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15 Nov 2010

I've been reorganizing the 'LIFE/interior' comic. I'm trying to bring more consistency to the story, essentially updating dialogues and adding a bit more context here and there. Most noticeable, I changed the font used for balloons. The font is now Blambot's Artists Alley, essentially because I can't --for the life of me-- find a license for Yankshand, the font I was using before. Apparently the company that owns the rights went bankrupt so the font lies there in limbo, although many sites wrongly offer it and label it as free. I'm using all capital letters for text now, and rearranging/updating some texts.

Some of the pages were too big and that poses quite a few logistics problems, so I'm reducing all pages, trying to make them smaller than 2048 pixels height and 768 width, but without removing content or reducing text size. For some of the pages, the only option is to split them into two or three. When I do that, the RSS feed gets updated and some feed readers like Google Reader get a bit confused and show new pages although they have an old date and should not be displayed. Just check them out if you want, but you can ignore them.

At some point the archive will be completely updated and I'll post about it.

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31 Oct 2010

I thought I would nicely document what I'm doing right now in terms of transforming a regular scan of an inked comic into a transparent image that can be added to Inkscape (or Gimp) for coloring and shading.

Step one, scan an image: I'm doing it using Image Capture in Mac OS X just because it's dead simple. I stay far far away from software provided by Canon, it's simply not worth it for my needs. Here's a capture of the process:

Image Capture in Mac OS X. The scanner is a cheap Canon LIDE 100.

Step two, open image in GIMP and Color-Threshold it: It's a bit of an unfortunate name for such great software, "Gimp", ahem, but let's put that aside for a minute. In my case I did first an Image --> Transform --> Rotate until I had it looking the right orientation. Then from the Colors menu I selected Threshold.

The Color Threshold tool

From the manual:

The Threshold tool transforms the current layer or the selection into a black and white image, where white pixels represent the pixels of the image whose Value is in the threshold range, and black pixels represent pixels with Value out of the threshold range.
So, the background is mostly slight variations around a shade of white, and ink is slight variations around shades of black. What we want is to end up with an almost pure white background.

Option 1: Use the 'Auto' setting. This seems to work most of the time. In my case it gives 178 - 255 as values. Option 2: Adjust manually, this can also be used to make it more restrictive and then apply filters to the resulting image to enhance the result.

The max threshold will most likely always be 255 (all white). I went for the Auto this time. Here is the resulting image, if you look at it in zoom you'll see some detail was lost, but not too much.

Image after color threshold (click to zoom)

Step Three make background transparent: This is very straightforward when you know where everything is, but a bit daunting at the beginning.

  • Add a transparency layer, by selecting Layer --> Transparency --> Add Alpha Channel.
  • Now choose the Select by Color tool from the palette
The Select By Color tool

Once selected, just click somewhere in the background and it will select all the colors around the click pixel, within a range to accommodate slight differences (e.g. all shades of white). Since this is already a pure white background it's not going to do much, but you would need it for regular images as in those the background will never be completely made of pure white. The range is defined by a Threshold in the Toolbox.

After clicking, the whole background is selected. The selection is indicated by a set of moving lines lines that look like this (you won't see much in the thumbnail, click to see the selection):

White background selected. (click to see the detail)

Now you just press the Delete key or select Edit/Clear and the white background will be removed.

Background cleared, selection still active. (click to zoom)

The above is the image as displayed in Gimp with a transparent background (Gimp uses a checkered gray background to indicate transparency). Now the final image looks like this:

Final, transparent image

Finally all you have to do now is take this image and insert it into a separate layer either in Photoshop/GIMP or Illustrator/Inkscape and add the rest of the elements and shading.

So, why all this trouble? what was the point? Well, color is much easily applied in a layer below the ink layer. If you try to apply color over an unmodified scan, well, it's not going to be easy. In order to do that, you need a transparent ink layer.

But we will leave that for a future post.

Update: You can see the final image in the this comic post.

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14 Oct 2010

Yesterday I was playing with the scan of a drawing I had previously inked by hand. I added some shadows using Inkscape and have yet to decide whether to use it or to redraw it using vector graphics. Maybe I'll just fix a bit the shapes inside the room and call it a panel :). I love drawings with this rough feeling, I only worry that maybe it's hard to recognize the actual contents of the panel.

What do you think? Can you tell what is going on without too much effort?

This should be the beginning of the next page
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23 Sep 2010

Let's sample some of the results of my experimentation...

Here are some scans:

rain rain, click for detail
Sleeping mother - click for detail

This is hand-drawn, first drafted with a regular pencil, then more-or-less-inked using pens. As you can see I don't really know what to do with the brush-like pen I bought so I tried using it to make some lines stronger but it didn't work too well.

click to see even more detail

I didn't erase the pencil, so you can actually see what I changed.

Then, I scanned this and put it on a layer in Inkscape (actually although the above is a scan, I used a photo because I didn't have the scanner at hand). After that I used mostly the pen tool to draw the lines, and the calligraphy tool for most of the shading, all inside Inkscape.

oh the beauty of straight lines

In fact, the above is one of my favorite panels so far.

Then, the following was drawn directly using Calligraphy tool, as a sketch:

Calligraphy tool set to Dip pen

Finally, I took that same drawing directly and just added some shading and a bit of color here and there, and fixed some things (mostly when lines crossed each other).

"You're so cuuuuute!"

I particularly prefer the second option, but just because the rest of the comic looks like that. I think I could do some story using just those pseudo-drafts, with minor tweaking for shading. This last one is also nice and has the advantage of being the fastest of all, as you work digitally during all the process.

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22 Sep 2010

I upgraded to Inkscape 0.48 and so far it's not going too well, it crashes a lot but this time it usually saves your work correctly before dying. There are a few good things, though. One of them is the Spray Tool.

As I'm trying different drawing styles, one thing that is very nice and quite easy to do by hand (albeit a bit tedious) is 'crosshatching' to display shades. That is, using lots and lots of lines to represent shades, forming a pattern. My first surprise was that there is no standard crosshatch pattern for filling, which seems odd (it has stripes, sand and other strange ones). There must be a reason but in any case that type of crosshatching is always perfect and that is not what I wanted.

First I created a few lines, with the calligraphy tool set to Dip pen, width 1, Stroke size 0.1, in a 300% zoom. These numbers will vary wildly depending of what you do. I created a pattern like this:

a mini crosshatch

Then I selected it, pressed the Spray Tool (new to Inkscape 0.48) and just sprayed with it to do the shading:

shading here took literally 2 seconds

You can also enable pressure use for the spray tool, play with the width and in seconds do shading. I didn't put any effort on the actual drawing here, it's just an example :).

try doing this line by line

If you put a little more effort on the actual pattern to be used by the Spray Tool and apply it more carefully than I did I'm pretty sure the results will be quite good. I'll be trying it out soon!

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12 Sep 2010

I see lots of people praising the calligraphy tool in Inkscape, like these guys. That tool is essentially the one that lets you draw as if you were holding some kind of pen or a brush. It's pressure-sensitive so it generates more or less realistic and 'alive' strokes.

On the other hand, the pencil tool generates just plain bezier lines that you can bend and modify afterwards. It follows your trace and kind of approximates what you are trying to do. After drawing a stroke, you can modify it quite easily, whilst the calligraphy tool generates strokes that contain so many nodes that it's not worth trying to rearrange it, it's just better to redraw that particular stroke.

Right now most things you see in my comics are drawn using the pencil tool. That's why they have a clear-line look. I like how it looks, although it's quite a lot of work. I sometimes scan hand-drawn drafts but now I've started doing those drafts on screen using the calligraphy tool and then creating the final version with the pencil tool. I should be brave and start using the calligraphy tool for the final result, but I somehow feel more comfortable with the pencil approach, right now. Incidentally, the calligraphy tool is very sensitive to zoom so if I zoom in the strokes become thinner. It's a bit weird there might be some way to avoid it but right now I can't seem to find it.

Here's a sample draft with the calligraphy tool. It just takes a minute to draw something like this:

I like the simple appearance. On the other hand, here's an image first drafted with calligraphy and then redrawn using the pencil tool:

The second drawing took a little longer to draw, but it's still only a few minutes. The difference lies in doing further modifications: I can now tweak, shade and otherwise work with this image in a way that is simply not possible with the calligraphy approach.

I think I'll continue using the pencil for a while but I'm going to experiment on separate comics with the calligraphy tool.

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15 Aug 2010

Well it's really taking me a while to draw the next page. All the drafts and dialogue are finished, it's just a matter of... well... drawing :).

Here's a sneak peek of what's to come. Oh the mystery.

Oh my oh my
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03 Aug 2010

I want to create two comics, one is LIFE/interior and the other is so far called '3-panel comic'. The first one should receive weekly updates, while the second will be more random.

In order to have two comics I thought the site needed some changes, or else I would have to have two sites. I've never liked the navigation, but what I came up with is not that much better.

I uploaded the first set of changes, let's see how that works. The visible changes are:

  • The homepage now shows two small thumbnail viewers, one per comic
  • Comics are loaded on demand, which should speed up initial page loading
  • Homepage no longer displays the latest comic, you have to click to see it

I still need to work on a better design. Well, at least I really need to change the arrows for left/right on the thumbnail viewers...

Anyway, feedback welcome as usual. I expect to be adding and testing stuff now that I have a nice setup for testing it.

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27 Jul 2010

When adding text that is narrated, I usually add a rectangular box and put it hanging around. It's not like a balloon but maybe I should do like everybody else and put the box on top of the panel when it's supposed to be read before whatever is happening in the panel.

Like in this example from the upcoming page:

Text as part of the panels.

Also, I might reduce the size of the drawings, I tend to do them too big. I'm hesitant though, because if you've got a nice big monitor they look much better. Maybe I should play with different resolutions.

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26 Jul 2010

Just a quick note to record how upgrading from Wordpress 2.x and Webcomic 2.x went for me. I waited quite a while until most people stopped complaining about upgrade problems before trying it.

First, I saved posts with the export tool (which doesn't give that much peace of mind because it doesn't include images). Then I did a full backup of the whole site and a dump of the mysql database. I do that regularly with a small script so that was easy.

After backing up everything I upgraded Wordpress. It had been asking for it for quite a while now, with a huge 'Upgrade to wordpress 3' button always visible in the Admin console. Instead of clicking that, I decided to go through Dreamhost's panel because there are some things that need to be setup at Apache level that I know people at Dreamhost had taken care of, so it seemed the safe bet. I also figured I could get some support if I went that way (which I didn't need btw).

The upgrade to Wordpress 3 went flawlessly. Well, flawlessly meaning in this case breaking most everything and rendering the site apparently ok but horribly broken inside. First, all comics had disappeared, which is a bit scary when your site is supposed to be mostly about that. But that was expected because neither Webcomic nor Inkblot (the theme) were upgraded yet. I upgraded Webcomic directly from the plugin directory and downloaded the latest Inkblot theme from their site. I extracted the inkblot theme into the themes directory and copied inkblot-child outside of it so that it sits directly under 'themes', I then made sure inkblot-child was selected as the current theme.

Then, I went to Webcomic/Tools and upgraded the posts. This essentially recovers all the comic posts by migrating them to the new format. It was a relief to see them reappear, as every comic post had been lost until this step. The process is easy and consists on a small wizard-like dialog with a few steps, and one of them implies you manually moving your comic files to another directory. After that, a few of the posts weren't correctly bound to their comic images so I just bound them again.

All the tweaking on my inkblot-child theme was lost, which was not a real problem as I prefer the new structure. I just uploaded a banner for the header, tweaked font size and type and played a bit with the list format.

I tested the design that I commented sometime ago, with a blueish/magenta background, but it seems to clash with white images. I'll try it again at some point.

So, in summary:

  • Upgrading wordpress to 3.0 is easy
  • Webcomic doesn't upgrade too easily (I moved from the latest 2.x to 3.04). I really think most people will end up with a broken site. Good news is that there's lots of support from the Webcomic guys, and a nice video illustrating the process.
  • Inkblot may upgrade nicely but I really didn't even try, just started from scratch with the new version.
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