Saturday, 4 March 2017

SDOAR: Wash, Rinse, Repeat


By the time this gets posted I should be a two-page spread away from being done with all of the bridging material that follows SDOAR # 3. According to previous comments by Dave this means that Vol. 1 is a two-page spread away from being completed!

Personally, having read all of Dave's material, and knowing how the next segment of the bridging material plays out, I think it makes more sense to have Vol. 1 also include issue #4 and the post issue # 4 bridging material. This is purely from a story stand point. But, Dave's has explained that IDW recommended keeping the page count per volume below a certain number so that the cover price would stay within optimum range for marketing purposes, which is totally understandable. If this is the goal then issue 4 has to wait for Vol. 2.

So, Dave, if the plan is still to go with issues 1-3 as Vol. 1, I will be passing the pages along to Sean very soon. I will continue to work through the end of #4 anyway. If there is any chance #4 makes it into Vol. 1 I will hold off on getting the pages to Sean, even though I cannot wait to see what his wizardry does for them!


Because Dave is interested in me documenting the stupidity that is re-drawing panels instead of copy-and-pasting them in Photoshop, here is the second page that involved a lot of repetition.

The ellipses created by the circle on the floor mat gave this page a cool, designy, Pop Art rhythm. I really wanted it to be able to exist on a wall as a finished piece of Pop Art, so again, the labor involved in drawing the same image over and over was worth it to me. I also get a kick out of subverting the conceptual aspects of Warhol's executive-artist persona and doing the thing by hand (Wait. That makes Dave, Warhol, and me the studio assistant AND the screen-print press. Damn. Foiled!). Primus' "The Antipop" might make a good anthem for these pages. "I am Antipop; I'll run against the grain till the day I drop."

 I chose to complete this page one panel at a time, instead of one mark at a time repeated over and over in every panel like I did on the last page of this sort. The result feels much less forced to me. Each drawing was able to develop naturally based on my response in the moment rather than progressively tighten as I 'perfected' a mark through repetition. The real 'perfect' mark is the spontaneous one. It also allowed me to make mental notes about what I wish I had not done in the previous panel and fix the errors in the next one. The hair in the final repeated panel is easily the best head of hair of the bunch. I think.

Another thing I really enjoy about this process is that at first glance the brain perceives the page in it's totality as a collection of perfect copies, but even the smallest further consideration will reveal massive differences between the images. A curious lesson in how visual perception works.


I had a terrible time finding a good pen nib during the production of this page. A lot of nibs were working good for a short amount of time and then suddenly giving out. Here is an example of the ugliness this causes, seen 300 DPI, 100% enlargement.

The lines just get really thick and nasty out of nowhere. You hope it is just a hiccup, like a paper fiber getting stuck in the tip, or one of the prongs coming out of alignment, so you make a couple more lines, screw up the drawing, and start looking for a new nib. I went through about twenty nibs before I found a good one. This eats up a lot of time. You have to switch out the nibs, do a series of test marks on scrap paper, get convinced the nib is good, start to work on the page, then are forced to go looking for a nib again shortly thereafter.

I got so frustrated I decided to switch over to brush for a whole panel.

All of the diagonal lines are brush lines. This is not the best brushwork I have done, by a long shot. You can see that when you get it right the brush really does give you much thinner lines. This is hard to maintain over long distances, so most of the lines come out about as wide as those from a good pen nib. Also, keeping the brush lines even in modulation and steady over the course of the longer pulls really puts a lot of strain on the elbow. You can see my lines shake quite a bit, and change in width too much as they progress. It is no wonder Dave caused damage to his wrist. By the time I was done with this one panel my elbow was in pain and I figured I better switch back to the nibs and keep myself healthy.

Eventually I just started bending the nibs forward with a slight pressure before using them I think this does work to tighten up the space between the prongs, thus producing thinner lines. It seems to be working pretty well for turning mediocre nibs into ideal nibs. Hopefully the trick keeps working, because one good nib out of two boxes is a depressing ratio.

Here is what a good nib, or a bad one that has been 'fixed' using the bending technique, will get you. Evenly modulated lines that are much easier to keep relatively straight and evenly spaced over long distances.

Okay, off to finish this book up!


Sean, as I mentioned in the comments, most of the issues is that I had a pen that set a crazy precedent. Now that my eyes have adjusted down to that size it is hard to accept perfectly normal sizes. Here is a sample of the smallest, densest lines I could find in Dave's SDOAR pages, at 100% 300 DPI, followed by a sample of mine at 100% 300 DPI. Hard to go back up once you get down that far. Everything looks clunky.


crazyyears said...

Easily my favorite page yet.
--- Michael Hunt

Jeff Seiler said...

Just out of curiosity, Carson, are these panels (the repeated ones) drawn from one photo or multiple photos? If it's one photo, then why does her pinkie finger cast a shadow on her rng finger in a coupla panels, but not so in the others?

Jeff Seiler said...

Er, ring finger, that is.

Also, because everybody's a critic: There's something about the perspective on this page that bugs me. Did you foreshorten the background. It seems like the view goes up the page rather than through the page.

Sorry, I don't know how to phrase it in technical terms.

crazyyears said...


I don't have THE answer but I do have AN answer to your first question hete....

--- Michael Hunt

Sean R said...

Hey Carson,

Looking great! Can't wait to see the pages in person.

Re: the nib problem--are they all from the same batch? I.e. purchased new, of new manufacture? I stopped buying new Hunts nibs a few years ago because of the depressing lack of quality compared to the New Old Stock ones I was purchasing, and I've definitely seen bad batches, where it seemed that the entire stock that a store had was garbage.

If they were from different batches, it might be an issue with the viscousness of your ink, or even the oil the nibs are coated with prior to leaving the factory. Was the nib beading ink? Then you might need to put it under flame for a second to burn off the oil. they can also get clogged from bits of dry ink. I try to keep a bit of toilet paper or a moist paper towel around to wipe them off periodically to keep the clog from happening (especially with the coated/thick ink I use). You might also try adding some water to the ink to increase the flow (dehydration working on your ink well all the time it's uncapped).

Just some thoughts!

Really digging the pages. Can't wait to see the double-page spread. (And the finished book! Holy smokes!)

carson said...


All the same photo, but I wasn't looking at it while inking, just responding to the pencils. Michael's wonderful compliment really captures the benefit of letting those marks be a record of responses that were honest in the moment, I think. Last time around I tried to get the exact same mark every time and the page felt stiff.

The perspective issue is something that bothered me as I was working on the page. There are a lot of compositional and spatial issues in this image I was up in the air about how to solve. Eventually I decided to accentuate the oddities for the sake of emotional impact; unsettling works for the scene.

When you see the previous page, which has a couple of these images, you will see evidence of some of these decisions, primarily in the change of the direction to the hatch lines. Also, compare this to the pencils and you will see some problems I solved in the inks, such as casting a little bit of light on Jack’s triceps so that the tangent the forearm creates with the desktop isn’t confusing and the arm can be understood as separate from the trashcan.

Other issues I was aware of at one point or another while making this page:
Unless I set up a vanishing point for each panel, and used a ruler for every line in the hatching that moves forward and backward through space (the technical term is ‘orthogonal lines’), all of those hatch lines are not going to be spot on in perspective, so things flatten out funny, especially in the floor mat.

Anything with actual cross hatching rather than hatching is going to have at least two directions indicated. The floor under the trash can is easy, hatching only, just use horizontals to show it as a ground plane. The circle on the floor mat, easy enough, horizontal and orthogonal lines, a ground plane that moves backwards. Past that you have some kind of diagonal line, which I guess could be set up to diagonal vanishing points, but again, no thanks on the work there, so let’s just get something that looks good. Gerhard would probably have done the work on the diagonal vanishing points because he is really thorough about that stuff.

In the chunk of the floor that shows up in the negative space between Jack’s hair and arm, I only wanted two sets of lines, too dark and all the shapes back there would mush together. However, the orthogonal lines are so close to the vanishing point that they would have looked vertical, thus reading like wall rather than floor, so I chose to go with horizontal and one diagonal. As the floor came closer, the spot between her vest and the trash can, I wanted it darker, but this disrupts the appearance of being connected to the patch behind the arm.

At this point I realized that each bit of floor was really taking on its own character as just a flat shape in the composition, which is a pretty Pop Art thing to do, so I rolled with it and accentuated the oddity on purpose, especially by doing bottom part of the floor, beneath the floor mat, with only diagonals. It would have made a lot more sense to use horizontal and orthogonal lines, but I like how weird this made the space.

There is also the black triangle shape that comes up from Jack’s wrist and the end of the counter to hit the right side of the panel. This was an upright object, the side of a book shelf, but it kind of reads as an extension of the desktop, which screws with the understanding of where the desktop is headed to. I probably should have edited that out, but once I saw it in relationship to the other oddities, and the way they made the whole space flat and unsettling, well, okay, actually kind of works for the mood, so keep it.

The sum total of all of these issues, I think, causes some spatial confusion and flattening on the right side of each panel, which also unbalances each image towards the right, so you get a sense of constant falling rightward. Usually you want to avoid that, but as I saw it developing it made enough sense with the story that I ran with it.

carson said...

Jeff #2

Apparently I typed more than Blogger will allow!


Lastly, I inked the shapes on the upper right with a brush, and wasn’t being as careful as I should have about making them all perfectly line up with the vanishing point. Again, it is bothersome to my eyes, but at the same time the fact that all of this stuff adds up to bothersome, and is then amplified by the repetition, seemed to have an overall positive emotional impact on the page, so I let it be.
How is that for a that-guy-spent-way-too-much-time-learning-how-to-bullshit-his-way-through-life-in-art-school explanation of the page? Ha-ha!

carson said...


I think it is mostly a bad batch issue, but I am sure there are a number of environmental issues at play as well.

One thing I am keenly aware of is that it is getting warmer outside, which means I now have a ceiling fan on. This is probably drying the ink on the nib tip faster than I want it to and I try to keep the fan on low. Everything does always work better at night when it is cooler.

The fan also means that my brush gets sticker faster. Kind of annoying. A good reason to live in cold-ass parts of the country if you want to do this style of art. It is going to be 110 here sooner rather than later, with 0% humidity. I don't even want to think about what that is going to do to my tools!

Another problem is, I got one reaaalllly good pen that set a precedent for thinness. My eyes adjusted to that and now totally acceptable line widths look awfully thick to me. I just need to chill out about the line size thing a bit. Like, the lines on these pages are as small and as dense, or smaller and denser, at 100% than Dave's lines look at print size, so I probably just need to chill the hell out. But, Dave makes a big deal about drawing into the page and the fact that Raymond was pushing the pre-press people, and the competitive side of me is like, okay, let me try to take this to the next level down.

I will go in and update this with a Dave hatching vs. me hatching so people don't think I am just blowing smoke.

Unknown said...

Carson - I would say go ahead and finish up to the bridging material after #4. I'm going on the assumption that I'll be able to discuss things with IDW -- no guarantee, though: as you can see from the above post I can't really discuss ANYthing with ANYone :) -- but I agree with you that that would make a much more successful "break" in terms of the story as constituted.

My concern is how much money IDW has invested in this -- roughly $30K -- and that there's no way that they're getting that -- or even a fraction of that -- "back out" in any conventional publishing scenario. The Hate Dave constituency is just too huge (coupled with Hate Photorealism; coupled with Hate Anything That Isn't CEREBUS for the few Dave Sim fans that there are). So, I think we basically need to do the reverse of the conventional publishing motif and START with the ARTISTS EDITION: basically doing what I'm doing with the CEREBUS ARCHIVE Portfolios but doing them with SDOAR. You and I won't get any money out of it. IDW does the Kickstarter fulfillment and makes all the Kickstarter money until the $30K is paid off. THEN IDW does a conventional book solicited through the Direct Market and if it tanks (and I'm pretty sure it's going to tank) and anyone with $20 who can get past the Hate Dave thing, is welcome to buy it. If there are any royalties, we'll split in a ratio based on the number of pages involved. If IDW wants to do Volume Two -- i.e. they made money on top of the $30K -- then we'll do that the same way. If they don't, you and I will do the Kickstarter for Volume Two and it will ONLY be an ARTISTS EDITON, never a book.

Carson Grubaugh said...



Then, I lied. Eight pages to go after the double page spread, assuming Karl is still doing two of the ten that follow issue 4. Is this still the case, Dave? I hope so!

Unknown said...

Carson II - Hey always a good time for "Only Dave Sim Thinks This Way": the problem with the nibs, I think, is the electrical current in your brain. You've gotten to the point where you are actually focussing directly on the microscopic point where the pen nib meets the page with a) your eyes and b) the relevant part of your brain and what you're doing, I think, is melting/bending the pen nib tips a microscopic fraction of an inch because of the intensity of your focus. We -- comics photorealists -- are really the ONLY people who experience this microscopic focus in "meatspace" (i.e. without machinery or magnification).

Looking forward to seeing your comparisons. But "civilians" are STILL going to think you're blowing smoke.

carson said...


LOL. Yeah, I am going to have to agree that this is an "Only Dave Sim Thinks This Way" thing and stick with Sean on the environmental issues of temperature, ink coagulation, poor manufacturing, paper fibers in the nib tip, etc. I mean, maaayyyybbeee my brainwave heated things up a little bit ;b

It is true, however, that one develops a certain zen relationship with the tip of their tool (euphemism, anyone?). I was explaining this to the two students I gave series 7 #2 brushes to. Your eye might not actually be able to SEE the tip of the single hair sticking out at the end of the brush, but your mind does start to perform a calculation after about 10-15 minutes triangulating between what it knows about where your hand is on the brush, how far a more visible part of the brush, like the end of the metal, is from the page, etc. This lets you know where the single hair tip is at even if you don't consciously see it. Different for every brush, but once you get that triangulation set for the day it is pretty easy to maintain.

If you think comics photo-realists get crazy myopic check out what the best trompe l'oeil and photo-realist oil painters can do! I have scanned my 4" x 6" and 5" x 7" paintings at 600dpi, 200% enlargement, and surprised even myself about what details I was putting in that I wasn't even aware of. It is a crazy thing to see evidence of important marks and effects that you weren't even aware you made.

Tony Dunlop said...

Does this mean (gulp) I can actually BUY SDOAR vol. 1 sometime on 2017? C'mon, don't give us false hope...

Carson Grubaugh said...


My current rate of production, squeezed in between work and basic life stuff, means about two more months on my part if we are including the post issue 4 stuff as Dave just directed. Karl Stevens has two pages to do. How long from there to a product on the shelves, I don't know. Dave?

Unknown said...

Tony - This is very difficult to explain. If you mean "Are you going to be able to go to your LCS and buy SDOAR Volume One, 100 pages in the format IDW has been talking about before the end of 2017?" The answer is definitely, No.

If I can explain to IDW what I think we need to do and get them to agree to it, it is EXTREMELY REMOTELY POSSIBLE BUT EXTREMELY UNLIKELY that you could be able to order the first 20 pages of THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND, in the same format as CEREBUS ARCHIVE Portfolios from Kickstarter...


IF that happens, it will happen when Carson is done. I've learned from long experience that (nothing against Carson) "when Carson is done" is a very different thing from "when Carson thinks he's going to be done." And that you can't tell an audience that "This is going to happen THEN" if the work is not actually done.

I really don't want to communicate with IDW until I can say, "This is now done." If I contact them and say "I think this will be done x day" that's just going to needlessly complicate something that is already WAAAAYYY too complicated.

All four issues of the CEREBUS IN HELL? mini-series were done last summer and all of them are going to ship late because that's just how things are in 2017. Look at how long it took for the COVERS book to come out. That isn't some weird aberration. That's how publishing works.

I wish I had better news for you.

Unknown said...

Along the lines of what you're talking about: I go back and forth on whether the formulation of the Gillott 290 pen nib actually changed or if Stan Drake's ability just eroded. He's the only guy who found the 290 to be useable on a regular basis. Pretty much everyone else from Neal Adams on down tried it, loved it, but eventually spent too much time trying to get the thing to work on a regular basis and retreated to other materials. It's very, very mysterious -- which is why (if I'm reading you correctly) your default position is the brush, right? Because -- although it's counterintuitive ("How can a brush make a finer line than a pen nib?") -- that's your actual experience. Once you are "all the way into the page" conventional physical perceptions start to shift. Except, I don't think they're perceptions, I think they're realities: the meeting place of physical properties and spirit and electricity. Where zen isn't just a theoretical concept, it becomes part of the equation. In the case of the 290 a CENTRAL part of the equation. Why can I swing this thing around (like Zorro as Leonard Starr described Stan Drake in full flight) and get amazing tiny fine lines and tiny brush-like strokes and the next day I can't even get an ink line out of it? Because yesterday you were "zen-like" and today you aren't.

Stan Drake had this weird condition where the two sides of his skull fused differently so it looked as if he had a fractured skull. Dr. Troy in Texas took one look at a photo of him and said, "Yeah, see. There's a ridge there." I wonder if that skewed the electrical current in his brain so that he could focus on the microscopic spot without the electrical current actually interfering (which I would speculate is what you're experiencing now that you're "all the way in there").

I'm actually glad I don't have to wonder about this stuff -- in the "applying it to me" sense -- any more.

Carson Grubaugh said...


I am using the 102 for all of the background hatching, except for the one panel where the nib was driving me crazy so i tried the brush out. The nibs let me draw faster and I put less stress on my elbow. The brush is used for all the figures, including the hatching on the clothes. Not sure why. Artificial vs. natural line quality?

That thing about Drake's skull is interesting. I have a friend who has the same thing. It shows up on his forehead very prominently, Metopic Craniosynostosis I believe. He is obsessed with time and the ways you can manipulate it. He makes lots of videos messing with the input to screw with time perception. Maybe Drake was altering time? To us it looked like mad Zorro slapdash inking but to him was slow and controlled?

Unknown said...

My experience was: "the further into the page you go, the more rules you need to establish for yourself." Virtually all of them in the "not sure why" category. I think it's "baked into" the job description.

Hey, at least we both sound crazy, now! Yes, that's what it's called. Metopic Craniosynostosis.

You look at Eve Jones' hair -- any time -- and you are definitely looking at something otherworldly. When Russ Heath says "Can I come over and WATCH you ink?" it's coming from the same place, I think. Just because you can see it doesn't mean you can do it.

I think Drake was definitely TRYING to alter time -- he was trying to repeat his life experience with his first wife, Betty Lou (the gorgeous teenager Eve Jones was based on) with a New Teenager (Sarah Jane who wasn't much older than his two sons) and just got stuck in a fractal reality he kept having to enact compulsively. Even moving back to Sarasota, Florida with his third wife, Lainey, who was, like, decades younger than he was. "What part of this are you not 'getting', Stan?" Hint: it has very little to do with Sarasota, Florida.

Anonymous said...

Completely unrelated question for Dave:

Going through the "Cerebus Covers" book, I have to ask how the covers were done once Gerhard came onto the book. On the inner pages, ok, Dave does the writing, figures and lettering and any other detail he thinks it's better to do himself. But the covers, particularly the ones without any figures drawn, how did you and Ger figure those out from conception to execution?