting point is a 2B pencil, as it can lay down solid, dark black lines. But as you progress in your work, you’ll most likely find yourself wanting to use different strokes, shading, and varying darkness in the linework. That’s when you’ll want to expand. There are twelve grades of pencils from the hardest (H), to medium (F), up to very soft (9B). You’ll find these useful in creating different tones, shading, and textures.

Of course, beyond pencils, there are all sorts of art tools to create art, from charcoal to pastels, to paints. But remember, we’re talking about penciling comics and for the most part, those don’t enter into this discussion unless we’re talking someone doing full and finished art.

Get In the Zone

Once you get your tools set up, the next important thing is to learn the ‘zones’ for a page of comic art. This is absolutely critical to make sure the art will look right on a printed page. This falls on the penciler, and is being covered in the penciling series, because, understandably, it is the Penciler creating the initial art, which then is handed off to everyone else on the team, so it makes sense to do it right from the start.

There are three zones or areas on a page of comic art, each serves a very specific and important role in laying the art out for print.

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From the exterior edge of the paper in, there should be a border outside the art, which is essentially the buffer edge of the page, no art should be in that area, and any that is will most assuredly not be seen in the final printed version once it’s setup and sized down. On a standard 11″ x 17″ art board, this border would run 1/2″ on the sides, and 13/16″ on the top and bottom, defining a space to work in of 10″ x 15-3/8″.

The next zone or area is called the Bleed Area, or Full Bleed Area. This is for a specific form of printing that can print to the edge of a printed page, with no visible border running the exterior in the printed format. Art can extend into this area, but it’s important that nothing critical or central to the image as a whole extend into it, as it may or may not be fully visible in the printed version. (See below to better understand why.) Art that can fill a Bleed Area would include backgrounds, furthest extensions of limbs, or objects that can be cropped without losing definition of the figure or object, etc.  The full work space including the bleed area is the above mentioned 10″ x 15-3/8″ as defined by that buffer zone.

Next is the Trim Line, which on a standard 11″ x 17″ sheet is 5/8″ in from the edge of the paper on the sides, and 1″ in on the top and bottom, defining a space of 9-3/4″ x 15″ in which to work. The trim line is crucial because it is the average line of where the page will be trimmed in the process of printing. As books are run through a printer, there is a trimming or cutting stage, that is pretty accurate but not 100% – so the trim line represents the average line of the cut. This is why there is a small buffer on the outside of the trim line, the Bleed Area described above, and on the inside of the line defining the final zone.

That final zone is the Safe Area, sometimes referred to as the Live Area. It is 1″ in from the sides and 1-3/8″ from top and bottom, defining a work space of 9″ x 14.25″. As its name implies, the Safe Area is that area which is guaranteed to be centered and visible on the printed page – none of that will bleed off the edge or be cut in the process of trimming. So, obviously, it is within this zone that all important, central elements of the art should be fully contained – character faces, important props or elements of the backgound, etc. This is also important when it comes to lettering, as all lettering, captions, dialogue and sound effects should be 100% in this area only, but we’ll cover that more later.

Above is a great graphic from Blambot that shows the various lines and dimensions. Now, if you’re doing this work regularly you’ll find it easier to get art boards that have these lines pre-printed on them, and fortunately, there are several to choose from. My preference, as well as that of many artists, is Blue Line Comic Pro art boards. These not only set off the bleed and trim lines, they include marked notches for dividing a page into thirds, halves, etc. for most basic panel layouts. They also use that buffer area at the edge to provide an artist space to make notes on series, page number, etc. Once you start generating multiple pages of art on various projects, you’ll find it pretty important to label the pages so you can find them once again if needed.

Doing It Digital

Wait, what does penciling have to do with digital? I know at least someone out there is asking that and it’s a fair question.

Penciling in comics is not so much the means or tools used as the step in the process, still referred to by the name it acquired before computers existed. Those of us who create comics fully in digital still go through a process of ‘penciling,’ meaning we set up the page specs (file specs in this case), and create the initial art using custom tools, and the process of composing and defining the art generally looks similar to sketching and pencils on paper.

In most art software the Pencil tool is generally not a tool you want to actually use as a ‘pencil’ for drawing. There you go pretty exclusively with brushes. As above, you can use any number of settings to accomplish the same, and different artists will have their own preferences. Personally, when I’m ‘sketching’ or ‘penciling’ art in Photoshop, I used a standard round brush, set to multiply and around 40% opacity. Most of my work I set the brush to 3 pixels, though will sometimes thicken that up in the initial sketch when I’m doing thumbnails or roughs (more about all that stuff later). The point though is the process is similar, even if the venue is different.

Now, if you work exclusively in digital software, but are working on comics intended for print then you need to setup the same specs as listed above, especially concerning setting up your zones on your page. I’ve included download links for my own personal digital page templates I use for art, which are template files set to standard size for original art, and have both a layer with guidelines, as well as Guides you can make visible by clicking View > Show > Guides for Bleed and Trim lines. I’ve even been extra nice and included single page and double-page spreads.

For digital comics, if you’re creating the work for a specific digital venue, the best starting place is to review any and all guidelines and specs for that venue. They tend to differ a lot based on how the venue loads and displays art. However, most of the same general principles apply here, just as above, with differences accounting for format and venue.

As with physical tools, you can create the art at a variety of spec sizes, as long as the final file hits the right ratio and proper resolution or DPI for the art to display well. Art intended for print must be created at a minimum of 300DPI, any lower and you risk the art looking pixellated on the page. More detailed art, like full digital renderings, will often jump to 400, or even 600DPI to keep crisp edges and rich colors defined in print. Digital venues range based on their format. Apps and panel based venues often require higher resolution images so that the art remains crisp and clear even when you zoom in super-tight.

Obviously, one major difference here is that most digital venues for viewing comics do not match fully to standard print size. Reading comics on a computer means you’re going to want to lean more toward horizontal or landscape art to better fit a standard computer screen. Comics that display on a smartphone are usually panel by panel, so if you are targeting this type of venue you will want to lean toward more standard sized, smaller panels that then work zoomed in on the smaller screens. Of all digital devices, tablets are the closest reading experience to print with the ability to display decent sized, full print pages and still be readable.

The Best of Both Worlds

I’ll do a whole series on this somewhere down the road, but worth at least mentioning here – I generally encourage creators to think about all their options when they create a comic. You may start with releasing this comic you’re doing in a digital format on Comixology or Drive-Thru, but if it were to take off and you got that call from a print publisher wanting to do a collection – just how much would you hate yourself if you created all the content only for digital and not a high enough resolution or format to work in print? Don’t do that.

I think DC does the simplest, best answer here with their digital first series like Injustice and Legend of Wonder Woman. Their file specs for digital comics create web-screens that are optimized for most computer screens, but also, happen to line up to 1/2 of a standard comic page. The screens are then paced storywise and artwise to allow each consecutive set of two screens to be assembled into a single page for print. So, keep all this in mind as we press forward.

NEXT

Now that we’ve got those basics out of the way, next time we will start getting into some actual art! Promise!

Resources

Blambot is a definitive resource site for lettering comics, with fonts, tutorials and additional resources.
(I feel it only fair to mention them now since I plugged them above.)

Blue Line Comic Pro art supplies provide perhaps the most popular comic art boards on the market. With Pro and Custom boards marked with bleed and trim lines as well as panel hash marks, these are great time-savers for artists.

Standard 300DPI Comic Page Template TIFF File Download

Standard 300DPI Double-Page Spread Template TIFF File Download

NOW DISCUSS…

My Comic Life Patreon Promotion

If you want more great content like this, support his Patreon campaign today by clicking the image!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!

Weekly Visions 1.12.17: Smithsonian IMAX & Visionary Films

Get CreativeVisionary Creative Services is proud to announce a fun new partnership with the Smithsonian IMAX Theaters to launch our new Get Creative initiative! As part of our weekly celebration of the arts, every Tuesday, Visionary will be promoting all the great new releases and special showings at the absolute best IMAX theaters in the entire DC metro area. With the largest screens (six stories tall), laser projection, high digital picture resolution and sound, Smithsonian IMAX gives you the best movie experience you can find.

Not only that but for the same price, or cheaper than what you would pay anywhere else, you’re then supporting all the other excellent work the Smithsonian does. Smithsonian IMAX Director of Theaters, Zarth Bertsch and a wonderful staff do brief intros, special trailers, previews of exclusive films, and other presentations as well, making it truly unique.

C. Edward Sellner croppedTo make it more fun, Visionary CCO C. Edward Sellner will be kicking off his new semi-regular Get Creative Get Togethers revolving around select Smithsonian IMAX movies! We’ll be announcing specific times of new release films and special showings where our own CCO will be in attendance. Buy advanced tickets, watch a visionary movie then join Sellner in an informal gathering afterward, usually over a meal, to discuss the film, creating in general, and anything else.

“I’ve just been so thrilled with the response to the My Comic Life panels at conventions that I wanted to think of some cool ways to have more informal time with friends and fans to discuss comics, movies, and creating in general,” Sellner stated. “I love Smithsonian IMAX theaters, they are my first theater of choice every time. I also love the Smithsonian as a whole and wanted to do something to support their excellent mission. I spoke to Zarth and we agreed this seemed a good way to start.”

Our first official Get Creative Get Together will be for the January 29th, 5pm  Sci-Fi Sunday Special Christopher Nolan 15/70mm Film Takeover. Join us for an exclusive showing of Nolan’s visionary movie prologues for The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and his upcoming film Dunkirk, and then enjoy an exclusive screening of the full movie Interstellar, all at the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater. Tickets are on sale now!

Check out the latest news from Smithsonian IMAX below including awesome upcoming releases like Hidden Figures, and special holdover, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story! Look for our Get Creative Get Together announcements here in our weekly news updates, our forthcoming Get Creative weekly postings, and social media. We will also be setting up a Meetup group for the initiative. More details on the Nolan night this Sunday! Subscribe NOW!

Hidden Figures

Opening January 27

Based on the true story of the brilliant African-American women working at NASA who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence and turned around the Space Race.
Experience it in IMAX at the National Air and Space Museum in DC and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in VA. Playing January 27 – February 9.

Sci-Fi Sundays
Special Christopher Nolan
15/70mm Film Takeover

January 15 and 29

We’re exhibiting some of the best and unique work of Christopher Nolan for one epic screening all in 15/70mm film. Experience Interstellar as Nolan intended it in 15/70mm film on a 6-story screen! Prior to the performance, we will exhibit three of Christopher Nolan’s movie prologues both shot and exhibited in 15/70mm film including The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and his upcoming film
Dunkirk.

Two Screenings Only! Experience it at the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater at the National Museum of Natural History January 15 and 29.

Rogue One:
A Star Wars Story
Extended for One Week Only!
Through January 26 
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will now have an extended schedule of shows at both the National Air and Space Museum and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center through Thursday, January 26. Experience it in IMAX with Laser!
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Smithsonian Theaters, 600 Maryland Ave. SW  Ste. 6001, Washington, DC 20024

My Comic Life Sundays: Penciling 101 & Yoda (sorta)!

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Welcome back as we turn our spotlight once more to the creative process. Our last creative series of articles focused on the basic elements of writing, so, now it’s time to turn our attention to the next step in production – penciling – so listen up all you artists and prepare to sharpen some skills!

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My Comic Life Column 015: Penciling 101 Sketched Out

C. Edward Sellner cropped

Penciling comics is one of the most sought after positions in the comics industry and also the one that probably has the most turnover or burnout. There are a ton of people who want in, a ton already in, and a bunch who were in and then disappeared. Why, you ask? Let’s take a look at each of those.

Why is penciling so popular?

That one’s fairly simple: it’s the coolest piece of comics! I’m mostly a writer; I love writing, but even I get all excited and moon-eyed when a piece of art comes in for one of my projects. Art excites people, it inspires, it draws them in (yep, a second bad pun). The comics industry has long recognized this about artists and as a result, the commercial end of the industry and the popularity end have often leaned toward the artists, giving them the clout, the popularity, and the biggest names in comics. No doubt, that focus goes back and forth from writers to artists, but at times, like near the beginning of the Image days, the writer seemed an afterthought in many mindsets. It was the artist, or storyteller, that drew all the attention (yep, another) and got all the praise.

While comics really require both, good story and good art to succeed, I’m more than willing to acknowledge that much of this falls on the artist, at least initially. It’s usually a striking cover that will get some new fan to pick up a book. Someone flipping through pages in a comic-book store is not going ‘cool’ over the story or the sound effects; they love the art. Heck, artists even have more fun at conventions. It’s not like writers can sit at their tables and jot out a few words on paper to give to long lines of fans wanting an original script!

Now, I’m not trying to sound bitter since I’m predominantly a writer, and yes writers have also certainly made names for themselves in comics, but, comics are, after all, a VISUAL medium, hence some focus on the visuals.

However, for all its glory, it’s also a very demanding job. Pencilers have to create an average of a page a workday if they really want to make it in the comics industry on a monthly series. That’s a lot of pages! That’s a lot of work and commitment. This is why many artists will work on a series for a while, then take a break, do a mini-series here and there, and then maybe go back to the monthly grind, or maybe not. It’s this pressure that results in so many late books when artists can’t keep that pace and the major reason why a good number of accomplished artists leave comics for other fields.

Now, for you aspiring artists, this means you perhaps have the easiest opportunity to break into comics…if you’re good. Assuming you have the talent and the skills, there are always publishers who are looking for new artists, including the big guys. If you remember from an earlier column, you folks also get all the breaks for ease in portfolio reviews as well. An editor can flip through some pages of high-quality pencils and make a decision in like, oh, two minutes.

So here you are, wanting into comics, you’re talented, you got your portfolio, editors are always looking, and find it easy to look through portfolios, so, now what? Well, there’s a good bit more, so let’s unpack what we can.

Talent, of course, is the primary factor in making it as an artist. But talent isn’t all that it takes. Now, I can’t teach talent in a column, but I can teach a lot about those other factors! At the risk of repeating myself, the biggest mistake aspiring comics’ professionals make is not knowing the mechanics of the jobs they want to do. This falls into two categories with aspiring artists. First, there are those who still really need to learn to draw and second, there are those who need to learn specifically to draw comic books.

The Art of the Draw(ing)

Learn to draw? Surely aspiring comic artists know how to draw? You’d be surprised. There are aspiring artists that think all they need to do to learn to draw comics is look at comic books. They study comic art and think that by doing so, they can then recreate it and draw themselves. That’s kind of like staring at a toaster then claiming you can build one from scratch. It doesn’t work because ultimately all you are looking at is the surface and not taking into account the underlying work in crafting it.

Admittedly, some comic artists don’t help in making this argument, because if you look at their stuff, they seem to bypass proper anatomy and perspective as well as other artistic principles themselves. They often do highly exaggerated figures and surreal surroundings that seem to break all the rules.  There is a key word in here: exaggeration.

If you look at the collective body of work of any of the popular, mainstream, lasting pencilers out there, even the ones that might have very stylistic approaches now, chances are you will find plenty of examples of them doing far more straight-laced work, especially early in their careers. When Frank Miller drew his seminal run on Daredevil, his style was much closer to a photo-realistic look. No doubt, he still was a master of light and shadow then, but his people looked like real people with proper proportions. Compare that to his more recent and highly stylized work, on 300 or Sin City, and you will see how he’s progressed. Same with Todd McFarlane, when he started at DC on such books as Infinity Inc., his style was far more traditional and straightforward. It wasn’t until he was solid in his career that he began pushing the boundaries and when he launched Spawn that he pulled out all the stops.

As artists master their craft they can bend the rules, but they don’t outright break them. Artwork may be incredibly stylized, incredibly expressive and use exaggeration to heighten the drama of the work but there is an underlying base of solid art mastery underneath. An artist who has not mastered basic art skills and rules cannot then try to exaggerate them and do it convincingly. You have to know how to drive the car in your neighborhood before you’re ready to go on the highway, and be really good before you can hit the Indy 500, well, at least if you don’t want to end up being a rolled piece of kindling. I’ve seen submissions from artists who simply mimic a popular artist, but clearly show they have not learned the fundamental basics that underlie that style. The resulting art, well, looks like it’s good as kindling and that’s about it.

Do you know the difference between worm’s eye and bird’s eye view? What about a two versus a three-point perspective? Or better yet, stop and try to draw a picture that is not a ‘comic.’ Sketch a friend or family member. Draw a picture of a bowl of fruit. Are you capturing your subject? Can you get down the working of the light source and shading? Can you create a sense of texture and substance? Does your portrait of a person look remotely like them? Can you draw a person with fully functional anatomy? (No, I don’t mean that, get your mind out of the gutter!) Do they have elbows, knees, and ankles that line up and work like a real person’s? Do they ‘carry their weight’?

If you’ve never even tried to draw something non-comic-like, most likely, you’re in trouble as an artist.

So, as is my usual advice…
To learn more, you might want to take an art class at the local community college, take private art lessons, or at the very least check out some books that can teach you how to draw. All those fundamental principles you will learn there apply to comics work as well and they are critical in making that leap to any specialized form of art.

Once You Know It…Use it!

As an editor, I get real frustrated when I see a talented artist take shortcuts. The biggest thing on this is perspective and trying to fake it. I know it’s a pain to do the little grid lines and sync everything up. I’m an artist too, but you got to do it, else it looks bad.

Once You See It…Draw It!

Another important tool for every artist is good reference. Don’t be afraid to use photo reference for your work. If you have to draw a ’85 Ford Mustang get a picture of one. Likewise, don’t be afraid to use reference for anatomy as well. Beyond duplicating a photo in your art, there is also using photos to show you how muscle groups work, how they function under stress or when relaxed. Photo reference can also be good to show a variety of facial structures and how facial anatomy works especially in expressions etc. As an artist myself, I will usually compile a reference folder for any art I’m doing – reference that could include specific objects, elements of a setting, anatomy references similar to poses I’m planning to do, showing the relevant body types, etc. None of those photos will be ‘copied’ in the process, but each will help me capture those various elements to the best of my ability.

Drawing Comics…

Of course, once you’ve developed into a good artist, there is still the task of learning how to draw comics. I’ve met some really great artists who don’t know how to draw comic books. Sure, they might do great pinups or covers, but they can’t draw comics.

Let’s face it folks, the meat and potatoes of comics are sequential pages. So, why can’t every aspiring comic book artist realize they have to draw sequential pages in their portfolio if they wish to draw comic books? You got me, but it never fails that I will get submissions with nothing but character sketches, or pin-ups and not a hint of anything that, you know, actually tells a story.

On top of drawing sequential pages period, there is drawing them well. For most comic artists the hardest part of the job is laying out a good, solid, well composed sequential page. Composition, in comic art, is the art of laying out a page such that it draws the reader’s eye, flows, and provides a sense of energy, movement, or drama. It takes the elements of the picture, or panels, and combines them in a way that enhances the mood, communicates the key storytelling elements and advances the story.

Some amateur artists don’t think about this at all; it’s one of those pieces of the toaster you can’t see but it’s integral to getting the toast, or in this case, the art, to pop out. Other artists mostly think about composition only in regards to the panel. This is important, each panel must work on its own, but composition should also be considered for an entire page and some elements of good composition become recurring motifs for the entire book.

Art vs. Sequential Art

Comics utilize not only good art but very specific types of art. No matter what your style, there has to be movement, dynamic energy and incredible mood in your work to really make it in comics. This ranges from the layout of panels and pages (composition again) to characters in exaggerated poses, using perspective and variety in camera angles to increase tension or drama, etc. It’s storytelling, pure and simple.

For this series, I’m going to break down the basic skills, mechanics, and priorities for penciling comics and help you start laying a foundation for pursuing your goals as a comics artist. Pease note, this will not be a basic drawing series, so don’t look to learn those principles themselves so much as how they are primarily applied to the art of comics specifically.

I’ve included a few new online resources for artists below and links to some top-notch educational programs for aspiring artists willing to make that leap.

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We’ll start digging in by looking at composition and layout in more depth and focusing on the key elements of what makes sequential art… well, sequential.

Resources

Creating Comics by Dave Law – I’ve mentioned this one before but this link goes straight to the section for illustrators. Once again, it lists numerous links for artists to find online tutorials, how-to guides, descriptions of materials and tools, etc.

Gray’s Anatomy is the famous Gray’s Anatomy online, and no, not the show, but the ultimate reference to how the human body works. It includes diagrams and illustrations that show the anatomical features of every part of the body.

Anatomy 360 is a site with 3-D scanned models where you can rotate the figures 360 degrees and alter the lighting. (This site is still in development.)

Posemaniacs is an active site with uploaded 3-D anatomical figures of various proportions, in various poses, that you can rotate 360 degrees.

SCHOOLS

The Center for Cartoon Studies is a college level program that offers courses in creating comics. They offer a rounded curriculum that includes learning the history of the medium and then everything from writing to illustrating and finally self-publishing and marketing a comic book.

Joe Kubert’s World of Cartooning is exclusively for aspiring comic book artists. They offer a full range of classes and include correspondence courses.

NOW DISCUSS…

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About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!

Weekly Visions 01.05.17: Partnerships and Bringing it Local

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Welcome back for another weekly news update on all things Visionary!

Reminder: You can now find us at our new online address:
http://visionarycreativeservices.com/

This time around we put a spotlight on our new and expanded partnerships for 2017, as well as our panel / presentation / workshop services, which are now available for all kinds of events, including local community-based festivals and even small groups! Read on!


Creating Comics – The Visionary Way

Last year Visionary expanded it’s slate of conventions, shows, and other events to twenty-six! That’s an average of one every other week! Even as we are now finalizing our 2017 slate, Visionary is proud to introduce a new tier of events and scheduling.

You can now book Visionary for a local event, small group, or special function! Want to host a portfolio review exclusively at your retail shop? Looking to come up with a different and exciting evening program for your scout troop or youth group? Want a guest speaker at your after-school program or for an arts class you teach? Visionary’s got you covered!

Members of Visionary lead workshops at the 2015 Girl-Con sponsored by the Girl Scouts of America

Members of Visionary lead workshops at the 2016 Girl-Con sponsored by the Girl Scouts of America

“As we expand our services, we want to continue to deepen our ties to our local communities and share our excitement for comics as a medium, an art form, and a dream job,” CCO C. Edward Sellner shared. “This is the next logical step for that process.”

Visionary will book a very limited number of local events, both near our central offices in the DC metro area, as well as around larger shows we send our teams to. These can include art workshops, to overviews and history of comics as an art form, and can be geared for any age group. Workshops and presentations can be a single session, or multi-part sessions depending on the setting and availability. All workshops and presentations will have minimal costs for expenses, but the primary goal is to provide opportunities for small groups in various settings to explore the wonderful world of comics.

If you are interested in booking a portfolio review, workshop, or other session, book now!! >>


New and Expanded Partnerships for 2017

Visionary will be expanding and announcing new partnerships throughout the year, we’re pretty excited about some of the things on the horizon from these great collaborations!

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Artway Alliancea Maryland-based educational and interactive outreach that provides opportunities for children and youth to learn about the media arts, and encourages their own creativity and imagination will be expanding their partnership with Visionary, bringing our art and empowerment workshops to more conventions!

 

 

 

Girl-Con LogoGirl Scouts of America – Girl-Cona local pop-culture and comics event sponsored by Girl Scouts of America for young girls to experience the power of comics! Visionary will be sponsoring workshops once again this year and we will soon be announcing a special promotion for the event in 2017!

 

 

ASU CSI

Arizona State University – Center for Science & the Imaginationa special program of ASU, the Center does creative mergers of science with the power of imagination to inspire and empower students. Visionary is proud to be the first partner with ASUCSI to produce original comic-related content as part of their mission! We will be debuting our first full-length comic later this year.

 

 

NMLThe National Museum of Languagea museum focused on the development, diversity, and rich heritage of language from all over the world. Visionary’s 2017 Intern Class is partnering with the museum for a special online exhibit celebrating regional language in the United States, that will go live sometime this year.

 

 

 
inkwellInkwell Awards a non-profit organization dedicated to the awareness, education, and celebration of the art of inking. Annual awards are presented to the best inkers in the industry, and legacy and hall of fame awards celebrate the legends who shaped the art form and by extension the comics industry. Visionary is partnering to help spread their message, with CCO C. Edward Sellner joining their committee, and by providing a special participation opportunity for our 2017 interns. More details coming later this year.

 

More to come soon! It’s going to be a truly Visionary year!

A Very Personal My Comic Life Sundays Part 2

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My Comic Life Column 014: A Very Personal Message Part 2

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I duly warned everyone – this time was also going to be more on the personal side – but squarely aimed at all my fellow creators, no matter what medium, or level of work you do.

We as creators often face a lot of challenges with our work – how to improve our craft, how to find time, how to earn sufficient income, how to get our work in front of the right people either for publication or to build a fanbase, etc. Most of these are very practical challenges, very logistical.

What often gets glossed over is the internal struggle of the artist vs. the art. Even more so when it gets overshadowed by all those other concerns which often have far more pressing needs for solutions.

But here’s the thing every creator knows down deep, even if we sometimes forget it – the best art we will ever create will ALWAYS come from somewhere down deep in our heart and soul. Our best art will NEVER come simply out of commercial or contract work. We may get paid for it, but our best work will never simply come because we ARE getting paid.

Our best work – whether it be music, writing, art, dance, whatever – will always be a deep reflection of who we are – our priorities, our struggles, our losses, our deepest loves, our biggest questions, our greatest fears and our highest hopes. Why? Well, that one is simple, it goes to the core of what art is really all about. But, it may not seem as simple given today’s norms and perceptions.

We as a culture, as people in general around the world, have become obsessed with entertainment. The Entertainment industry is a multi-billion dollar industry just in the United States. Popular artists, especially actors and musicians, are like royalty, often earning more than just about anyone, with thousands interested in their every outing, thought and personal development in their lives.

Yet, at the same time we’ve become obsessed, many are determined to devalue the art involved and reduce ‘entertainment’ to its most superficial and commercial elements. It’s fun, not meant to be taken seriously, it’s a distraction from our daily lives, it bears no connection or direct impact on the real world. Those self-same artists whom many are obsessed with are likewise often reduced to caricatures of human beings. It’s okay for fans to go on and on about who someone is dating, changes in hairstyle, favorite foods, weight gain, or pregnancy but let any of those artists step up for a cause, make a statement on their values or challenge anything about our society and they are dismissed as ‘simply’ artists. But that’s not art.

Art, since those first scrawlings on cave walls, since those first stories told around campfires, those first songs sung, has always been so very much more.

Art is About Teaching. It has been used to teach tradition, faith, culture, principles of belief and practice. Art has helped to bring to life history and illustrate the power of science. Art has even taught us about ourselves, our fellow human beings, and much about the world in which we live. Unlike many other forms of teaching that simply present dry facts, art teaches by engaging, by connecting with the learner. This means that learning often happens at a deeper, more fundamental level. It also means art can teach things very hard to teach otherwise, including teaching us about our own innermost thoughts and feelings.

Art is About Inspiring. It may be as grand as a painting that inspires an appreciation for the beauty of the world around us, or a song that inspires us to go after a dream, or a poem that inspires us to reach out to one we love. It can be as profound as a super-hero that inspires us to know with great power comes great responsibility, or that with determination we can even overcome the greatest of losses. It can also be as simple as a comic strip that inspires laughter and brightens our day.

Art is About Challenging. Art is not just about the status quo – if it were it would not serve as escapism and would be redundant if you think about it; because of this true art always contains an element of challenge. It may be a challenge to see or think about something different, a challenge to believe in something we felt impossible or to recognize the fragility of something we take for granted. It may challenge something about the world around us or challenge something deep within. But true art should always leave us wrestling with something once we walk away.

001 It Should Be Funny

For us as fans – readers, watchers, listeners – I guarantee you can take every single piece of ‘entertainment’ you’ve ever really, truly enjoyed, the ones that stayed with you and find something of each of these principles in it. Some may be obvious, others you may need to unpack and think about, but when you do those elements will be there, even if you never fully realized it before.

But what then about us as Creators?

We create any given work of art for many reasons, but we create art in general because we feel driven to – sometimes a deep, abiding drive we can’t turn off, much less turn away from. At the heart of that drive is the heart of a student, a heart that is inspired, and a heart that faces its own challenges it so desperately wants to overcome. Now, in other folks, those things may exist as well, but it is for us the foundation of our art – at least when we let it be.

I see this in aspiring artists and even from some established professionals – art with no soul, no deeper connection to who and what the artist behind it is. For aspiring creators, they may be trying too hard to mimic what is already on the market to prove they can cut it as a professional. For professional creators, it may be work they don’t enjoy, that is simply paying the bills, or over time their work may have been reduced to a mere discipline, or distraction. In either case, that art is probably doing little for the fulfillment of the artist.

As a creator, as an artist of any kind – to truly create – dig deep. Face your demons, wrestle with your doubts, push against the rough edges of your life and the world around you and see which ones rub you raw. Figure out what inspires you, what makes your heart sing, what makes you laugh from the deepest part of your gut, or cry tears of joy. Do it for that creator-owned thing you so desperately want to make and find ways to do it for every single paid job you take.

As artists, true artists, we have a calling. It is an awesome responsibility and an incredible honor. We are called to be the touchstones of humanity, to plumb our depths, soar in our heights, and to then transform that into raw fodder and put it out into the world around us so that others might find that work of art that helps them do the same. Your struggles, the ones that keep you up at night, are the same struggles so many others face – the strength you muster to face them and put them out there in the world might inspire another to face their own. A dream that inspires you, might just be a dream that, captured in art, could inspire a generation. Even if it’s not a specific issue, at the core, every hero’s story is a story of overcoming all odds isn’t it?

Last year I swore 2016 was going be the year I got more focused on my own creative work but other than the ongoing My Comic Life strip and a few other things, I’ve found myself struggling. I’ve found myself having a harder time writing and doing full art than I’ve had in a long time. As I shared last column, there’s certainly been a lot going on this year, including a lot of stressful and life-changing things that certainly could disrupt the process, but I had difficulty putting my finger on the exact cause, until recently.

I realized I had been so focused on improving my own writing and art, so focused on managing and overseeing other’s writing and art, thus focused on the form and not the underlying function, that I’d lost touch with some of that deeper passion, that core from which true art arises. Oh, now most of the stories I want to tell come from that deeper core, because I was very much in touch with that when I first formed the seeds for each of those – but now, I think I was trying to start them without tapping the primal energy that originally inspired them in me in the first place.

End result? I realized I first had to do a bit of reconnecting with that fire, that core, that passion. I had to once again truly create in order to create true art, and not just go through the mechanics and motions. That has ended up not only reawakening that art, that creative fire, but it’s also reawakened some other arenas of my life, ones that inspired the column and invitation last week, ones that inspired this column, and ones I will talk more about on my personal sites later on New Year’s Day.

For 2017 and beyond, my resolution is to do the kind of art, to be the kind of creator, whose every piece digs deep, goes to the core, makes my heart sing, and I’m pretty excited about the work so far. Here’s hoping for a very creative year.

NEXT

If you want to follow more personal stuff I post regularly on my personal Facebook page which will include a major post later today (New Year’s Day) and will be relaunching my blog first of the year.

To get first looks at all my creative work, you can check out my Patreon, which will be building up after the new year. Right now, I’m doing a Classic-Print-A-Day for the Holidays, sending out hi-res file versions of my entire classic print library to all my patrons. New stuff will be appearing soon.

Next week in this space, we get back to the creative process and start our Penciling 101 series! Don’t miss it!

NOW DISCUSS…

What’s your story? Share if you like, post here or email me anytime at [email protected].

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About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!

Weekly Visions 12.29.16: Our New Year’s Resolutions

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If you’re a regular you may have noticed – we’re quite proud of our name. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s largely because when we chose a name for the studio, we wanted a name to grow into, and we feel we’ve done a pretty good job of doing that so far. But what exactly does it mean for us to live up to that name, to grow into it?

Most assume it just means producing top quality content, garnering top recommended lists, awards, and other nods, which we’ve done. Others assume it means being first or best at what we do and we’ve hit those marks as well in a lot of ways. All of which is wonderful, but only a part of what living up to that name means for us.

For us being Visionary is about being the best creative studio for creators – a haven where creators are treated fairly with respect and appreciation, where they are front and center in their work, as invested as they want to be and taken care of while doing it.  It’s also about being the best creative studio for publishers – going above and beyond to make sure everything they need is done not just to spec, but to perfection. It’s about being the best creative studio for retailers – where they see us as we see them – vital partners in launching any product or series. Our product carries our brand and we’ve always done our best to support retailers and venues on every front, even when others just step back and let the publishers carry that weight.

Most importantly it means for us to be the best creative studio for our clients and our fans. Whether it’s someone who’s hired us for a project, or someone who’s plunked down their hard earned cash for one of our books, we want to make sure they get everything they expected and so much more. It’s one-on-one client and fan relations, answering questions, working out solutions, getting things done and in the hands of those wanting it that plays a big part of what being Visionary is all about. Call our main line, you get one of our Chief executives, email us, you get one of our key staff, message us on Facebook, you get a response almost immediately. We love meeting people at conventions (it’s why we do so many) and we love nothing more than when someone gets excited about a new book from us because it means we got it right.

But there’s more to it than just that.

023 Let's Call It Visionary

For us being Visionary also means making a difference, making an impact, not just in the market, but in the world. Sure we want to tell great stories with stunning art, stories that are fun, some epic, some twisted (hey, we are the Deadlands people after all). But we also know the power of comics and fiction to inspire, to teach, to challenge and that to us is what truly makes visionary work.

We’ve always done our part giving back, to local communities, to the industry, but in 2017 you’ll see a focused effort on Visionary’s part to broaden that on multiple fronts and begin reflecting that in some of the new content we create. We’re thrilled that in 2017 we’ll be announcing multiple partnerships with museums, learning centers, and other non-profit organizations that are all about broadening our horizons and reaching for a better future as we create stories that embody those bold and visionary ideals.

After all, for a studio that got it’s start in comics and went with a name like Visionary, part of its mission has just got to be about saving the world, right?


Meet Our Latest Interns

Visionary is closing out 2016 with it’s single biggest class of interns ever. We introduced most of the crew already, but we added three final, dynamite members to the team and we are looking forward to great things from all these amazing creators!

JordanJordan Loux
An Alfred University (NY) graduate with a BA in Communication Studies, Jordan has a passion for media. He enjoys reading, writing, film and any other medium that works to convey a story. Recently he has returned from a year abroad working at TTV Productions in Israel.

 

 

 

JasmineJasmine Wilson
Jasmine is an aspiring comic book, children’s book, and cartoon writer. She was born and raised in Atlanta, GA and has always loved visual culture, specifically photography, comics, cartoons, and graphic novels. Jasmine is currently a senior English major at Howard University and plans to utilize her background as a writing tutor, editor, and researcher of comics as a Visionary Intern this year.

 

 

BradfordBradford Spady
Bradford Olander Spady is an artist with a focus on character design. A graduate of Langley High School in McLean, VA, Bradford studies cartooning at the Cafritz Art Center at Montgomery College, Takoma Park, and professional on-line art classes with Schoolism, based in Canada. Bradford has worked on a special White House Project to design the 2011 Christmas card and participated in a half day at Disney with two Disney illustrators for one-on-one tutoring. He has had solo art shows and is now a proud intern at Visionary. Bradford resides in Reston, VA.

 


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A Very Personal My Comic Life Sundays Part 1

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My Comic Life Column 013: A Very Personal Message Part 1

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Bear with me, this week and next are going to be very different than my standard Sunday fare. Seeing as how this post falls on Christmas Day and the beginning of Hanukkah and next week’s on New Year’s Day – well, how could I help but not get a little more introspective?

Before my comic life, I spent twenty-five years in ministry and outreach – working for a variety of Churches and social service programs. On the ministry side, I am an ordained clergy and worked as Christian Education Director, Youth Director, and Pastor on various levels in various congregations. On social services, I worked in crisis response and management, including a long stint at a teen crisis shelter I eventually ran for two years and an even longer one running an agency I founded and managed for ten years. Needless to say my life was very different then.

I think anyone in that line of work, as well as anyone who pursues a creative life can identify with the concept of a calling, even if we don’t all see it as coming from the same source. For me, it came in my high school years. Like most, that time was a dramatic time for me – lots of change, difficulty fitting in, sometimes feeling the world was against me. Things got bad at times, even once to the point of being ready to give up. When I was in my darkest time is when that calling came and changed my life. It opened me to see those same struggles I had in others, often including those whose lives had far more real challenges than my own.

It first centered around an invitation to teach Sunday school, despite being a naive sixteen and eventually getting shanghaied into taking on a small Junior High Class of four boys. Each of those guys came out of broken homes, had lived through things no kid ever should and yet still showed up every week. Two of the boys were brothers, being raised by their grandmother, and I will never forget the day when she, in tears, asked for my help with them.

That was when I began mentoring, the single most important outreach I ever did. The opportunity and the chance to help them, be there for them suddenly seemed far more important than my own issues. Even though I was not much older than they, we became inseparable on all fronts. I spent most evenings at one home or another helping with homework, spent weekends taking them out to events, attended school, sports, and concert activities, and every time they messed up or needed help, I got the call.

I went on to mentor over forty young people through that chapter of my life, some in limited programs for a few months, others were part of my life for decades. I mentored kids who were dealing with abuse in the home, substance abuse issues, problems in school, kids who lost their parents to suicide and violence, kids with disabilities and many who society was in the process of giving up on.

Through my mentoring and other ministry work, I stood with so many people at the absolute best and worst moments of their lives. I had a chance to witness miracles and more than a few times ended up walking through Hell with someone to see them through to the other side. My time at the teen crisis shelter, my work at my own outreach center, the various youth groups, they all formed a tapestry of a truly wonderful life in many ways, a truly challenging one in others.

Then in 2006 one of those first young men I mentored, Danny, one who had in so many ways been a brother and a son to me, died. He committed suicide after years of struggling with his own personal demons. He had been in my life for decades, our relationship sometimes his safe haven, sometimes strained. He would disappear, sometimes for a year or more, and then out of the blue call when he hit bottom and wanted to come home. When I got the call from his grandmother, that same one who originally invited me into his life, I fully expected her to tell me he needed help and to ask if I could go to him. Instead, she told me he was gone.

My life changed again. There had been other challenges, other losses, and together with Danny’s death something inside broke. I took a six-month sabbatical from most of my responsibilities, although I found myself still often getting called in for one situation or another. I finally realized the only way to truly step back was to step away – completely. I chose to move to the other side of the country and decided now was the time to focus on my fledgling studio. Charlie Hall and I had launched Visionary around that time, but it was always a side gig as long as my other life was central, so it seemed as good a time as any to then focus on it fully and completely.

The next few years opened a new life to me, one I also found rewarding, but I was also still very much a lesser man – much of the time I was angry, depressed, withdrawn. I pulled away from just about everyone and everything other than my work. Over the years, though I didn’t realize it fully at the time, I shut myself off from so many and so much.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of healing and built a life that has truly been a joy in its own way as much as my previous life. But there has always been those missing pieces, ones I often tried hard not to think about because inevitably it would lead me to feeling the loss. Holidays especially became challenging because there had been so many great memories surrounding those.

Most of those missing pieces are people who in the time since have been lost to my life. That happens, people come and go in your life. But there were many, especially among those mentored and youth group members, and good friends in various places I served, I had hoped to have in my life forever, and if things had been different, may well have still been part of my life today.

Now, part of the joy of my current life is that I have made many friends through my years with the studio. I am very fortunate to work with a great group of people and count a number of my colleagues, my staff, and my peers as good friends. This past year, like for many of us, was an especially difficult one. There were many reasons, most critical of all for me was a brutal reminder of the fragility of life when I stood with my cousin as he held his three-year-old son while he died after being removed from life support after a tragic accident.

But through that what spoke to me most was the support from all sides, for him, for his family, even for me – from clients and colleagues, from staff and friends, even at times from total strangers. Oddly enough, coming out of this year and loss what I’ve found is that it has once more awakened a part of me I thought gone. I’ll talk more about that next time.

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Art and Greetings from Ishan Trivedi

For today, whatever tradition you celebrate, beyond the glitter and the gifts, after the food and drinks, the laughter and celebration – remember the most important thing about these holidays – the people surrounding you. The ones you fight with, laugh with, cry with, the ones who drive you nuts at times, and the ones you’re nuts about. Hold tight to the ones surrounding you now, remember the ones you’ve lost who still surround you in your heart, and spare some compassion for those you haven’t even met who still share this spinning blue dot we call home.

For beyond today, to my readers, remember no life is just about one thing. Be a creator, pursue it with all the passion you can muster, but keep that balance, keep in touch with those around you, continue to be part of the larger world we all live in. Many of us on the creative side tend to be introverts, we sometimes get lost in our work, our worlds, and don’t come up nearly often enough to be present with others. Sometimes it may be an intentional escape, sometimes it may sneak up on us, but it’s always harder to get out of then to slide into. Remember, for all its drama, for all its ups and downs, it’s those parts of our life that we live outside our studio, our office, our neverending work that fuel our creative energy, that gives us raw material to process in our art and stories. Simply put, our life? It’s our story, make it a work of art.

To all my friends and family near and far, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Kwanza, happy holidays whatever they may be. Thank you for all you do, for your presence in my life and others, may I be worthy of it every day.

In closing, I need to put out an invitation. I’m not always good at apologizing, or explaining stuff going on deep inside. I’ve always been a much better listener than talker. But today, today I’m also thinking a lot about the people who made my life special in years gone by. Mentees, former youth, friends, all of you. I miss those of you who over the last several years have slipped out of my life. For some, you may have reached out at a time when I wasn’t ready to reconnect and I may have not been welcoming then. I hope you can forgive me. For others, things just seemed to slip away. For a few, there were issues that seemed to throw a wall between us. I don’t want that to be the way things continue. Know I love you all, always have, always will, I think about most of you on a regular basis and if any are so inclined, I’d really love to hear from you, to catch up, to reconnect, to reflect on old memories, and start making some new ones. That would be the best gift ever, one I may not deserve, but would nevertheless treasure.

Sorry for the deeply personal, but, I did say this column would cover every aspect of a freelancer and creative life and I know many out there who struggle with the same things even if not for the same reasons, hope this helps.

NEXT

Some profound (for me at least) New Year’s resolutions, and then I absolutely promise, back to the creative stuff.

If you want to follow more personal stuff I post regularly on my personal Facebook page and will be relaunching my blog first of the year. You can also always check out my Patreon which will be building up this week and after the new year.

NOW DISCUSS…

What’s your story? Share if you like, post here or email me anytime at [email protected].

My Comic Life Patreon Promotion

If you want more great content like this, support his Patreon campaign today by clicking the image!

About C. Edward Sellner

A full-time professional freelancer, Sellner has credits as a comics writer, prose author, colorist, artist, and editor from multiple publishers. He is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Visionary Creative Services, one of the best-known production studios and digital publishers in the industry. The studio opened in 2006 and since then has published over 70 different titles in its digital line, and been involved in over a hundred different projects in production. Its clients range from Hollywood producers to international sports stars to other studios and publishers. It became the first independent studio to enter the licensing game with the announcement of its Deadlands license, which has since been published in comics from Image and IDW and novels from Tor Books. The studio also hosts a successful internship program where interns get practical, real-world freelancing experience, including paid work on actual jobs fitting their skill levels. Learn more at www.visionarycreativeservices.com!

Weekly Visions 12.22.16: Happy Holidays from Visionary

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From all of us at Visionary to all of you, may you have a truly blessed and happy holiday season!

Whatever tradition you may celebrate, they all point to a spirit of love and peace, so may you find ways to truly embrace that spirit this season.

Surround yourself with family and friends but also reach out to those less fortunate who may be alone or struggling

The greatest gift is not the one we receive, but the one we give. Often the greatest gift received is not the one from those we know, but the unexpected one from the total stranger.

2016: Downs and Ups and More of Both

Our Books Division Chief, Jeff Mariotte wrote a special guest post at the Flames Rising site, all about his year of 2016.
Check it out>>

One Artist’s Take on Santa

Mark Wheatley is an amazing artist who’s worked in comics for many years, he’s also a good friend and supporter of Visionary and has been almost since day one. We asked if we could share the digital Christmas card he sent around this year on our post and he graciously agreed. Click on it to check out Mark’s site.

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Our CCO will share his Holiday Greetings in a special edition of My Comic Life Sundays on Christmas Day!

 

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