So you want to make a graphic novel...

I have a friend named Michael Ellis who is an illustrator (hi Mike) you really should check out his work.

He posted a wonderful image of traffic in Marrakech which prompted me to ask that he get cracking on a graphic novel.

I was mostly joking because Mike is plenty busy and a graphic novel isn't a project that can be completed without a tremendous amount of effort and time.  I should know since I have two failed novels under my belt.  I use the dramatic failure tag because I gave up on these projects, but to be more accurate I should call them "Learning Experiences:  Volume 1 & 2".  Here are the cover images (I will go cringe in the corner for a moment).


The best way to learn about making a graphic novel is to make one (or two).  Not all of us can afford to take the blissful plunge into a four year degree plan at The Center for Cartoon Studies .  There are some relatively affordable online courses created to provide support for someone trying to revive a drowning graphic novel.  

My favorite affordable and useful resource is Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.  There are two textbooks in the series and they are pretty thorough from supplies to scanning specs.  Once you ingest the techniques the books are still great to have around (like your car manual) to refer to on the occasions when your project bursts into flames. 

Though I love a fine graphic novel and would love to publish one in the future I ended up presenting my first book as a webcomic.  I now use the techniques I learned from the novel making experience to inform my current work.  It's amazing how well the rules of a readable comic page translate into an info-graphic about fast food market share.  



Why Bitter Kittens are better than an Image Search

I have a client who has asked me to create a portrait for his profile image.  He would like to be styled like Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I whole-heartedly approve of this choice.  JGL is a doll and I feel a certain kinship to the man as we both rock the hyphenated last name.   Endless DMV complications in the house!

I could use a large search engine for reference photos, but I have no intention of copying a photo verbatim (that's illegal ya'll).  What I need to grasp is the essence of JGL's personal style (or perhaps his stylist's vision). 

For this I turn to Tom and Lorenzo.  They are fashion bloggers of the highest caliber (meaning they attend Fashion Week inside the big tent next to the other big fashion journalists).  These guys do not traffic in hack jokes about celebrities or cruel comments about physical appearance.  What they do (often hilariously) is break down the elements of an outfit as if they were costume designers.  If they are too sleepy from hanging out with celebrities and avoiding carbs to write a detailed post I can always rely on the fan comments.  The fans are referred to as the "Bitter Kittens" and occasionally the "Precious Unborn Fauns" and are mainly comprised of people who love clothes and sometimes are designers themselves.

So I can search for Mr. Gordon-Levitt and not only see images but read how the cut or proportion or color of his clothing conveys his enviable look.  Those are things I can replicate in an illustration without stealing from someone else's photo and hopefully come up with a smashing image that will make my client feel like a real live Looper. 


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VisTablet Customer Service

Pro Tip:  Don't keep your trashcan next to your desk. 

Say you have a nifty graphic pen tablet given to you by a lovely spouse.  You wouldn't want the only pen that makes the tablet function to roll into the mine did. 

I went to and found a replacement pen under accessories.  The pen is not available on Amazon or at other third party vendors.  However, the VisTablet site had an accessories page with the required pen. All was well until checkout when my order was repeatedly rejected. 

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So I sent an email to customer service requesting help.   This is the remarkable bit, two minutes later I received a phone call from a man named Mike.  I couldn't hear him clearly but I believe he said he was a VP at VisTablet and wanted to know if he could help me out with the rejected order.

He suggested I might use Paypal or another card and said if that didn't work he would take my order over the phone.  He also gave me his phone number in case we got disconnected.  He chatted a bit with me about how they want to introduce a gallery of user art samples to their web page and his ideas about creating a contest with pro-level hardware for prizes.

I think the problem was with the brand of card I was using conflicted with their shopping cart.  The order went through with a different card.  It would be nice to have the preferred cards listed on the payment page, but I appreciated the extra customer service!