Paper? I don’t need no stinking paper…

I remember a kid in Junior High, he could draw at the drop of a hat – beautiful, cool-looking and complete characters doing things: fishing, driving, running – with seemingly no effort at all. I was never that guy.

On one of the various scraps of paper that I drew some initial concepts for mort way back in the Reaganomics 1980’s, I added a simple, frustrated sentence in the center of the page:

I Can't Draw!

I remember a kid in Junior High, he could draw at the drop of a hat – beautiful, cool-looking and complete characters doing things: fishing, driving, running – with seemingly no effort at all.

I was never that guy. I could write. I was a writer. THAT I could do with seemingly no effort at all. The drawing thing, that was hard. And it still is. It’s getting better, mind you, as I continue to press on week after week. But I’m not what you’d call a natural.

Back then, when I tried to create a Mort comic, there was all that erasing that I had to do – not just of the underlying sketch, but half of the stuff that was supposed to be seen, as well: I just couldn’t get the arms, or the nose, or the ears, or the pose right. Not much of it at all, actually. So way back in the 80’s, I gave up – I just couldn’t imagine ever getting it right.

Fast-forward to today. As of this writing, Mort has been on the internet for two months.

What happened? My iPad happened. Oh, sure, I probably have a lot more spunk, more patience, wiser things to say through the character, blah, blah, blah. But the truth is, without my iPad, there would be no Mort Monday – The old notes would still be in a drawer of my desk, collecting dust.

With my iPad, there’s an “undo” button. Boy, does THAT beat the pants off of trying to erase the nose that I just screwed-up. Sure, Photoshop and other computer programs have an undo as well, but I could never master the tablet – it was just like trying to draw on paper – from across the room – I’d draw on the tablet, and the line appeared on my computer screen. In fact, it was more frustrating than the sheet of paper. With the iPad, I’m drawing right on the screen, and seeing the results, just like I would on a piece of paper, but with the difference of more flexibility after it’s on the page, and, of course, the “undo” button. After all, for a cartoonist, I’m one heck of a writer.

Where it starts

I’m using Art Studio by Lucky Clan. It can do a heck of a lot more than I’m doing with it, that’s for sure – I’m just creating line-drawings, not paintings, but I do take advantage of the different layers that you can draw on. For those not familiar with programs like Photoshop, each layer is like a pane of glass – you can draw on it, and see through to the layers above or below. This way, I can draw a quick sketch, then place a layer over it to draw it in more completely, without touching the sketch underneath. This allows you to tinker, undo and erase portions of the drawing, while leaving the sketch underneath intact.

I start with a base background of graph paper, so I can size up the characters and composition of the frame. I know that’s non-traditional, but I’ve liked graph paper since I was a youth: four squares per inch, five squares per inch – ever seen ten squares per inch? They’re really small

The Phases Of The Mort

Each frame of the comic is a single drawing on the iPad. Since the iPad works best with your hand, I’m practically finger painting, which I must admit is kind of cool… (sure, go ahead, try to use a stylus – it’s clunky, and you’ll lose it anyway – use your hand).

Where it ends

After I have the four frames saved, I send them over to the computer. Currently, my first-generation iPad doesn’t have the resolution to do up the full four-frames on a single workspace, so for the final layout I move over to Photoshop on my Mac (Feel free to feel sorry for me and send me an iPad 2 for experimentation at higher resolutions…).

The template is all set, I just change the comic number and date, then drag in the four frames and size them down to fit the sheet. After saving the current comic, I load it into my website, which is a WordPress blog running ComicPress theme. I also print out a full-page copy and load it into my Mort binder, which now has much more than a few unfinished drawings from the 80’s.

In some ways, I feel like an animator – By using layers, I can keep a background and re-use it, like Mort’s park bench or Artist Point. I also have the ability to grab Mort layer out of a comic frame and use the image somewhere else, like a promo piece, or the “Phases Of Mort” picture, above. At first, I was dead set against that – I thought I had to be true to each frame, redrawing it all from scratch. Then I realized it’s just a part of the merging of art and computers – why NOT take something that you’ve created and use it for something completely different? After all, unlike my schoolmate, who was totally at home with a pencil and paper, my creative tool has always been the computer, whether I’ve been creating an audio project, video project, or now, a comic project.

And perhaps it actually gives me an edge-up over those attached to their pencil and paper. I’m taking a medium that I’ve always been comfortable with, and adapting it for use in a medium that I’m less comfortable with.

In any case, This wouldn’t be happening without that cool iThing, as Mort would call it.

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