The PS Kickstarter campaign may be over, but my work has only just begun! Today, I launched a pre-order shop so people who missed the campaign can get copies, too. It will remain open until I start shipping orders next April.
I’m absolutely delighted to announce the the campaign raised an incredible $18,543 from 360 backers. I would have never believed it before I launched the campaign 4 weeks ago.
Next I’ll be putting the finishing touches on the books so I can send them off to the proofreaders. And, I’m going to be painting the cover to the new PS art book—which will also be the source for the new poster.
A few readers have expressed disappointment that the campaign didn’t reach the big “shoot the moon” stretch goal of $25K and have assumed this means the end of the road for PS. I am here to tell you that is not the case. This tremendous outpouring of support has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is a demand to see more of Kate & Mike’s story, and I’d like to tell it. Once I get these books off to the printer and the holidays are over, I can start thinking about a script for the new storyline. I can’t tell you right now when you can expect to see it, but there will definitely be a PS Volume 3 at some point in the future.
But first—I have three books to get to the printer!
Quick update on the PS Kickstarter. We passed the halfway mark this week, and it’s up to $14K and there’s still a couple of weeks to go!
Last week opened up the second stretch goal: a new Paradigm Shift art book that will collect all the full color prints, character studies, and werewolf designs I’ve posted over the years. Also, it will feature a version of the How to Draw Comics mini guide I printed last spring as a bonus.
If you haven’t backed the campaign yet, now’s a great time. If you order a book, you’ll not only get a copy of the new art book, but an original ink sketch like this:
Wow! I’m totally floored! The campaign launched on midnight on Tuesday and was funded by noon on Wednesday. And as of this morning, it’s well on the way to reaching the first stretch goal. I was pretty sure that the campaign would succeed, but had no idea that it would happen so fast!
I’m honored and grateful to everyone who has come out to back this comic. Thank you so much your support!
Kate McAllister may be one of the best detectives in Chicago, but her life is about to turn upside down.
Modern police thriller collides with classic werewolf tale in this action-packed graphic novel series. Kate and her partner are kicked off a juicy gun-running case to investigate a series of bizarre animal maulings. But as she begins to develop strange symptoms and powerful, frightening abilities, Kate realizes she may know this beast better than she could possibly imagine.
Now, her nightmares have invaded her waking life, and there’s more than just her job on the line — her humanity and the lives of everyone around her are at stake!
The story was inspired by old role-playing games, classic anime & manga, buddy cop movies, the X-Files, horror novels, and techno-thrillers to create the series. I began Paradigm Shift online in 1999 before there was word for “webcomics,” and I want to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a new gorgeous, two volume set.
• Volume Two will collect the latest storyline, Part Four: Flight into a brand new graphic novel edition with 250+ pages, including 10 new colorized pages and footnotes.
• The color pages will be on glossy stock while the rest of the black and white art will be on the creamy “pulp”-style paper similar to the original editions
• Both books will be printed at 6.75” x 10.5” (standard American comic size) will feature stitched bindings
The set will run $50 and include shipping within the US. And they will be signed and drawn in, of course! There will also be a $10 ebook option for those of you on a budget, and an a la carte option for $25 if you only want to get one of the books.
A lot of people have expressed interest in original art, so the bigger rewards will be about that. More details on that soon.
Check out this second book trailer, too.
BTW, I composed and performed the music for both of these videos.
So mark your calendars! The Paradigm Shift Kickstarter is coming!
Last weekend, I ran a character creation comics workshop at PILCON, a little comic convention run by the Peabody Institute Library that I contribute to every year. For the occasion, I decided to finally compile a bunch of the material I use in my workshops into a little mini guide.
This “How to Draw Comics” book is the result. It covers the whole process I use to create my comics, with special emphasis given to drawing characters and the thumbnailing process—which is the real heart of making comics.
This week I dropped off 4 copies of at Paper Asylum, my cool local comic shop. There’s currently only a handful of paper copies, so due to interest over the Paradigm Shift Facebook page, I’m making it available as a digital download today.
How to Draw Comics Mini Guide – $3.00
(Once you complete your purchase in PayPal, click on the “Return to Merchant” button to go to the download page. If you run into any problems, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It was fun to put this little book together, so I may use it as a reason to return to the “How to Draw Comics” blog series. I could easily see making more of these little things in the short term.
This month I completed my latest graphic novel, Paradigm Shift #4. The final issue came out at M.I.C.E. just over a week ago and the last couple of scenes will post on the website in Novemeber and December respectively. And I just made the entire collection available to purchase online last week.
I feel this book features some of my best work to date.
It’s exciting to see the whole story in print at long last. This book was a long time in development, since it first started out in webcomic form and then “sat in the drawer” for a couple of years after I stopped running it as a webcomic. I resurrected it in order to complete it as a graphic novel and collected it into minicomic form to bring to local comic shows. However, I am running it on the old Paradigm Shift webcomic site for the sake of completing the series in public and bringing some closure to the project. (It also means you can readthewholeseries for free right now—lucky you!)
I’ll be collecting the book for release in graphic novel form next year. Keep an eye out here for more on that soon.
In addition to writing & drawing comics and working as an illustrator, I also use my expertise as a veteran webcartoonist and experiences in advertising to teach a new program designed to introduce middle schoolers to basic ethics, critical thinking, and media literacy called Cyber Civics at a the Waldorf School at Moraine Farm here on Boston’s North Shore.
This month, I’m running Cyber Civics: A Crash Course in Digital Citizenship, a one-week intensive version of the course. We’ll be tackling all the messy online issues everyone is talking about right now—cyberbullying, privacy, fake news, social media manipulation, sexting and digital addiction—using fun, creative activities, art projects and discussions about the real things kids are seeing at school, on the internet, and in their homes.
Each day has a different theme:
• Day One is all about online identity and how we express ourselves online. We’ll talk about we use avatars and selfies to represent ourselves, and how those representations don’t always line up with who we are. We’ll play an avatar creation game, and create self-portraits. We’ll also talk about the digital trail we leave with every post and examine how others use those trails to learn about us with a “digital background” activity as we figure out what is okay to share and what is not together.
• Day Two digs into ethics and what it means to be a good citizen. The kids will imagine creating their own apps/online communities and explore what it would be like to be a CEO in charge of their own social media site in a “Shark Tank”. There they’ll figure out what the community rules will be and how they’ll protect the people in their community. We’ll also play a game where the students judge different scenarios and determine for themselves if an event was helpful or harmful, intentional or unintentional. My students this past year loved this game because it gave them a chance to discuss some of the things they were already starting to run into online. It also deals with the behavior with adults online, not just students. The day caps off with a discussion of cyberbullying and online drama and drawing comics about how to protect yourself from both.
• Day Three goes into striking a balance with our devices and using them safely. The kids will be challenged to go without using our phones for the duration of the class. The first half of the day examines how we spend our time during the day, both on screens and off. We’ll look at how not all “screen time” is created equal, because using devices for creativity like making art, music, programming, or even starting a business is far different from simply watching YouTube all day. The second half will deal with the basics of online safety—protecting your identity and information, creating good passwords, and figuring out how to deal with people you don’t know (yet) that you meet online.
• Day Four is all about fake news! We start out with how to find good information on the internet, with the basics of how sites like Google and Wikipedia work. We’ll also create a “human internet” game before talking about “C.R.A.P. Detection”, a method that uses Currency (how recent?), Reliability (can I trust it?), Authority (who wrote it?), and Purpose (are they trying to scare me or sell me something?) to evaluate information that we find online. We’ll look at misleading websites and try to evaluate news articles to figure out if they’re fake or real. We’ll also talk about urban legends and how rumors get spread (online and off.) My students during the school year LOVED this unit.
• Day Five we explore media by creating a parody ad for our “Shark Tank” app/site. First we’ll discuss how advertising works and how it uses stereotypes to sell to us and look at how advertisers use our data to track and target us online and manipulate images (both photos and video) to persuade us. Then we’ll design an ad, do a photoshoot, and use Photoshop to create a final piece to be printed up and shared online.
Personally, I like to think of Cyber Civics as the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class for the internet. It’s about giving students a chance to think through some of the stickier parts of the online world ahead of time so if and when they encounter something nasty, they will already have a set of tools to work with it. Most of the class involves group activities, projects and discussion with some device usage for certain segments. We’ll also take daily walks outside. Enroll your child today and help give them a fighting chance against the real trolls of the world.
Now that you know who your character is, it’s time to draw her. Seeing how you’re going to be drawing this character a lot over the course of your comic, it’s a good nail down their look so you can be consistent. However, it’s not uncommon for a character design to evolve over time in a comic—it certainly did to the characters in Paradigm Shift—but spending the time to work out the character’s overall shape, costume and before starting Page 01 is worth the effort. Additionally, working on understanding human anatomy and figure drawing practice can really take your character drawing to a new level.
Getting Into Character
Here’s some examples of playing around with a character before starting a project. This is Candy from STRANGER. I knew I wanted her to look a bit like a Miyazaki character, but I played around with a couple of designs before settling on her final look:
For Candy’s counterpart, Nikka, it took a little more work before I nailed down her design. Again, I took some inspiration from Miyazaki by riffing off of Sen from “Spirited Away”. However, by borrowing the rounder head and wide-spaced eyes and combining them with features inspired by a cuttlefish, I was able to create something entirely new.
Here’s her final design:
A Quick Note on Silhouette
The first thing anyone will see about your character is the shape his or her outline creates, not the details within. Having characters with distinct body and head shapes will help make them more recognizable in your story.
The Head & Face
Firstly, let’s look at the head and face because the are probably the most important features for identifying your character and letting him express himself. Even the shape of the head can suggest a personality—triangular, round, square. Each gives a different feel. Also, adding differently shaped hair or other features that can create a unique, recognizable shape can help tremendously as well. This is how I designed the alien characters for the story STRANGER:
In order to draw my characters’ heads from any angle, I use two basic head shapes as a starting point and then squash and stretch them into the approximate shape. I borrow from techniques used in animation to construct a character from more basic shapes underlying the head. The first is the classic anime “seed” shaped head:
I draw the seed by starting with a circle (or spherical ball, as I imagine it in my mind) and then hanging a pointed jawline off that circle a various angles. Then by drawing a “cross” dividing the center of the face and where the eyes will be, you can use this seed shape to draw that head from any angle. This is the shape I use for Kate’s head in Paradigm Shift. Using this as my starting point, I rough the entire head, then add in more detail before completing the final drawing. I use this process for all my comics and illustration, working from rough forms through final image. This is how I use the seed shape to draw Kate from the front, side and 3/4 view:
Take note of how the proportions of the face translate across between the differing angles. The line that runs through the eyes is roughly halfway between the top of the head and the chin. The tip of the nose sits about halfway between the eye line and the chin. The mouth sits about halfway between the nose and the chin. From the side, if you draw a line from the tip of the nose to the chin, the lips will roughy fall in line within there. The ears sit on a line that is halfway between the front of the head and the back and their curve starts in line with eyes. If you imagine the center line of the face curving to the left or right and the eye line curving up or down, you can start to see the head turn in your mind’s eye and use this to draw the head and face from any angle like so:
The second basic head shape I use is based more closely on a more classical human head shape used in American superhero comics:
This is the shape I use for Mike’s head in Paradigm Shift. I start the head with more of an egg shape. Then, I determine which direction the head is facing by drawing a “cross”, just like in the seed example above. I hang the jaw down from the egg shape Unlike the anime “seed”, the jaw line changes more radically between a straight on view and the profile. It’s more a wedge shape and will take more practice to draw from every angle. You can imagine it being a bit like a cube, only tapering downward to create the chin. Also the cranium isn’t completely round like a sphere or egg, but rather is flattened somewhat on the sides. I denote this with lines along the sides of the forehead that wrap around the top of the head
Here’s how I use this to draw Mike from the front, side and 3/4 view:
Like in the seed example, there are certain proportions to pay attention to, though they differ somewhat. In this style of head, the eyes lay about halfway down the egg shape. Then the jaw extends down a distance equal to about half the egg shape—thus dividing the face into thirds: top of the head to eyes, eyes to bottom of egg shape, bottom of egg shape to chin. The eyes are smaller on the face than in the previous example and there should be roughly one eye distance between them.
To work on details like hair and drawing heads from many different angles I recommend practicing drawing from life, copying photos and doing the occasional master study of an artist who you greatly admire. The more you practice, the more you will expand your visual vocabulary as an artist and you can combine, mix and match and create brand new features that are purely your own. The same goes for expressions. Play around in your sketchbook and find the faces you feel express your character’s emotions the most vividly.
Drawing the Figure
The first step in drawing full-body human characters is to nail down basic proportions. Of course, cartoon characters can be drawn with many different proportions, so I am going to focus on a relatively realistic human proportions first. This method can be modified to stretch characters to be taller or shorter as needed later. Above we have Kate and Mike as examples of “ideal” human female and male proportions. Often in figure drawing, proportions are measured in “heads” because it is an easy way to check if the features are in the right place in a drawing, especially if the figure is drawn relatively straight on. Notice the lines going through the image above—they measure the number of “heads” used for each character.
Mike uses classic western “heroic” proportions, measuring 8 heads. They break down as follows:
Chin to chest
Chest to navel
Navel to bottom of the hips (crotch)
Bottom of hips to mid-thigh
Mid-thigh to knees
Knees to mid-shin
Mid-shin to bottom of the feet.
Also note the proportions of the arm. The elbows are just above waist height and sit roughly in line with the bottom of the rib cage. The wrist fall approximately in line with bottom of the hips. For men, the ribcage and hips are roughly the same width and the shoulders are wider than the hips.
Kate is slightly shorter at 7 1/2 heads, which is closer to “realistic” human proportions. The half head is lost around the hips, making her torso slightly shorter than Mike’s, while her legs are about the same length as his. The “heads” break down as follows with her:
Chin to chest
Chest to top of the hips.
Hips to widest point of the thighs (bottom of the hips are about 3/4 of the way)
Widest point of the thighs to above the knees
Above the knee to widest point of the calves
Widest point of the calves to top of the ankles
Feet (1/2 head)
Basically, Kate simply has a smaller upper body than her counterpart. Not only is it about a half head shorter, her ribcage is also narrower than her hips and that the midpoint of the shoulders sit roughly in line with the hips as well. Her joints are also narrower and her limbs thinner.
If we strip away the details and look at the underlying shapes, we can see how each figure is constructed more easily. I use circles (which I think of as “balls”) in place of the joints and draw the forms of the limbs between those. I use an egg shape for the ribcage and sort of a flattened “bowl” shape for the pelvis. I have developed simplified forms for each of the major body shapes: upper arms, lower arms, thighs, calves & shins, hand and feet. (More on hands and feet in a moment). I also imagine the shoulder being attached to the collarbone (which it is in reality, as well at the scapula on the back) so it is free to slide around up and down, back and forth on the ribcage when I am posing the figure. Take note of the hip shapes between the two figures.The male’s pelvis is taller while the female’s is shorter and a little wider. This has been a helpful observation for me in my figure drawing.
While I won’t go into detail on muscular anatomy (there are entirebookson that topic), here is a quick cheat sheet on the basic shapes I’m thinking of when I’m drawing the figure. These shapes are informed by countless hours of drawing characters and human forms from observation and copying drawings out of anatomy books. I highly recommend spending some time on this yourself.
Strike a Pose
Okay, now that we have the basic shapes and proportions down, we need to be able to draw our characters in more than close-ups and standing around doing nothing. We need to put them into motion so they take on some life. To do that, we need to start with a fluid set of lines, or “gestures”. For the above drawing, I started with a rough drawing like this:
However, in the second image, these were the lines I was using to construct the figure. These are the “gesture” lines—named after 30-second “gestural drawings” which are often done at the beginning of a figure drawing class. The first line in blue goes from Kate’s head down to her knee. The second in red arcs along her arms and shoulders, and the final, in green follows her outstretched leg. Notice how these curves help tie the the forms of the figure together. I use lines like this to build up a pose so it has some underlying life. In the third image, here are some more “flow” lines that pass through the pose. These are the sorts of curves I look for when building up a figure. No straight lines if I can manage it.
Here are the rough forms I’m using to think through this rough figure. I will often draw a quick version like this as a thumbnail, and then draw these forms over the top of that rough to clean up the anatomy.
Once the anatomy and proportions are solid, I pencil over the rough and ink the final. I always use this process for creating my finished works. By layering over more and more finished versions, the final benefits from having several chances to correct mistakes along the way.
I could do an entire post alone on drawing hands and feet (again, entire books have been written), but the short version is that the way to tackle these complex forms is the same as above: break them down into simpler shapes. I start with sort of a “shovel” shape for the palm, then draw a circle to one side or the other on the wrist end to denote the ball of the thumb. Then I draw a smaller rounded shape on the other side to create the heel of the hand. Each of the four knuckles I draw as circles across the top of the shovel shape, and then a fifth at the end of the ball of the thumb. From there, I draw the fingers an thumb as either a mass (if they are clumped together) or as curved lines roughly indicating each finger. Then I flesh out the individual joints of the each finger as separate shapes, keeping in mind that they are not cylindrical, but more like like rounded blocks.
Drawing great hands takes a lot of practice, and the best way to get good at them is observation. Just like the rest of the figure, practice drawing from life and good reference photos to not only practice the forms of the hand, but also to see how elegant hand poses come together. You will start to see patterns in how the fingers move together as a loose group, not separately (which is why magicians are illustrated using weird hand poses—they don’t look natural). I still practice by using my own hands as reference to help create good hand poses.
Feet are not as complicated as hands, but they still pose a challenge to people new to drawing the figure. Once again, breaking down the forms into simpler shapes can be helpful.It’s helpful to me to think of a footprint as a starting point—the heel is separated from the ball of the foot and toes by the arch of the foot. We can flesh out those shapes by using balls once again: one larger one for the heel, and two smaller ones for the ball of foot, leaving room for the arch on the inside curve of the foot. Above the heel is the ankle, which has two small bones on each side that connect down to the top of the ball of the foot to create the main wedge of the foot. For the toes, I think of the classic “ninja sock” with the big toe acting independently of the rest of the toes, which generally clump together as a group. When the character is wearing shoes, then all the toes working together as a group. If you’re drawing a bare foot, then keep in mind the smaller toes have a “stair-step” shape to them.
Once you have the basic foot shape down, you can work on putting it in shoes or drawing it bare. It will take some practice to master these shapes, so again, using references and live observation will help you refine your drawings.
Lastly, I want to emphasize how helpful drawing in a sketchbook can be to help you refine your character drawing. For a couple of years, I drew character studies of Kate & Mike by using photos from magazines as a reference. I borrowed the poses and outfits, but transformed the models into my characters. The drawings below are from those sketchbooks.
I hope this will help you create your own character designs and give some tools to refine them.
Next time, we’ll dive into the story.
If you’re new to the series, welcome! If you’d like prompt updates about the next installment of the series, exclusive cheat sheets, and other behind-the-scenes material with each installment of the series, please sign up for my mailing list: