How does make comics when depressed?

depressionI’ve not done much personal blogging for a while. I’ve also not talked much publicly about my depression and anxiety. Those things are linked, for sure, but I’m not exactly sure how. A while back, welljesuschrist, September 2013 in fact, I published the last of my quick and scuzzy webcomic, Suddenly Something Really Interesting, where I’d gotten to the end of therapy for my anxiety, and the utterly non-climatic or euphoric or epiphanic realisation that underlying all my anxiety was a deep depressive state I’d had since I was a kid.

Even my counsellor seemed disheartened that it ended that way – she didn’t get that sense of satisfaction that we’d “broken through” together. Just a kind of sullen resignation between the two of us that, you know, we’d tackled some stuff, and that, well, this realisation was at least that.

A realisation. Something tangible to potentially work on.

It didn’t really work out that way

Well of course it didn’t. Depression doesn’t work like that. You don’t go, okay, now I realise that depression is the underlying problem, I can solve it. You go, shit. Fuck. Depression, that’s a problem. Then you get depressed, and there’s no way you can summon up the energy needed to work on it.

Or anything else.

Since then, I’ve worked on a number of comic projects, and a couple of other bits and pieces. Thing is though, I don’t think I can comic well when I’m depressed. I mean, sure, I can summon up the energy to draw, because I love it. Occasionally I get fortnight-long periods where I’m writing constantly. Rarely, I’ll feel like I’m ready and willing to take on the world and somehow emerge as an actual professional.

But then the shit-storm hits.

Then the black dog wraps its tail around your neck, swivels its dull eyes at you and rudely salivates drool on your shoulder from its gaping maw, and you can’t even find the energy to turn around and look at it. You know it’s there, but you’re too paralysed to acknowledge it properly, let alone tell it to leave.

When that hits, you’re fucked. I’ve missed the chance to work with at least two writers who’ve since hit big in comics because I was in the middle of a long, slow breakdown. I’ve stretched the length of time a project that should have taken from, say, three months, to over a year because I blinked, freaked, gave up, and went back to full time office work because I couldn’t realistically see how I could make it as a freelancer any more.

I’ve gone to cons, at the very nadir of the depression, and left thinking that I never wanted to make a comic again because it was pointless and no one even wanted to look at my work let alone buy it and what was wrong with me that I made such weird comics anyway instead of stuff that people would actually buy and anyway why do I even want to be involved in this world of comics when it’s all a big sham and a fraud even though I feel like the fraud and the interloper who’s been working for seven years to try and convince people that I’m a comic creator when I’m actually just shit and everyone knows it…

Because depression and anxiety are intrinsically linked for me, and many others.

And then the utter, soul-crushing energy-sapping breakdown that comes afterwards, where you have to try and pick up the pieces and change your life while feeling completely embarrassed with yourself and disconnected from the world. And then the anxiety that comes from the realisation of that. And then, and then, and then. An endless cycle of dragging yourself from a low energy state to be catapulted into a high energy state only to crash back into a low energy state, and so on.

Call to Action

Here’s the bit in a blog post where you should put some kind of call to action, if you’re trying to sell a product or service. Here’s the bit in this blog post where I tell you that there is no getting out of this cycle, and all you can do is use what little energy you have when it arrives.

What I’ve done is recognise that, in many ways, I have to start from scratch. There’s a couple of projects I need to finish freelance-wise, and then I have to concentrate on my own stuff. For me to feel any kind of sense of completion or satisfaction in creativity, I have to finish something that’s solely mine.

I embarked on Gonzo Cosmic a while back, and though I’m still in love with the idea behind it, it’s a long, arduous project with no sense of finality and a lot of hubris to overcome. So while it’s still on the go, I need something more satisfying.

That’s why most of my attention is focused on the Dundee Uni Masters course I enrolled on. I need to give myself the ability to focus on learning about and researching comics for the sake of it for a while. I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and it could give me potential career avenues when I complete it, that would complement the creative work I do. I love the medium of comics, and exploring history, sociology, form, all of that, is exciting and is giving me the buzz back.

And, I’m also focused on making AION. It still comes with hubris (I’m calling it my “queer Flex Mentallo”, go figure why anxious and depressed people like to paint these kinds of targets on our heads), but it’s a complete thing, almost entirely written in my head, pages started. It’s a semi-autobiographical work with elements of superheroes, sci-fi and Burroughs-esque fiction in there. I mean, I never really make it easy on myself, but I have to make the work that excites me, the kind of work I’d read.

I’m also exorcising some pretty big demons throughout AION too. I hope that helps me to feel at least a little better about myself. And you know what? In some ways, I’m looking forward to having it completed and putting it out into the world.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned over the last year or so has been that I need to learn to create without lust for result. AION is mine, and if I put the work in and everyone thinks it sucks, fair enough – but I can’t argue with the fact that it’s exactly what I want to make. And I’m not beholden to anyone, anyone I can let down on deadlines, or fuck up with in some other way. I just have to please me, and right now, that feels like the best I can do.

I’m also writing a novel, which has some very minor elements of autobiography in’t. It’s another thing I think I need to get out in the open – it’s bleak, unremittingly bleak. New Bleak, in fact. It comes from reading ‘Ghosts of my Life’, ‘Conspiracy against the Human Race’, ‘Cyclonopedia’, the ‘Southern Reach Trilogy’ and other stuff that I absorbed over the last year. It’s also my take on queer zombie horror, completely nihilistic, as the zombie genre really should be.

I get moments where I sit and wonder what’s wrong with me that I’m writing something so bleak.

Then I get other moments – mad, raving moments – where I realise that the bleakness is unmitigating anger at the world.

So, that should be fun, for you to read, I mean.

And finally, I’m sitting with this post open, completed, re-reading it and staring at it, wondering what egotistical drive makes me want to write this, thinks I should write it, that I have anything worthwhile to say, that it’s just me feeling sorry for myself, or trying to publicly make excuses, or self-flagellate, or

That’s what it feels like, all the time. In everything I do. Who am I? I’m not good enough to do this. I’m not worthwhile enough to do this. I’m nobody. And so I suppose writing this, and making work, and sharing work, even though it comes with fear, is about trying to prove that I’m not nobody. To try and silence the voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough. So whatever, here it is, and that’s that.

Feel free to hit me up with your thoughts in the comments box below.

aion-page-one-flats

 

 

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‘Tomorrow’ Panel process stages

I’m currently working on a new graphic novel for release by BHP Comics and written by Jack Lothian (known for his screenwriting on Skins, No Offence and many others). I’m not going to give anything away about the plot, except to say that it’s a very  different book from my recent offerings, and it’s a surprisingly emotional one. The main character is described in the script as An Old Lady, and the first half of the book is a slow, meditative piece that builds up to an unusual halfway point. I know, I know, very cagey, but I don’t want to give too much away at this point!

Anyway, as I often do, I decided to share some process stuff, so below you’ll find a breakdown of the creation of the first panel of the fourth page.Thumbnail

This is the bluelined thumbnail sketch for the panel – really rough, but enough to let me know generally what angle I’m going to be working on and the rough dimensions of the panel.

Bulking Out

Here’s the ‘layout’. This is drawn at actual size, and while I was doing this, the bluelined construction stuff didn’t exist yet, so ignore that for now! This is where I ‘bulk out’ the thumbnail and get a sense of the weight and perspective.

SketchUp Layer

And here’s the newer bit for this book. Since there’s a lot of surburban environmental stuff in here, and given that there’s little dialogue, it was important for me that the backgrounds (something that causes me a lot of grief, generally) were solid and could fully encapsulate the main character rather than being just ‘backdrops’. I decided to build most of the major ‘sets’ in SketchUp, something I’ve used before very rarely. I have a SketchUp document, which I’ll post at the end, that contains all of the sets I’ll need. I can just move around the full document as needed and choose sets and angles to match the layouts. I can then export that to Photoshop and use it to construct the panel, drawing new perspective guides off it as needed so that I can add in more detail.

Refined Layout

Here’s where the layout and SketchUp panel meet – the bulking now fits in with the solid 3D environment I’ve built, and this lets me really start getting to grips with posing the figure. She’s at her dinner, on her own, so she’s quiet, but not necessarily sullen. Just on her own.

Detail First Pass

I don’t always do this additional panel, but I wanted to get that pose right, so here’s a ‘pre-final’where I’ve tightened up the pose and the lines for the figure to make sure I’m happy with it before moving on.

Final over working

Here’s the final with the previous stages overlaid so you can see the development.

Final

And finally, here’s the finished lines. I re-drew over all of the SketchUp lines – it would be fairly easy if I just left the model lines as they were, but I need that hand-drawn line over the top for me to feel like it’s complete. The SketchUp lines are too clean, and this ties the environment to the figure well.

That’s it really. Working this way is teaching me something about the scale and weight of the figure that I’ve often missed in the past because of the disconnect between figure and backdrop. Having a 3-dimensional space to work in means that you really have to think about the scale of the figure, and how to construct a pose that fits with the environment. It means that I’m basically working with larger, more solid figures that I have done previously, and I’m really like the results.

Full Map

Here’s the full SketchUp document I mentioned. Besides the two semi-detached houses, which I downloaded from the 3D warehouse, I built all of the sets. It’s a weird construct, impossible in real life, but it includes bedrooms, kitchen, living room, two different close or stairwell constructs, a street with a construction area, a back yard, a street with shops, and a supermarket.

I can just move around this as needed, choosing angles and exporting them to Photoshop CC. While there’s no way of getting a live-linked version in PS, I can use linked files, so if I go in and change them in SketchUp, I can update it really easily in Photoshop.

I’ll maybe pop up a process post about how I construct a digital page using this method, we’ll see!

Process Process Process

I’ve had a busy old week, starting on two projects simultaneously. One of those is the third issue of Freak Out Squares by gentleman deviant Harry French. Coming back to comic work after a fairly long break (the last thing I did was a strip in December, then I was focussed on the animation) has been fantastic. I seem to have loosened up a bit – I feel like I’ve got a style that’s working for me, and I’ve gotten much faster at producing pages thanks to a refined, all-digital approach.

Harry and I are in discussion about some exciting prospects for Freak Out Squares which we’ll reveal when and if, but we’re keen to share some process and work-in-progress work with you.

Here’s the stage by stage work on page 1:

01Thumbnail

02Panels and Guides03Large Sketch

04Layout

05Final

For those who’ve read the first two issues, you’ll notice that the Blanck Mass are returning for more digital erotic thrills and adventures, whilst the Uberminister watches intently…

This issue, I’ve dropped back the spotted blacks from the last – that was an experiment, but I don’t think it worked as well as just letting my lines breathe, so I’m concentrating on detail this time around.

Working in Photoshop digitally has become ideal thanks to some wonderful brushes, the Lazy Nezumi plugin (which smooths brush strokes, has ellipse guides and and and! perspective tools that make perspective in PS a total breeze now), and my increased use of things like the the Ruler tool (which I didn’t even know existed) and the grid.

All of these things have combined to make it really intuitive and simple to go from thumbnail to layout to finished digital pencils/inks, doing perspective on the fly for each panel, setting up grids and stuff and just making everything look clean. A lot of this stuff saves a lot of time, which means I can do a lot of preparatory work without taking ages, and leaves me more time to spend on the finals.

Here’s a look at page 2:

01Thumbnail 02 Sketch03 Panels 04 Layout05 Finish

So that’s that then.

Working on page 3 just now, which is where the new sense of symmetry and asymmetry really starts coming into play – we’re pushing and pulling elements of the book against the grid, depending on the mood and narrative of the page, so being able to set up everything digitally is really helping.

I should say as well that this is the first book I’ve ever sat and thumbnailed sitting with the writer. Me and Harry had two sessions of sitting going over the script while I thumbnailed, and it was really worthwhile.

For Harry, it’s given him an idea of how I think visually, which is something writers can always benefit from – it can go into the scripts from the off. And for me, it was great sitting with Harry, bouncing ideas for panel placements off him, knowing we could alter the script structure without me having to try and explain it by email and waiting for the yay or nay.

I’d urge anyone who has the opportunity location-wise (or even through Skype) and the inclination to work this work to try it. While I wouldn’t expect much of my other work to follow this pattern, it’s good to do it at least once. Makes for more confident pages, I think.

Anyway, FoS 3 will be out soon, looking to have the art completed by early April, and then colours (by the brilliant Harry Saxon) and letters (by ‘Gentleman of Comics’ Colin Bell) so shortly thereafter.

It’s going to be brilliant, so keep your eyes peeled.

Extra Astronomical – Gonzo Cosmic #2 is out now!

Cover
FINALLY. After a long, difficult labour, Gonzo 2 is now finished, and is available FREE to download. This is DRM-free, so if you download it, feel free to share it with anyone you think might be interested! And please, share this post – GC is now an intense labour of love, and I’m giving it away free in the hope of getting more readers, but they’ll only read it if they know about it!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/tqcw815pkb4jmr0/Gonzo%20Cosmic%20Issue%202.pdf?dl=0

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In case you need to get up to speed, issue one can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/a0gtxuuwnssp2k2/Gonzo_Cosmic_1_DRM_Free.pdf?dl=0

Gonzo 2 has some male nudity in’t, so probably NSFW…