Thank you for reading Folding Kimono

Thank you for reading Folding Kimono. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read any of my comics, but especially this one. It’s been an interesting and odd comic to work on, and I’m so overwhelmed and inspired by how many people have engaged with it, and have felt connected to the story I’m telling. Thanks especially to Chromacon, who decided it was worth 1st place in this year’s Chroma Art Awards (Joining 2013’s 1st place winner, Sunshine).

Writing autobiographical material is a weird experience for me. I’m accustomed to writing about myself and drawing myself, but it’s uncommon to combine the two. It feels strange to take parts of me that are raw and personal, and edit them for timing, content and flow the same way I do with my fictional stories. In a way I’m fictionalising myself, turning into an avatar through which to tell stories. I don’t dislike it, but it’s an odd experience.

Writing about my heritage is a lot more hurty than I was expecting. It’s difficult to explain to anyone who doesn’t have mixed heritage, but there’s often a lot of pressure to behave like just one of your cultures. In my case, I’m pressured to behave and act white most of the time, and I can get weird pushback sometimes when I want to talk about the Japanese parts of my heritage (which I’d prefer not to go into detail here).

I often feel like I’m overstepping my bounds, because I have been raised in a predominantly white culture, surrounded by white people, white media and white entertainment. It makes me feel inauthentic, even when discussing my own identity. A part of me wonders why I pursue my Japanese/mixed heritage at all, it’d be very easy to quietly leave it to one side of myself, and just bring it out for fancy dress parties when I’m in need of a good costume.

It’s decidedly harder to examine what it actually means to come from a mixed heritage background and how to proceed in the world after accepting and identifying with these parts of myself. It’s taken a lot of contemplation to gather myself to the place I am now, and I feel like this is only the very start of my journey. I want to bring all parts of me along equally, and one I’m committed to exploring exactly what this means in more depth. For me, this will mean more comics as one avenue of this exploration.

I have been so moved by hearing other people of mixed heritage (especially mixed Asian heritage) talk about how my comic made them feel. I had people telling me they’d never seen their experiences recorded so accurately, that the piece resonated very deeply within them. I made at least a couple of people cry. Tumblr reacted in overwhelming numbers to show they appreciate and care about this piece.

I am so glad that I have finished this comic, and so grateful to know it resonates with people. I am feeling more connected to my heritage and to the larger community than I ever have before in my life. I’m hoping that you will continue to listen to my voice as I talk about heritage and culture, and what they mean to me. I will continue to write with the best of my ability. In comics, in essays and anywhere else that will have me. And I’m always happy to hear from you, if you want to talk to me about your experiences.

Thank you so much everyone.

ありがとうございます。

How to make comics, Part two – The process of Concrete

This is the second post in a series about how I make comics. Inspired by the recent completion of  my latest comic, Concrete. You can read Concrete here.

Part one | Part two (This part)

The important thing with a comic – even a short comic – is to establish a working environment and system that flows easily from one work session to another. Standardising parts of the process makes sure the continuity of the story isn’t interrupted or influenced by bad process.

I tailor my approach a little for each project. This is the process that worked for Concrete.

THINGS I USE

  • Sketchbook/pencil
  • Intuos5 tablet
  • Macbook Pro 2010 13 inch – It is pretty old now and for some reason only wants to run while having 1 stick of RAM in, so I’m on 4 gigs of RAM in single channel. Which is not a lot of RAM. I close every non-essential thing when I’m working. :(
  • Dell monitor 24 inch.
  • Apple wireless keyboard for shortcut keys
  • Logitech wireless mouse I should include it on this list for some reason
  • Photoshop CS5.1
  • Guide Guide – THE BEST PLUGIN EVAR
  • Kyle Webster’s Photoshop brushes – Buy them here

THE PROCESS

Drafting

Photo 4-05-14 17 04 55

My workflow for Concrete was about 95% digital, but I always always start with paper. Sketchbooks are the birthplace of ideas as well as a practice ground for concepts. Something about fleshing something out on paper really helps to get the ideas and story set and establish flow. No digital tool I’ve used comes close to replacing it.

Photo 4-05-14 17 04 27

Most of my first drafts look like this before I copy them into a word processor (usually Google docs because it’s convenient).

Using Google docs means I have all the text up on the screen while I make thumbnails on paper. Thumbnails are a crucial part of my process. They let me quickly work out timing, composition and pacing, ensuring the story flows how I want. Because they’re small there’s minimal cost to throwing out something that doesn’t work. I usually use a larger sketchbook for these because I like to have more of the comic on one page than my travel sketchbook allows.

Photo 4-05-14 17 05 15

Sometimes I take photos of my thumbnails, but I didn’t this time for whatever reason. I kept the sketchbook on my desk so I could refer to it during the next phase of the project.

Digital set-up

I start a folder for my project. GOOD FILING IS VERY IMPORTANT. I tend to have a comics folder, and each comic has several folders for all its pieces within this. I also make sure to keep my windows organised by ‘date modified’ rather than by name. This means that my newest files are always at the top and easy to find.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 5.26.12 pm copy

This is also the part when I am going to say: HAVE BACKUPS. HAVE SO MANY BACKUPS. HAVE ALL OF THE BACKUPS. I have an external drive plugged in and my Time Machine backs up every hour, which has saved my butt during the times I’ve accidentally flattened a working file or made it web resolution. A BACKUP WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE ONE DAY. GET IT SORTED.

NEXT. I pick my working file size on the computer. I’m going boring A4 with this one, but if I was to pick  different working dimensions, this it the point where I do it. I decided to bump my working resolution to 600DPI for this one. Partly because I knew linework would play a crucial role in this comic, and partly because I knew that being (mostly) black and white this wouldn’t stress out my poor laptop too much. If I had a more powerful machine I’d work at this DPI all the time. Or probably higher, I’m not sure what numbers the professional kids are pushing these days.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 5.31.19 pm

I set up base guides for this with GuideGuide. 3mm bleed, and then another 5mm to mark working space. This means that any comic panels are printed on this line so as not to come too close to the edges. I have an extra set further in too because the paneling I wanted for Concrete required more white space.

This page is saved as Base comic page.psd, and it becomes the base of each finished page, since it’s all set to go.

But! We’re not up to working from base pages yet, because there’s not enough fidelity in these thumbnails. Also they’re on paper and not in the computer.

Higher fidelity sketches

I save a 72DPI version of my base comic page, and this becomes my base digital sketch page. These get saved into their own folder called ‘test pages’ or something similar. I sketch out each page and save it in this folder.I use a scratchy sketchy brush and not-quite black.  There’s more fidelity here than in the thumbnails, but it’s still quick work to flesh out page and panel compositions, check for continuity, and make sure it sits and feels right.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 5.43.25 pm

Once this phase is complete it’s time to actually draw pages!

Actual page drawing time!

The base comic page.psd gets opened and a new page saved into the new folder ‘comic pages’ This page is ‘page01.psd‘. All pages after this are titled to match.

The scribbly test page gets copied into this new file and stretched proportionally to fill the space. Put the layer to something like 30% Opacity and lock it so that you can’t draw on it or move it at all.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 5.47.11 pm

Draw the page! I tend to have separate layers for text, frames and then 1-2 layers for other lines depending on what I’m doing. Because my brush library is insane I tend to write myself notes about which brush I’m using on a bit of paper so I can remember each time. This time it was one that was smooth and gave me excellent thick and thin line weights.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 5.46.15 pm

I don’t do any shading or colour at this stage, just plod on through getting the text and lines down page by page. I lay down my guides if I need them, usually to help me draw my type straight.

After a while I got into a great rhythm with this system and was able to crank through several pages much faster than I was expecting. The poetic nature of the story and relatively minimal levels of action meant that it was an easy draw. Something with more action and context possibly wouldn’t have the same level of hypnotic flow which I benefitted from while making this project. Still, it might do, I’m not sure!

[there isn’t a picture that goes with this, so you will just have to imagine me making happy noises while pages get made]

I added minimal grey shading to the illustrations after all the lines were done, and tweaked a few elements to make sure that the continuity was correct throughout. The swatch pallet is handy here to track colours and ensure they match across pages. This mattered a lot for Sunshine, with its painterly style, but it’s still good practice here and saves keeping two pictures open and individually eye-picking colours.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 6.02.17 pm

FINISHING TOUCHES

Displaying for web

Concrete was created print-ready, but it’s always going to display online first. I love being able to share my work online for free. Licensing with Creative Commons licenses allows me to share my work in a way that is meaningful to me and lets others create and build on my work if it inspires them. Sharing my work ‘for free’ in this way has only ever been beneficial to me, helping to further the reach of my drawing and illustrating and connected me with other artists. I’m still protected if it gets stolen and used without crediting me.

For Concrete I wanted it to appear nicely on retina displays, so they’re saved to be about 1400px wide.

I hand code the pages my comics go up on. I do this so that I have complete control over how it displays, and so that it loads faster because there’s no CMS or anything that interferes. It means I have control over exactly how my comic looks on multiple devices without too much mucking around. With a page like this even my incredibly old and rusty HTML does the job OK. I’m lucky enough to have supportive flatmates who helped me to brush up on my knowledge and teach me some new cool tricks.

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 6.06.29 pm

And that’s where comics come from. Or at least my comics.

Thanks for reading! I’ve still got at least one more part of comic-making I want to talk about, so hopefully that’ll happen at some point.

How to make comics, Part one – The emotions of Concrete

This is the first post in a series about how I make comics. Inspired by the recent completion of  my latest comic, Concrete. You can read Concrete here.

Part one (This part) | Part two

Making comics is different from any other craft that I practice. With illustration, singing, writing, knitting, all your energy and creativity is funnelled into a very specific shape. Even tasks that require several disciplines (illustration using colour + line, singing for me usually involves a guitar or ukulele), the disciplines compliment each other. They happen at the same speed and can easily be absorbed together as a whole. They naturally fit together.

With comics I feel like there’s a weird dischord that happens with the elements you try to combine. Words travel at a different speed to images but they have to work together to tell a story. Words want you to rush, and pictures chuck the breaks on. Even wordless comics have to somehow graciously portray time in a medium that is (usually) completely static. It’s like combining oil and water. Comics are story alchemy.

I consider myself a comic artist at the core. This might seem a bit weird to people because I only have three comics up online at the moment. They’re all really short and there’s two years between the release of each one. One reason is a lot of life happened in between each comic. Another is that comics are really hard, and I don’t want to release anything I’m not proud of.

I’ve had pretty severe art block for a couple of years now. Even while I was making Sunshine, I felt like I was battling uphill. It was hard work to make, and so after I finished it I spent time and energy on other projects I found easier (usually knitting). 2012 was a very quiet year illustration-wise, and 2013 wasn’t a heap better. I’ve had a couple of comic projects on my perpetual ‘to do’ pile because I couldn’t easily achieve the storytelling and illustration style I wanted. They have been left there as complex puzzles I haven’t quite worked out how to solve.

I have been busy with other things too. I have learnt to knit, which is one of the most rewarding skills outside of drawing that I have ever come across (I should really write a thing about how great knitting is – it’s so great). I have made huge steps in my non-art career, which I care about as much as I care about illustration and comics. And I have done a lot of thinking and learning about a lot of things. Including what I want to do with my drawing, whether comics really are where I want to put my energy, or whether there’s something else I need to be making (I’d really absolutely love to make games as well).

During the art block time (Which I think I can finally say I’ve cracked now, I hope), every drawing and line was an effort. Even thinking about drawing was an expense of energy I didn’t have. It sucked to not be drawing, but it also sucked to feel like every time I picked up a pencil I was pushing against a strong force, and I just couldn’t get past that feeling. My skills went rusty, my ideas went bland and every drawing I did had a lot of pressure placed on it because it was ‘the only thing I’d drawn in ages’. So it was also inevitably going to be crap.

I still drew commissions and some personal stuff during this time. If you look over the work you probably can’t see the ‘crap’ that I can see. It probably looks like perfectly acceptable illustration work, and probably seems to fit in fine with the rest of what I’ve made. The difference is that there is significantly less of it during this phase. I think I didn’t produce a single new print-quality illustration during 2012 that wasn’t Sunshine.

A bunch of things have changed now. I’ve been working hard to overcome art block. It’s like physical fitness – there’s a blend of active training and a need for rest. I began making sure that I drew every day (or every other day), but more than that, I made sure I had a plan. I outlined the things in my art that I wanted to improve, and I made sure I put some time into practicing those. Key things for me lately have been feet, full-body poses and getting a bit more detail and expression into my hands. I’ve also been working on diversifying the cast of miscellaneous people I draw.

I’ve also tried to minimise the feeling of ART GUILT that I get. ART GUILT (yes, it is in allcaps, ask any artist ever) is the crushing sense of guilt you feel whenever you do anything that isn’t your art. This includes working, cooking, eating, and especially sleeping. ART GUILT happens mostly with entertainment – so for me TV shows, games and knitting get major ART GUILT points, but it also affects me whenever I decide to go socialise, even if I had no real plans to do any real drawing that night. That time COULD have been drawing time and now it definitely ISN’T. It made it hard to enjoy things.

I’m not sure quite how I managed to shut my ART GUILT voice up, it hasn’t been a super conscious process. I think it’s mainly quietened down for me because I am always looking to live a more balanced life. When you are able to eat well and sleep well, when you manage your time well, this angst just sort of slips away. Games, socialising, TV, and general living are all important to me. They help me to relax and to feel like a whole person. They also fuel my art. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the two most recent comic ideas I have had were both because I went out to visit friends.

Now after some time building up my drawing fitness I am able to produce a lot more work a lot faster. My sketch folder for 2014 has 365 items in it already (Compare this to 2013’s 249 or 2012’s 36 items). Even though a lot of this is noise fluff, there’s a lot of value in how much drawing I’ve gotten done. Improving my drawing fitness has meant that I’m now making work that doesn’t feel like a battle. Most of Concrete has happened pretty smoothly. The story showed up in my brain whole, and all I had to do was draw it down. And I was able to do so! That’s some magic right there.

I’m planning to write another piece about the technical aspects of how Concrete came together, but I thought it was important to document my emotional process too. This is just as crucial for making a comic as any amount of technical knowledge can be. To make comics, to make art, you need to work just as much at being a person as you do at being an artist. They’re the same thing, anyway.

Women in comics – Thoughts from the Cartoon colloquium: Looking at women and cartoons today

The National Library of New Zealand hosted a Cartoon Colloquium focusing on women in cartooning in New Zealand. The topic was expanded to include women in comics, even though the Turnbull Library’s focus is on collecting political editorial cartoons.

I consider myself a comic artist but I can barely name a single female cartoon or comic artist from New Zealand’s history (although I can name a fair handful of contemporaries). I am engaged with ‘women in comics’ as it is often discussed from an American perspective, so I was interested in the differences when focusing on New Zealand creators.

The discussion over the course of the day was varied and thoughtful. Curator Dr Melinda Johnston did an excellent job of shaping the day – giving a balance of critical academic analysis of the history of women in the arts and comics – right through to hearing from contemporary artists working today and the challenges we still face as women making a name for ourselves in New Zealand comics (or international comics).

I won’t go into depth about every speaker that was a part of the day, but I do want to cover a few key topics and parts of talks that really resonated with me.

The talks

Why have there been no great women artists?

The colloquium opened with a great overview of women artists from a feminist art history perspective provided by Dr Barbara Garrie. Using the famous question “Why have there been no great women artists?” to help frame why women may not be as recognised in cartooning and comics as their male contemporaries.

Women have more in common with their contemporary male counterparts than other women – the qualities of an artist artist aren’t defined by gender. This is true in all art as well as comics. The work of women isn’t necessarily softer or presenting a ‘feminine perspective’. Being a woman is something that you learn anyway – it is not a default state of being given to you at birth.

Women are still being overlooked and ignored. Even displays looking at comic art, like the American example “Masters of American Comics” in 2005. All 15 of the chosen ‘Masters of comics’ were men. Women’s work is celebrated but in separate exhibitions like the ‘She draws comics’ exhibition in Vienna in 2002. While this does a good job to draw attention to under represented women artists it doesn’t solve the problem. These women were still all excluded from the ‘masters’ exhibition in 2005. This approach continues to ‘other’ women and women’s work, treating it as a niche rather than as masters of their craft. Even the word master is intensely gendered.

Fandom and Feminism and Capitalism

I loved Robyn Kennealy’s talk around the relationship between fandom, feminism and capitalism. Her talk outlined beautifully how women have created a fan culture outside of the mainstream because mainstream for the most part doesn’t cater to women.

She discussed how historically women who wanted to get into the comics industry were often were given subordinate roles like colourist. The work of these women ends up being key to keeping the likes of Marvel and capitalism as a whole propped up, rather than supporting the women who do the work. She tied this into the fact that throughout history the typically feminine caring roles (teaching, motherhood, nursing) are seen as being worth less and are unpaid or poorly paid in comparison to men’s roles. Capitalism takes full advantage of the fact that people will work on what they love for nothing or next to nothing.

The downside of fan spaces is that by their very nature are unpaid. Working with licensed work means that if the big studios did sniff out that you were making money off their IP there would be a lot of trouble coming your way. Robyn has chosen to work in this space because she wants to create the work she enjoys, but it wasn’t an easy decision. Because women’s work is traditionally unpaid, she worries that contributing yet more unpaid work to the system perpetuates this relationship.

I wonder if the negative way that Marvel/the comics industry react to fans who try and make money from their likenesses is a part of what keeps women out of the industry, since a lot of women shape their work through fan art and fanfiction.

This contrasts with Japan, where fan comics (Doujinshi) are an accepted part of the comics industry. Anime and manga studios view doujinshi as free advertising and do not prosecute. This means the (often female) creators get a start making comics that they can make a living off before moving on to their own titles. There are obviously many cultural differences between the manga industry and the comics industry in the US that shape this gender difference, but in the context of Robyn’s talk I felt like this was a possible contribution.

LGBT in New Zealand Cartoons

Valerie Love gave an excellent talk focusing on the stereotypes of LGBT within New Zealand editorial cartoons. The focus was mainly on cartoons created around the Marriage Equality bill and the earlier Civil Union bill. She walked through five key portrayals of LGBT people in cartoons pointing out both the positive and negative angles. Several of the cartoons were so similar, they even made exactly the same joke. A large proportion of the cartoons were straight people making the jokes and references. Even when the cartoons were presenting a favourable view on LGBT, they weren’t giving any voice to the people affected by the law changes. This possibly reflects that the cartoons are made mostly by straight white males. LGBT voices aren’t present in our cartooning history, only commented on by others.

Don’t scare the boys

Hayley Heartbreak discussed her experience as a teenager being turned down for a comic book job purely because of her gender. Her talk resonated with me a lot. She talked about dealing with obviously gendered comments directed at her or her work, and how she’s developed a style that she loves and is proud of. I liked that she specifically mentioned the comments she receives and some of the ways she handles them while still managing to create really awesome and original work.

Sharon Murdoch

Sharon Murdoch spoke about her work as a political cartoonist. Only 1% of political cartooning collected by the archive this year was by women, and all of those comics were by Sharon Murdoch. She signs her work with only her surname because she fears she won’t be taken seriously if people know she is a woman.

Whenever we see a woman in a cartoon we assume that their presence is a part of the message – there has to be a reason for her to be there. Sharon’s work helps break down these barriers. She features women characters that aren’t there because of their gender and she brings light to issues that her male contemporaries may ignore. While in Dr Barbara Garrie’s talk we heard that there wasn’t any specific feminine quality or view that united ALL women’s work, the discussion around Sharon’s work showed that she personally brings an opinion and style that is different to her male contemporaries.

When asking colleagues about why she thought more women weren’t in political cartooning, one of the responses she received jokingly was that ‘women aren’t funny’. In Sharon’s mind being funny isn’t even an important quality of a political cartoonist, being able to be angry and draw about it is.

Writing and comics and feminism

Sarah Laing’s talk touched on her expression of feminism through her work and trying to weave her way around her editor’s rule of ‘nothing too domestic’. I liked her talking about how people say she ‘draws like a girl’ and the dissection of whether she should take that as an insult or a compliment. I like the way Sarah’s comic work intertwines with her writing, that they seep into each other and aren’t separate things.

The discussion

Something that interested me was the discussion around young women’s work and the hypersexuality that is sometimes displayed there. A few people felt concern that this was women perpetuating the male gaze that is present in the material they absorb.

My perspective is that this is women reclaiming the rights to draw and view their own bodies in a way that they want. Exploring what a woman finds sexy about her own form is something she should be allowed to do without question. Drawing female nudes is also a very socially acceptable way to explore sexuality, since art as a whole is very familiar with nude women. I don’t think that young women draw any more nudity than women of previous generations, and drawing naked women definitely should not be something that only men are allowed to do.

The influence of anime and manga was tossed around as well. If you have never been exposed to it, anime and manga can seem like a thing that brings weird influences to young people and possibly misogynistic or sexual messages. While there are problematic elements that are present in anime, it is no more or less present than in any other media young people absorb.

I’ve always loved comics and cartoons (Tintin and Asterix were a huge presence in my childhood), but the lack of female characters in western comics left my choice for characters to identify with at one per series if I was lucky. And that one would be an oversexed love object the male characters had to save, and then often won as a prize. Looking back on those comics now, they’re peppered with a lot of misogyny.

In contrast most manga feature a wide range of women that are distinct from each other in personality and appearance. They’re also more likely to be given agency within the plot – they get to do things. For me growing up, this was precious. Suddenly there were more characters to identify with. Suddenly being ‘the girl’ wasn’t the character trait.

There are entire genres of manga dedicated to girls. The magical girl genre gives the power to save the world to girls, and they get to do it while wearing cute outfits covered in ribbons and in a non-violent (But still action-packed) way. Manga give girls a voice that they are being constantly denied in western media.

Further thoughts

I see a lot of myself in what was spoken at the colloquium. This in itself is something amazing to me, as it’s not a feeling I am used to. I’ve spent the whole time stewing since attending, and while writing this I was unable to cut much out of it. (I’m sorry it’s so long)

I would have liked if the day brought awareness to other issues rather than just those faced by cisgendered women – especially discussion around transgender issues, race and class (which were mentioned, but not very thoroughly). I think everyone present was aware there was a lot we weren’t covering, and I very much hope that this is the start of a conversation and not the end of one. While I am grateful that I was able to attend a colloquium that addressed my issues and needs, it only makes me more aware of the people who are silenced even more than me.

The internet has been a great equaliser. People of all genders are able to share their work in a way that previously they haven’t been able to, and for almost no cost. It’s easy to safely share things anonymously if you need to, and to connect with people who might like your work in a much more direct way than the old publishing model. For me personally the internet has provided a community I wouldn’t otherwise have which has been crucial to my development as an artist.

The ‘take home’ message was that more women need to speak up about how they make comics, and to work on getting their work out there. While I agree that this is a component, I feel that there are larger issues at play. During the day the names of many feminist zine and comic artists were mentioned and a large number of the younger generation present hadn’t heard of them. There is an issue with preserving the voices of the women who have stood up and spoken before us. Standing up and sharing our work and speaking now, are we in any way guaranteed that our words will be shared and preserved for the following generations?

I think that we all need to work harder at ensuring the voices of women artists get heard. Not just the artists themselves, but all of us in the community. We all need to work together to ensure we have a history to share, and that it is an included part of the default history, not a separate thing.