When I’m not writing or drawing my next comic or doodling stars over and over, I’m making animations for the YouTube channel Chainsawsuit Original. Of special note is the hilarious Legend of Sleepy Hollow adaptation written by Mikey Neumann and animated by me. At nine episodes and fifty minutes long, it’s practically a short film! I spent over half a year working on it and it was an absolute blast the entire time.
I’ve embedded the first episode here. Check it out and let me know what you think!
Everything you do is a learning opportunity.
In late 2015, I was hired to animate a radioplay adaptation of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I took the opportunity to challenge myself by painting each background in a style I had little experience with. Here’s a comparison of two similar shots, the first from the beginning of the project and the second from the end of the project.
I like to think that I improved a bit!
If you asked me what is the greatest piece of advice I had to give to any aspiring artist — besides “draw every day” — I’d say this: treat everything you do as an opportunity to get better at what you do, whether it’s paid work or just for fun. Challenge yourself. Try new things. Learn on the job.
Not too long ago I did a video detailing my comic-making process! I talk a bit about taking a comic script all the way from a sketch to a finished page.
If you’d like, there’s also a text version right here.
Hello friends! Today I just thought I’d share one of my favorite scenes from LOOK.
I think I just like this one because I believe that I, as a cartoonist, executed it well. It shows Artie having a mini panic attack about the decision he has made, him trying to explain how unprecedented it is, and there’s even a little joke in the middle!
Okay, here’s one more of my favorite pages.
I think the robot popping out is really funny!
This is the part where I’d ask what your favorite pages are, but you probably haven’t read it yet! So I’ll just say: see you Friday! I don’t know what we’ll be talking about yet, so it’ll be a surprise to everyone. Exciting!
Last time we talked a little about some tricks on generating ideas based on very simple statements and questions. While that exercise can come in handy in overcoming certain tough writing hurdles, it won’t solve every problem you might encounter. So let’s start from the top:
Where do ideas come from?
Well, the short, vaguely cryptic answer is that ideas come from life. Ideas come from one’s own personal experiences and observations of the world around them. People you meet, places you go, conversations you have, even other stories you read or movies you watch. Ideas are everywhere, your mind just needs practice on recognizing them. Anything and everything is potential fodder for the fires of your imagination!
Let’s use my webcomic of nine years, Massive Pwnage, as an example. Massive Pwnage was not narrative driven, it was structured more like a newspaper comic, with each strip being its own standalone thing. Because there was no ongoing story to continue, every strip started as basically a blank slate. I had a small cast of recurring characters, but beyond that, it was a very real struggle for me to continuously come up with new ideas two or three times a week. I’d ask myself the same series of questions over and over again: should we see what my characters are up to? Have I had any real-life events that will translate well into a three panel comic? Do I have anything to say or joke about on any of the video games I’m playing right now? What about TV shows or movies or anything else I’m interested in? It’s a strange problem to have, having a comic with no rules or limitations. Massive Pwnage could be anything I wanted it to be, which was incredibly freeing, but also incredibly stifling at the same time. If that makes any sense.
But let’s take a look at one specific comic that’s always stood out in my mind as a good example of how to formulate and execute an idea.
Here’s how it went down: I read an article about an upcoming game, I had almost these exact thoughts in response, I wrote them down as dialogue for my two main characters, and then I drew it. I wish they all came so easily!
Here’s one more example, again from Massive Pwnage.
This is an even older comic than the previous one. All the way back in 2009, on a night I remember all too well. I was having the greatest drought of ideas I’ve ever experienced. I was trying to write the comic for the next day and all I was able to do was waste several hours staring at my computer screen. It was still early in my career and I had no idea how to deal with this wall I had run up against. After discarding countless ideas as terrible, I began digging deeper and deeper into my characters, hoping that examining what few characteristics they had at that point would give me at least the faintest spark of an idea. Something, anything that I could draw and finally go to bed. My characters didn’t have a lot going for them at this time besides being the “grumpy one” and the “silly one” but they did have some basic likes and dislikes. And right from day one, my main character Ence hated fish. I asked myself “is there anything there I haven’t already done? Does he hate fish as food, or just in general? Has he ever had one as a pet? What if I made him do something completely out of character and buy a pet fish?”
The result was this comic, and while it’s nothing to write home about, it still felt really good to finally make it, even if took all night to do so. Also it set up a few fun comics that came after, which was pretty nice.
To recap: if you’re ever stuck for ideas, don’t be like me from 2009, staring blankly at his monitor for hours on end. Ask questions, write down even the worst ideas, always be on the lookout for inspiration from the world around you, and stay determined. Sometimes, writing a list of things that should absolutely not ever happen next in your story is a good brainstorming exercise. Other times, all you have to do is choose an idea that you’ve discarded for being terrible, and execute it to the best of your ability. Even if the end product isn’t the greatest, at least you made something, and making something that didn’t exist before is never a waste of time.
Know that you have the tools to overcome any lack of ideas. Confidence comes with experience, and experience comes with getting the bad ideas out of your system.
Stay determined my friends!
Every single story ever written can be summed up thusly: someone wanted something. Maybe that something was money, maybe it was power, fame, love, freedom, a sandwich, or just the most basic of all primal needs: to just plain not die today.
The want can be as simple or complex as needed, all it needs to do is motivate the main character or characters, push the story forward, and create conflict. What is stopping the protagonist from getting what they want? What obstacles do they encounter along the way? Why can’t they just make themselves a sandwich? Can’t they go to the store? Can they not afford a sandwich? Why not?
You could make the argument that this is what writing is. Asking questions and then answering them, simple as that. Let’s take our sandwich idea a bit further. Maybe our protagonist in this example can’t afford a sandwich because she’s homeless, or her wallet has been stolen. Okay, that’s a start, either one of those could be a decent premise for a short story or scene, but let’s push it even further. Let’s have fun with it. Maybe our protagonist can’t afford a sandwich because she’s stranded on an alien planet. She doesn’t know the language, she has no idea what is even used for currency, and, honestly, the types of sandwiches she’s seeing in these alien delis really don’t look very appetizing anyway.
This is what I do when I’m stuck for ideas. I start with a very basic want and I keep digging deeper and deeper until I find out everything about this character and why they want what they want. I wrote a short story set in the LOOK universe based entirely on the statement “I’m hungry.” I started with “I’m hungry,” the most interesting response I could think of was “that’s impossible, you’re a robot,” and before I knew it I had a six page comic. I didn’t even start out with the intention of writing a story about Artie and Owen, it just sort of organically worked itself out that way. That’s where my questions and answers took me.
So do all ideas come from these sorts of questions? Maybe not, they tend to work best for shorter stories, but it still helps to ask them. It might get you out of any writing ruts you might be in and help you start thinking in ways you might not normally think. Even if your short story, Lost in Space Without a Sandwich, never gets off the ground, it’s still good practice and might even give you an idea or two for your next story.
Have a good weekend and see you Monday for Ideas and Where to Find Them part 2!