Alright, so people have speculated that Joel’s Dad is Axe Cop, and I have stated that Joel’s Dad (Mark) existed before Axe Cop did, so no, he is not actually Axe Cop.  Others have speculated that Joel’s brother is Malachai, and I have stated that, well, a little, but not totally intentionally.  But here, this one… this log boss guy?  That’s Flute Cop.  This is his cameo.  This is an official Axe Cop cameo in Bearmageddon right here.

I want to remind you to buy that Octo-Bear shirt I made because I’m proud of it.  I also want to let you know that next Tuesday I am going to start a sale on commissions for Christmas for 10 days only.  It will launch on the AxeCop.com blog with Tuesday’s episode and you will be able to buy sketches from me as gifts or for yourself.  The prices are going to be reasonable, but bumped up a bit from last year which was a pretty crazy low.  More on that later.

Here is a question I got from Jason:

what is your prep process like when you’re in the planning stages for a comic? What exercises do you do in order to design the characters? The environments? The script? When do you know you’re done enough with the character design and done enough with the script for you to begin working?

I am probably not the best guy to answer this because I have not really come up with a system for prep.  I think it is actually one of my weaknesses.  The thing is, once I am ready to draw, I am READY and hate sitting around drawing sketches, so I don’t wait until I have complete turn-arounds of each character or anything specific like that.

Plus, each of my projects has been prepped in different ways.  Axe Cop had NO prep, it just happened, and I have stuck with that method on it most of the time, only working on character designs when Malachai creates a character that will be showing up more often than on one or two pages (like in Bad Guy Earth.  That one had a lot of prep which is in the back of that book).

For Bearmageddon, (there is KIND of some spoiler in here) the whole comic started with an idea to make a story about a guy from the woods who has to save the city from bears.  I thought of the name Bearmageddon and then I felt like I was really onto something with that title and started exploring other ideas.  I then decided that the guy from the woods was not a good sympathetic hero, so I went with a young guy.  Someone my age.  This incarnation took place in the future which had a very specific story of its own… I really had to set up the future to tell the story and it felt very Demolition Man.  I wrote about 45 pages of script for that one.  Here’s an image of the never-to-be-told 2nd draft Bearmageddon story…

the guy on the left was the main character, based on my friend Eric.

Eventually I realized the story had become more about the future than the bears so I went back to the drawing board.

I watched lots of movies that were about a bunch of things attacking people to see how it had been done by other people.  I watched War of the Worlds, Jurrasic Park, Critters, Gremlins, Shawn of the Dead, Black Sheep and others.  For a couple of these films I would even write out note cards for each scene to see how the story had been constructed.

I then changed the story to present day and made it about a dad who was a wuss and was trying to impress his son by taking him camping, even though the dad had never really been much of an outdoors-man.  I wrote about 75 pages of script for this one before I realized it was not working.  I also did a lot of sketches for it too. (sorry, nothing worth showing though)

It was at the Save the Cat workshop I mentioned in a previous post that I realized what I had really been going for… a simpler story about a guy I could really relate to.  Something that delivers on the premise.  The movie I wanted to see when I heard that word “Bearmageddon”.  A story about some dude and his buddies surviving a bear attack on humanity.  Simple.

So I worked up an outline and note cards then wrote a script.  That process took months.  The entire process writing and working through all those different versions of the story lasted for probably 6 months.  Before that I had been working on another idea for 6 months that was not getting me anywhere and when I thought of Bearmageddon I was so much more excited to work on it that I shelved the other idea.

The shelf is an important part of the creative process.  You should have multiple ideas sitting on a shelf.  Maybe in a folder on your computer, maybe a shelf by your desk, maybe a mental shelf.  But you should have ideas to go to if one goes stale.  Don’t trash it, just put it on the shelf and grab something new.  Unlike food… sometimes letting an idea sit on the shelf if it is going bad will help it to sit there and get fresh again down the road.  I probably have somewhere in the range of 25 ideas at different levels of concept, from just a title to a stack of sketches and notes.

Anyway, as I worked on that script (written in screenplay format) I worked on character designs.  The main things I think about when it comes to prep is what my style will be… so I tried to establish a style for my characters.  It is a little different from what I have done in other comics, but still in my range.  I also consciously tried to give each of my main characters features, like very different hairstyles and features, and especially distinctly shaped heads so that they were always easy to tell apart even from behind. The comic was originally going to be black and white (thanks Noah, Jonathan and Matthew!) and a pet peeve I have with black and white comics is that character can be hard to tell apart.  Notice Joel’s head is a rectangle, Nigel’s almost an upside down tear drop, Gogs is like a melon, Burton’s is sort of a sock puppet and Andrea’s is basically a guitar pick.

Different heads, different shapes.

Early Andrea concepts (and some dude).

first drawing of "final" Joel design on bottom right.

I decided to make the bears look real, so I did lots of bear research.  I practiced tracing over images of bears to get the hang of their structure.  I got a bunch art and freeze frames from Disney’s Brother Bear and books of bear photos and art.  I scoured the Internet and filled a folder with bear pictures.  I also bought a couple toy bears to look at when I needed to get an idea of their structure or how they would look at odd angles.  I spent more time practicing drawing bears then any other element of this comic and I still feel like I don’t have the hang of them, but I dove in anyway.

Some of my current research material.

curious bear and irate bear

sketches.

more concept art.

For backgrounds, well, here is where you will find out about how I cheat.  I set up a lot of my backgrounds in Google Sketchup.  I have never been strong with backgrounds, and when I want a solid background, I use this tool.  It is a crutch, but the way I see it, my goal is to tell a story, not to be awesome at drawing buildings.  So I set up these models (usually already built by others and rearranged or slightly altered by me) and then draw over them in the comic.  Some take more time to set up then others.  Below you will see some familiar places from the story so far.  If any of the people who actually created these models see this, thanks for making them!  Hopefully I am not blackmailing myself by posting this stuff, just keeping it honest.

From page 1.

Joel's arrives at his Dad's house

Scrotto's Grotto.

The mess behind WOW Mart

I really don’t know when I am “done enough”.  What I do is set goals.  So, for the script I set a goal to have it done and start drawing the comic on the first of that coming year, then start drawing.  So, as ready as I was, I started on that date.  I think this works best.  You can prep the hell out of a comic before you start it.  I think that, especially if you have not put out much work yet, it is more important that you finish a comic than prep it like crazy.

When it’s time to actually draw the comic, because I work digitally and my work is easy to edit and rearrange if needed, my thumbnails are really a super rough first draft of my pencils.  For this book, I roughed out the first 20 pages or so, then started inking.  Later, I roughed out another 24, then inked those.  I will probably do that until it is done as I work on other comics in between.

So, that is my process on Bearmageddon.  If more questions spring up from this, feel free to ask them in the comments.  Any other questions, email me! These answers seem to get bigger every time, yeesh!!  Thanks for reading.
Ethan

 

P.S. If you live in So Cal I will be at Metropolis Comics in Bellflower signing and selling comics on Saturday at 3 (tomorrow)!