Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Which Comics Do You Read?

What do you like to read? A question you may have been asked before. How did you answer it? Novels, technical manuals, catalogs, auto biographies, magazines, newspapers or maybe comics? Comics, its a term we hear tossed around a lot to describe more than one thing. What do you think about when someone replies to that question? Depending on how old you are or where you live you might be thinking about something different than the person who asked the question.
The word comic often implies something funny. It can also be a short hand term for 'comic books'. You know those four color magazines that used to fit in a spinner rack in the local drug store. The ones that featured all of your favorite cartoon characters. You know, the funny ones, like Popeye, Archie, Heckle & Jeckle or Richie Rich? When these titles were popular they often went by the colloquialism, 'funny books'.
When someone tells you that they are reading a comic, it may not be a funny book or even a book at all. This great American art form like Jazz and Rock n Roll has great variety and depth. Not only do comics have funny characters like we mentioned earlier, there are also superheroes like Superman, Spider-man, Batman, Captain America, The Flash, Flagman and so many more that it would take hours just to read the names. As you can begin to delve into the word 'comics', you will find that it is a broad word that encompasses many different forms. All of these forms fall into many categories and from there they easily fit into many sub-categories The sub-categories can branch into many different areas genre, creators, characters, age range of the reader even abstract concepts like the periodical release of new content. But that leads us down a very broad path with many directions. We want to back up to a point before the sub-categories begin and see which areas they fall into themselves.
So what are these categories? We have already discussed books and even the use of the word 'comics' in front of the word 'books'. The result obviously is 'comic books'. The term 'funny books' was a term that often referred to comic books as it described stories about funny characters in these little pulp masterpieces. The term was also used derogatorily to sneer or make fun of the artistic medium known as 'comic books'. But there is more to the use of the word 'comics' than those. Readers of the newspaper often find similar material printed in the daily and Sunday editions of their publications. Only in this case the term 'comics' no longer refers to books. Instead it can refer to items that fall into two other categories for usage.
In this case the word comics is the shortened form of the term, 'comic strips'. Here we have the word, 'comic' referring to content that is very similar to material found in comic books. The word 'strips' refers to one of the difference we are noting. That difference is comic strips are published in a strip of panels laid out in a sequential fashion on the page. The second category that is quiet similar to these strips are 'comic panels'. These are comics that contain the whole story in one panel illustration. Before the comic strip, comic panels were quiet common. One of the oldest comics used in reference to this category is a panel that appeared in late nineteenth century papers called, “The Yellow Kid”. A feature that was so popular in its time that it attracted many imitators and allowed the medium known as comics to grow. It also resulted in the coining of the term, 'yellow journalism'. Buster Brown now famous for shoes was originally a competitor for page space in the early days of newspaper comics. Modern times have changed the use of the comic panel. Some magazines still use single panel comics like the New Yorker and Playboy. The popularity of the panel has dropped over the decades and the it was soon replaced in popularity by the strip. Though a few successful panels have appeared in modern times like “The Far Side” by Gary Larson.
The strips soon dominated the medium after they started appearing in newspapers. With the early popularity of the strip, it soon followed in the early twentieth century that someone saw the opportunity to collect these comics into book form. These early reprinted strips in book form gave birth to the modern comic book. When talking about comic books though, the books themselves fall into a few different categories under the heading of 'Comics' as well. There are many categories, 'Underground Comics', 'Ground Level Comics', 'News Stand' comics, 'Direct Distribution' comics, 'Independent Comics', Fanzines, Fumetti, Manga (not to be confused with Anime), Graphic Novels (also known as Graphic Narratives), 'Online Comics' and '24 Hour Comics'. Looking at this variety of items that fit under the umbrella known as comics you will find a variety of material created for different markets.
Earlier we discussed how comics known as comic strips led to the creation of comic books. As comic books grew in popularity, their content changed to meet the market demands. Original material was needed and the need grew quickly with the rise in popularity for this new type of reading material. Companies that produced these mass-market titles like DC Comics, Timely Comics, Archie, Nedor, Fox Features, etc. became known as 'news stand' comics. This was the most visible form the medium took and at its heights in the era of World War II, reached print runs in the millions for some titles. Another category appeared with the birth of underground comics in the 1960s with titles that focused on the counter-culture like, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Nard and Pat, Zippy The Pinhead and Fritz The Cat. Titles like these were all produced for a new market centered on the adult related material not found in the Comics Code regulated material found in news stand comics. Some of these titles advocated breaking drug laws and bordered on pornography all in an attempt to stress the freedom of the press. A few years after these books started appearing in head shops and record stores another category of comics appeared. Ground level comics. A term that was coined by Mike Fredrich who founded Star Reach comics. These books fell into the cracks between news stand comics and underground comics. The use of drugs and depictions of a pornographic nature were marginalized in this new category but violence and profanity were still abundant. The notion of ground level comics eventually became absorbed into a newer category that became known as Direct Distribution comics. Direct Distribution comics were comics printed to be sold not at news stands but instead directly to comic book stores. A new retail book store model that became wide spread in the late '80s. These direct distribution comics focused primarily on the super hero. The content of these titles was now free from the Comics Code Authority which had become archaic with its McCarthy like restrictions. This material was closely related to that found in Ground Level comics. Soon small companies appeared on the scene to produce comics for this market exclusively. Since they were not giant corporations like Marvel and DC comics they fell into a new category that came to be called 'Independent Comics'.
Even though they have been produced almost from the start of the medium, fans of comics also produced their own material for sale. In doing so they created a new category that became known as 'Fanzines'. A word that was created from the word 'fan' and combined with the last part of the word 'magazine'. A term that referred to a fan produced magazine. This term is now used for a lot of publications that fall outside of comics. But in that case you usually see the term being shortened further to 'Zines'.
Similar to these publications we find APA's (short for Amateur Press Association). Several creators would compile material make copies and send it into a central editor who would assemble the content into a publication and then distributes the printed work to all of the associated members.
Newer developments in comics have brought us the category, '24-hour' comics. These are comics in which the creator produces a whole book with-in the span of 24 hours without stopping creation till the whole book is complete.
Another recent category, 'Online Comics' are usually in the comic strip format or the panel format. They are located on the internet and only occasionally ever see printed form.
One category that has impacted book stores the most in terms of sales is the graphic novel. These comics are generally square bound collections of material or in the case of the books that contain one whole story, they are known as graphic novels. This form of comics has grown in popularity over the years and has helped to get comics back in front of people who would not ordinarily go into a comic book shop and see the large variety of material available there.
The category of comics that is the twin to graphic novels is the Japanese version of comics called Manga. Some of these books are as thick as a large city phone book and when published in Japan, read from the back to the front or right to left. Some American reprinter's have reproduced these for the U.S. Market and cut and pasted the material in a western tradition so they can be read left to right. This often creates a visual dilemma though as comic panels are placed in careful sequences with the artwork in the panels often indicating the direction to continue reading on the page. Rearranging these panels effects the artist's original story telling intent, often for the worse. Another note to remember is Manga are not Anime. Some people incorrectly refer to Manga as Anime but Anime is the Japanese form of animated cartoons. Anime are shown on film, Manga are printed on paper.
One last category I should mention is Fumetti. These comics are not hand drawn illustrations like most other comics. Instead this is a collection of photographs with the dialogue enclosed in comic style word balloons and the stories are formated like those found in comic books. Italy is the country that innovated this category and you will find the form most popular there.
The variety and styles of comics is vast. The categories sometimes overlap each other and often attract similar audiences. One can spend a lifetime exploring this form of entertainment and many people pursue that path. A lot of people have their favorites though. And no matter which one of the categories we have talked about that a person might prefer; everyone likes to refer to their favorite style of comics simply as comics.
So which comics do you like to read?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Water Based Paints: Gouache & Watercolor

The earliest paints used by man were water based paints. From pigments found on cave walls to hieroglyphics found inside the tombs we know as the Egyptian pyramids. Water based paints were the paints used for illuminating manuscripts in early books compiled by scribes before the invention of the printing press. Today they are still in use in various forms for differing reasons. The two dominant branches of water based paints are Gouache and Watercolor.

The early use of these pigments were of an opaque variety. The ability to cover surfaces with color was the dominant need of the medium at the time. Transparency was considered a weakness in the paint. Surfaces like stone and wood required a paint that would stay on the surface and cover what what was beneath it. Prior to the invention of paper, papyrus was the most common surface used by scribes. A fine opaque paint was desired to add color to manuscripts for the purpose of illumination.

Albrecht Durer was probably the first artist to use transparent washes of color in the sense that we recognize watercolors today. He needed a flexible medium that could be used to indicate color yet dry quickly while traveling. From that time the water based system we know as watercolors has surpassed the opaque variety of water based paints we know as gouache. The transparent capabilities of water color is highly desired and fine paper for the exclusive use of watercolor pigments is the desired canvas of choice.

The primary difference between the two type of paint is the opaque quality of gouache and the translucent quality of watercolors. Both can be used on various types of paper but you will find most watercolors applied by artist today are done so on the aforementioned watercolor paper. While gouache is most often applied to a thick sturdy paper surface like hot press or cold press paper. While watercolors tend to have a sort of staining effect on the type of paper it uses. Gouache rests on the surface of the paper and dries in a solid film. This dried paint can be easily cracked due to its inflexibility. Therefore the sturdy paper stocks are chosen since they will not easily allow bending and flexing of the surface.

Both types of paint can be applied with pen nibs, ruling pens, airbrushes or natural hair brushes. Synthetic bristle brushes do exist for use with this medium but most artist tend to prefer the natural hair brush like the sable, for its flexible characteristics and the memory flex in its individual bristles that allow it to reform to a point when moistened. The natural bristles also hold more pigment when loaded with color compared to their synthetic counterparts. Unlike oil or acrylic paints, clean-up after using either gouache or watercolors is much simpler and allows your natural hair brushes to be reused multiple times if taken care of. Many commercial products exist to clean the pigment from the brush fibers but simple cleaners like common shampoo works well and is more cost effective for brush care using either type of paint.

The two mediums find different audiences both in terms of artist who use the materials and collectors who purchase works of art. Fine artist tend to use watercolors when working with a water based paint. The artist who consider themselves purist in this field do not use the pigment that is commonly referred to as white. Instead they let the white of the paper show through in parts of the painting that require white areas. Special frisket films or masking techniques are often employed to keep these areas of the paper free of color so that the white area stays pure. While users of gouache freely use white pigment as they are building up their color in a fashion that covers the canvas completely. The watercolor papers used by these artist tend to have a watermark embossed into the paper, placed there by the paper manufacturer. In commercial illustration this watermark would need to be cut from the working surface of the paper so that it would not reproduce in print. In the fine art world the watermark is left in place in the painting and is considered a mark of quality as well as providing a unique identifier in the original work.

Working with the two mediums requires two different approaches. Gouache being an opaque paint works in a similar fashion to other opaque media like acrylic and oil paints. Or like another water based paint known as tempera. The method involves building up the colors working from dark to light. Watercolors on the other hand like translucent inks and dyes have to be worked from the opposite approach. When working with transparent color the pigment must be worked from light to dark keeping the light areas of the paper color exposed while allowing pigment to build up in layers in the darker areas.

Gouache paints are most often used by illustrators and graphic designers though the usage of any hand made works of art in the graphic design world continues to shrink each year as computer aided design is now the common working method for items going to print. Illustrators and designers like the bright pigments and swift drying time gouache provides since meeting deadlines is usually of paramount importance in their deadline laden market. In working with these paints, artist have a clear choice when a project needs to meet certain criteria. These different systems although closely related provide variety and characteristics that are unique to each color system. And while the popularity of their roles have changed over the centuries, these reliable pigments are still staples in the modern artist's tool chest.

Johansen, Tony. “Watercolor And Gouache Paint Characteristics”. 1 Feb. 2009

Reuel's Distribution. “Winsor & Newton - Designer Gouache Colour”. 1 Feb. 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

So You Want to Sell Stuff on Ebay?

You were thinking about surfing over to ebay to see what was selling. Maybe you had a few items laying around your house that looked like they still had a little life left in them. What would it hurt to see how much money you might make just sitting in front of your computer screen? Then you realized that even though you really need to earn some quick cash to help pay down that student loan, you better go ahead and get your class project out of the way first. So you search the web for research material and an article catches your eye while you browsing google and what do you find? An article about selling stuff on ebay...oh joy!

I started selling items on ebay about the same time I started selling items on yahoo auctions back in the mid-1990s. Auction sites were the new types of web sites that people were just discovering when I encountered them. The internet was still new and somewhat insecure at this point in time. So I had the feeling of suspicion as I contemplated handing over personal information to set up a new account at these web sites I had discovered in my web quest. But remembering the success I had posting items on AOL's message boards where there was no oversight at all; I took the plunge. I also looked at but found it to be a little deserted compared to the other two. Lycos and Excite auctions were the same way. Most everyone had a auction site it seemed but yahoo and ebay were starting to slug it out for the top spot.

After I sold a few items on each service that first year, things really began to change. The number of people online had grown significantly in that time span as more households were finally receiving internet service. And ebay had jumped out to a significant lead in the auction field. Now days, ebay is about the only auction service that is worth investing time in. There are still a lot of specialized sites that cater to a niche market but the traffic and interest are reduced in those environments. So my first bit of advice is, don't waste time with the other auction sites. Focus on one site only.

Remember when you become a seller on ebay, you are competing with amateurs and pros alike. There is a niche for each new seller but you have to find it own your own. For example some amateurs haven't a clue about how to maximizing their selling potential. Some pros are paying employees to do their work listing hundreds of items a day. But keep in mind some of those employees are bored and don't do a very good job with every listing they work on. These lazy employees and inexperienced amateur auctioneers create areas of opportunity where you can exploit the knowledge you gain from research at first and eventually from your own personal experience as well as you continue to gain knowledge about your new online business.

As a seller you need to use a professional attitude when dealing with other people's money. Always be courteous and prompt in your communications. Also be sure to treat the customer like you would want to be treated. It is always good to purchase a few inexpensive items to experience the customer side of things. Doing this will also help you start earning positive feedback ratings.

Feedback ratings allow a person to see information about the previous sells and purchases of other ebay members. People leave comments about how your dealings with them were handled and you want to have as close to 100 percent positive feedback as you can. You will be judged on the items you ship to your customers. You will also be accountable for the description of that item, your shipping speed, you packaging quality and many other little things people will pick out and describe in their feedback to you. As you shop at ebay yourself, you will see that you feel more confident checking out the seller's feedback score and the comments other buyers have left for them. If you see someone with several negative comments be prepared to run quickly away from that seller's auction. But before you do, evaluate the negative comments left to make sure that it is not someone just trying to ruin the sellers reputation by posting negative details in retaliation for some deal gone wrong.

Yes that does happen. Some people are vindictive if they feel they had an unhappy experience with a seller. Some of them are even trying to run cons of some sort. In the collectibles arena, 'bait and switch' is not unheard of. This is the type of thing that can scare away potential new sellers. Just like in any real world retail environment, you will have some small chance of encountering people with agendas that go beyond basic commerce. But don't let those few bad apples ruin your chances at becoming a future auctioneer! These things happen in every business involving sales of merchandise. You will find ebay does a very good job in keeping out the riff raff. They have a very well established dispute resolution center and are constantly striving to protect both buyer and seller from the activities of undesirable thieves.

I have talked around the subject long enough. Now lets get to the nitty gritty of auctioneering. I won't delve into every detail on how to list an item, you will find that in the wonderful help section at ebay. Instead I'm going to give you a little insight from my own personal experiences instead.

First you need an item to sell I've sold vintage comic books, sports cards, collectible toys and a few other odd items. One thing I've noticed is that you will maximize your sales and sale multiple items to the same person more frequently if you focus on one category. If you have comics, cards and toys that you want to sell it is OK to have items from multiple categories listed for sale at the same time. But when you are posting your listings, list them in clusters from the same category. Try to list about 10 or more items at a time. For example when you do pick a category, lets say comic books, then list ten comics and if you decide you want to add some sports cards to your inventory, then post them in a block of ten new listings as well. But do it in groups. Don't just list a comic then a card then a comic then another card, etc. This technique will help keep similar items that grab the attention of category specific buyers clustered together so when the auctions end they will be ending close to each other in their respective categories Buyers who are interested in a certain item might also be interested in a similar item you are selling from that same category. So then you may have them bidding on multiple items from your auction as their eye catches something else in your listings that may be closing at the same time as an item they are already considering from your posts.

Another way you can encourage this multiple sales technique is by offering reduced shipping fees for purchasing multiple items. In my auctions I offer to send from one to ten comics for the same price as sending one. I love to combine items in shipping as it allows the customer to save money and it saves me time in packaging. Using USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate packaging I always know the cost of my postage no matter where it is going. And I can decide in advance how much I can fit into one box for a flat fee and still do it safely so the items arrive there well packaged and safe. The package will get there in a short amount of time and has some built in insurance benefits as well when using Priority.

Shipping will play a big part in closing some deals when a buyer sees multiple seller selling identical items. Sure you can offer less expensive shipping via First Class Mail and other ways in certain situations like Book Rate or Parcel Post. But those take awhile to get there and that can result in impatient buyers leaving you low feedback scores which will hurt your sales overall. Looking at the big picture its better to offer the best shipping service at a slightly higher rate with bulk discount options i.e. ten books for the price of one.

Once you have your items listed, look for questions from potential bidders and answer them promptly. There is a feature that allows any potential customer the opportunity to ask sellers for more information and you want to always monitor that while your item is posted. You can even choose to post the response to the auction itself so that you don't have to keep answering the same questions over and over.

As soon as the auction closes send out your invoice with all of the information you require to finish the transaction. Do not send the item till you receive payment. This is common practice so don't worry that you will offend someone. Once the payment arrives send their new item to them the same day you receive their money. Don't wait a couple of days to ship because they are paying a higher shipping fee to get that fast Priority Mail service, remember your not shipping First Class so you have to be fast.

You can get free shipping supplies customized for ebay items from the Post Office website. Envelopes and boxes of all sizes that are for Priority Mail use but customized with an ebay logo on the box. Of course you can pick up regular supplies at the local Post Office too but I like the look of the special boxes. It makes you look more professional when you use them. Make sure you use plastic packing peanuts, bubble wrap, tissue paper or something else to protect the items you ship. Offer insurance on expensive items. You can get that information from the Post Office as well along with other special services like delivery confirmation.

Finally, be sure to select the appropriate times for you listings. Check other seller's closing auctions in the categories you are trying to sell in. Research which days of the week tend to have the busiest sales for your item's category I find that weekend days are duds for me in the categories I sale in. In fact I have it narrowed down to two specific days that I get the best sales results. So when I list new items I always try to list my auctions on those same days and let the auction run a full week for maximum exposure. The items will end on the same day of the week you list them on if you choose the seven day auction style of listing. (There are also three and five day auction listing options as well.) Then when an auction I list closes on the key day I have chosen, I also try to find the best time of day for it to close. Keeping in mind that you are selling across multiple time zones. Be sure to think about your audience for your item and when are they most likely to be shopping, working or sleeping. You can narrow it down and have all of your items in this time frame with multiple items from the same categories and hopefully selling in multiple to the same bidders. That way you do most of your shipping at the same time as well and cut down on trips to the Post Office saving you time and gas money.

These are just a few of the tips that I've learned over the years. There are so many things you will learn as you gain experience. And ebay offers a wealth of information on their web site for sellers. There are many active forums for discussion as well. So is there a lot to learn? Yes there is and you will learn most of it as you list new items. Don't let the task seem to daunting though. It really is a simple step by step process that anyone with a little time and patience can learn. The rewards can be great. And maybe you can actually put a dent in some of those looming debts or earn some extra money to take that well deserved vacation. So do you feel like becoming an auctioneer? Going once...going twice...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Designer Wanted No Pay But Great Experience

One of the first things a new graphic design graduate experiences is the quest for employment. Today the internet is one of the places you will most likely find job listings related to your field of study and that is the area where many would-be designers start their job quest. Reading through the list of available jobs can sometimes be very quick. Either the jobs that suit your skills just aren't posted where you are looking or you find that you are quickly eliminated from the position as your qualifications fall short due to a lack of real world experience. To be fair the market is also filled with experienced designers who are also looking for work but unlike you they only have experience and no degree. But they also get quickly eliminated from a lot of the positions listed due to the lack of a mandatory diploma that is required in some listings. In both cases you each have part of the ingredients to fulfill the needs of the employer. You may even both have the talent to do the job well. But that one big missing requirement leaves you each out in the cold for opposite reasons.

You continue the search, narrowing down the options while you look for the perfect fit. Suddenly something catches your eye. A call for entries to a possible lucrative job lead. This scenario plays out over and over every day in various formats from message board threads to classified employment advertisements. Postings abound seeking workers with design skills. Even neat places to work appear. You can find job openings in the video game industry, media and animation, comic book and editorial illustration, children's book illustration, greeting card design, CD and DVD design. Even web design is trying to lure in the designers that find themselves with one of the missing ingredients. Yet there is the key. You are missing something just like other job hunters out there. You either lack experience or educational certification. Some people have noticed this little secret in the job searching world and have managed to find ways to exploit this discovery to their own advantage. Some potential employers do this with the best of intentions. Most on the other hand realize that if they deal with certain people who are at the point of desperation trying to break out of a catch-22 like scenario, they can manipulate work arrangements to the advantage that will go toward their profits regardless of weather or not you will also benefit from the same arrangements.

What you have finally encountered is the ever present job notice requesting the work of an artist/designer/illustrator/photographer/cartoonist. All you have to do is provide the work in advance and if the job makes a profit or is picked up by some mysterious publisher then you will get paid. Or maybe the offer takes the slant that no money is involved what-so-ever. Instead you get a great piece for your portfolio. You may get recognition. You may be promised the possibility of future work. Or you may just be competing with other creative types for the same thing. Each one of you working for free and allowing the employer to have a selection of finished work to choose from. Thus saving the employer money and giving him a range of choices while one creative person has work selected and everyone else gets told, 'maybe next time'.

This begs one to ask the question, do other professions get treated this way? Do we walk into a contractors office and ask him to build a few houses on spec so that we can decide if we like his work and if so we may purchase a home from him? Do we ask the list of Doctors we find in the yellow pages if they will each prescribe us their choice of medications for our ailment and we will sample each physician's recommendations then get back with them on the treatment? The contractor can provide a portfolio of previous work for your consideration and the physician can provide the academic credentials to prove their qualified for the job. Designers can provide academic credentials and portfolios as well. Yet designers for some reason get asked to do work for free more than the others do in their career fields. And both new and seasoned vets of the design world must wrestle with working
on speculation or 'spec' work as it is commonly referred to in the industry vernacular.

There are many reasons to not accept this type of work. In fact it is considered by many in the profession, a disservice to fellow designers. Yet some people do take the work. The reasons are varied. Some choose to add professional work to their portfolios so they can apply for more paying jobs. Yet the very definition of professional implies that you are paid for you talents and are not an amateur, someone who doesn't get paid. Some do this work for non-profit organizations or for religious affiliations that they may support personally. Perhaps they hope to make other business contacts from the groups they deal with. Some people are afraid to turn down any work they are offered. Though discussing this topic with working designers you will find that the clients who are reluctant to pay you or try to do everything in the most cost-cutting fashion tend to be the clients that you will be least happy working for. They do not respect your skills as a professional and most designers agree it is best to avoid these people from the start. You can probably approach a non-profit group or religious organization you are affiliated with and have some success at getting some pieces for publication without being taken advantage of if you let them know it is for a one time deal. But try to avoid any postings you find on the internet or in newspaper ads that want you to work on spec.

So if you do go the spec route what happens after you win? According to Blair Enns president of Enmark Performance Development, “You’ve just given away your highest value offering for free, now how do you look the client in the eye and convince him that your services are worth what you are asking? Even when you win in a spec situation you set the tone for the relationship moving forward in which the client dictates and you respond. You have ceded most of your bargaining power on price negotiation, and you have demonstrated questionable business acumen.”

Don't sell yourself short you are a talented person with a future ahead of you in a lucrative field. It may seem hard to break into at first and there are some pitfalls that may be in your path but that is true with any career. If you do choose some spec work do it sparingly. Instead develop ways that you can present yourself to a quality employer and be prepared to say no sometimes. Move onto the next candidate. You often will save time, money and aggravation not to mention some self-respect. Spec work is like walking in a mine field and while sometimes our paths go through that dangerous area it is best to look for the warning signs in advance and avoid the hassles all-together.

Enns,Blair.”Spec Can Be Beaten.” July 21, 2005. AIGA. 7 Feb. 2009

AIGA. “Position on Spec Work.” 2008. AIGA. 7 Feb. 2009