Monday, December 31, 2007

Before there was RuneStone there was...SLYTHE

Hey everyone, hope you've all had a great holiday season and that 2008 is an awesome era for you. If all goes according to plan it will certainly be so for us! As production continues, we appreciate everyone's ongoing support! We promise it will be well worth the wait as Elders of the RuneStone makes its first issue-length appearance!

But wait! Let's turn back time...

Back before there was RuneStone, another character was formulated in my mind and took all my attention: a lizard-man named Slythe. He was significant in that I put a lot of effort into his story and that his arch-nemesis eventually became Monolith, the enemy of the heroes in RuneStone. So here's a little bit of fun info on him!

Slythe, Reptillian Master of the Martial Arts

The basis of Slythe was that in the near future (September, 1995; I worked on the character through sixth grade and junior high, circa. 1991-1994) an alien race known as the Reptillians (notice the extra "L", so it's not the same as our HUMAN spelling) came to Earth after their own planet was destroyed by cosmic rays. It was pretty much a rip-off of the Alien Nation concept, but hey, I was like 12 at the time. These aliens were gradually accepted into Earth culture and treated like normal citizens of the planet. As time went on, a married Reptillian couple had a child named Slythe, who as a child met a martial arts master (at the time, master of Karate and Kickboxing!) named Wu Shu. (I found out later that Wu Shu is the name of an actual martial arts style. Weird.) When Slythe's parents are killed by an evil cult, he vows vengeance and uses his martial arts expertise to become a vigilante.

Several fights later, Slythe would come up against the leader of the cult, who is kidnapping children for some sort of sacrificial ritual. The leader is a mysterious cloaked fiend known as the Reaper. Then the Dark Hood. Then the Dark Specter. The point of the matter was, he was really evil. Slythe was forced to use his karate and kickboxing prowess against a villain who had magical power-blasting abilities. After tearing the cloak from the fiend, it was revealed that the Reaper was an inhuman creature from some foul realm. Eventually Slythe was the victor, and the Reaper was knocked into a vat of toxic chemicals. Was he dead? The iconic hand rising from the depths was clearly not of that opinion! And so future battles would reveal the Reaper had been mutated by the chemicals into a massive hulking creature with super-strength. (Don't you hate that?)

So that was the basis for the character. In hindsight, the storyline borrowed liberally from many other comic books, but to me it was "totally rad." The story evolved over time (I never got very far at actually drawing the story); eventually Slythe obtained sophisticated gadgets and a sweet super-car (a la "Batman"), a back-up team of operatives, and mystical abilities granted him by the spirit of his deceased master Wu Shu. And why all the alien backstory for a hero who is essentially just a good martial artist? Simply because lizard-men are cool. So without further ado, for your viewing pleasure, check out the various images below that went into this ultimately discontinued but still fun and exciting creation from my younger years. Note that the art is all from my younger days, so please, no mockery of the terrible disregard for realistic anatomy or man-faced females.

Covers for my first attempt at the Slythe comic. Notice the Van Damme outfit. And it's the "first in an unlimited series"! (Still not sure what that means.)

Here is some super-foreshortening. Foot in your FACE!
Notice that this comic will be at a comics station near you!

Slythe fighting the evil Reaper. A nice kick to the face. A nice pile-drive to the face.

And Slythe fighting the huge, post-toxic chemical dunked Reaper. He uses the Thigh Master.

And the "big reveal" with the unmasked Reaper. This was in the days before I started editing the comic for language.

And one more. This was after Slythe had a wardrobe change with a leather jacket and gloves. I drew him here with cool shoes that had blades that flipped out.

So there you have it. Next time I'll reveal more pics of Slythe as he evolved...and you'll see more of the influence that found its way into RuneStone. Ciao!


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Up and Running part 3

Okay, At this point of the process there seems to be an incredibly large and invisible barrier. I have worked on 4 seperate projects where work had been completed by a creative team. These, all being independant, smaller press books, have each failed or atleast never progressed for various reasons. Some reasons for the lack of progress were due to issues I have already addressed. But each endeavor had been at a different stage of the publishing process.

The first project had actually been pretty far along when I came on board. The writer/creator had paid to have a creative team produce the book and then got the financial backing to self-publish the series. I drew issue #3 and part of #4, they have been published, but the print runs were so small and lack of finances prevented proper advertising for anyone to really know about the project. So this book, while published, is still only at issue 5 literally 4 years after I finished issue 3. They have plans to move forward, but such a ridiculous gap in solicitation prevents any continous readership.

Self publishing can be successful. There just needs to be alot of capitol to fund your project, and a determination to see it through. There are alot of examples of the successful self publisher, Mirage studios with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jeff Smith with Bone, Mike Allred with Madman, and really Image comics started out that way aswell. But you need those key ingredients for it all to fall into place.

My second project took alittle longer to get off the ground. I completed the work for a preview to send as a sample to publishers. It had been rejected by image, but later in the year was accepted by Moonstone publishing. It was one of those deals where this guy knows that guy and there was an agreement. I dont know how solid the deal was, or the exact specifications of the deal. The most I really knew about it was Moonstone had a similar deal with the writer that Image usually offers. Basically back end percentages of profits. Unfortunantly for this project I was mostly through the first issue when I received work with a movie property and later my first GI JOE work and had to set the project aside. I had worked on it on and off for the next year but was unable to see it through.

This experience taught me that even if one publisher isn't interested in the property to begin with, another might be totally behind it. Also, if the creative team doesnt feel invested in the project, it is hard to keep them on task when higher profile and paying work comes along. I didnt feel like I was a part of the creative process, therefore without any real emotional ties to the work, it wasnt hard for me to leave for something that could pay me.

My third project had a publisher in place before I came on. Again the writer knew the publisher well, and he was an established and very well known writer in the industry. His name recognition carried the property to be picked up before I was on board. He was offering a page rate, but it was back end pay. This never set well with me, even though I signed the contracts to it. A mistake I definantly learned from. There are two ways to be paid for your work in comics. Either the writer or publisher owns the rights and pays you an "upfront" page rate. Meaning you get paid a set amount within a reasonable time after you complete the work. OR you are part creator and have part ownership of the creative rights to the property and are paid on the "back end". Meaning you get paid along with the writer after the book is published and has sold, after which you receive a percentage of the profits.

On this project the writer wanted the best of both worlds. He demanded 100% ownership, but didnt have to pay me until the book came out. Meaning he places all of the risk on the artist. I felt I was working a full-time job, hoping, maybe to get paid 6-9 months later. And if the book became incredibly successful, he would reap the benefits of that success. I left the project pretty soon into it. 6 months later the publisher folded and went bankrupt leaving all the books unpaid.

I learned from this, to be very careful reading your contracts. Understand what you are getting into, and only sign if you feel completely comfortable with the deal. Also before you sign with a publisher do your homework. What is their past history and sales like? Are they reliable? talk to other creators and professionals to get their opinion. Conventions are a wonderful place to interact with these people. Make sure as best you can, that the publisher is reliable and wont leave you out to dry. It will never be a guarantee, but you can atleast be informed.

My fourth project was again a backend deal. It had a publisher set, again the writer had his contacts and set the deal prior to me starting. I had to leave the project again to pursue more financially viable opportunities, but the writer found an artist willing to work on the backend, and the book was published this last year as a graphic novel. So the project was still very successful, though I was not a part of its end result.

I think I will revisit the publisher topic in my next installment and talk about the various publishers I know. The pros and cons of working for each, and how to present your property to them.

Catch ya later!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Up and Running part 2

Well, so now you have worked out the basics of what's called a "creative team". Any comic can start with a writer and a penciler committed and on board. It is this relationship that has to be a strong working relationship for the project to stay intact through production. IF either of the two aren't communicating or feel they aren't being treated professionally then the project is done, and you are back at square one. So I cannot stress enough choosing the right artist, and creating that productive working relationship.

Once that partnership is in place, you have a solid foundation to build on. From there as work is being completed you need to find a reliable and capable inker and colorist for the book. (assuming it will be in color) Now I add that as an assumption, because a full color comic book is nearly 3 times more expensive to print than a black and white book. That will be addressed more completely when I talk about the finances of producing comics later.

So you need an inker. I have worked on a project, my first in fact, where I had penciled 22 consecutive pages and couldn't have been more proud. It was a work for hire gig, and I was getting paid per page, without any say on the production of the book. So an inker was hired without me having any say in the matter. An inker was hired, and it was his first work as well. Now let me say right off that the work I did on that project makes me cringe to this day, I was at the beginning of my career and still in school. That said, I was incredibly disappointed when I saw the inks come in.
It wasn't a matter of being nit picky either. Entire backgrounds were left out, faces were redrawn when they were smaller figures, and there was no sense of depth through the line weights. An inkers job is to embellish the art, define the art. This is accomplished through many techniques, including adjusting line weights from thick to thin to define depth, and texture to define mood, variation, and perspective. This is no easy task and is most certainly an art all it's own. A professional inker can literally save a book, but the inexperienced inker can do just the opposite. As a creative team you need to find an inker that best compliments the style and mood you are looking for in your book.

After your inker is on board and working on pages, finding a colorist is the next step. Again there are a few message boards that you can go to and put up ads that you are looking for a colorist. Typically, you need to have funds to pay the colorist upfront for their work. As with the inker, a colorist can really make or break the look of your project. In colors, you can very much expect to get what you pay for. By paying a colorist a page rate upfront you will have a much better chance at landing a capable colorist who will treat your work professionally.

A colorist will take the black and white line art and apply the last step of art to the finished page. They add separation and definition to the page that black and white art can only suggest at . Especially when it comes to "effect" heavy books with superpowers and explosions. But there are many other subtle benefits to the coloring step when it comes to the mood and setting. Whether it is morning or night, in the city or country side, indoors or outdoors, these places and times can be clearly suggested with the line art. But all of these settings can be instantly recognizable through an effective color palette. A colorist will use the theory of color to help clarify or embellish the story you have drawn. When you treat the colorist with respect and professionalism they will most likely be willing to work with you on creating the color palette and style that best supports your story. It can be a tedious process that often isn't found at once. In the beginning of any project there are many revisions that require a lot of time. If you communicate well, this can be relatively stress-free.

So you have the writer, penciler, inker and colorist all on board and working on various steps of the process. If you are already at this point you are way ahead of the game! Seriously, I have only been a part of two out of nearly a dozen projects that have gotten this far. And this is all before even landing a publishing deal. After you have the art finished, and I use that term "finished" loosely as to not offend any letterers, then you either have the book lettered by a freelancer or the art goes to your publisher for pre-production.

Pre-production encompasses many things and shouldn't be taken lightly. At Marvel, DC and other larger publishers they have on-hand staff that incorporate the art into a format they use for printing. If you compare a standard Marvel book, to DC, Dark Horse, or Devil's Due product, they all have a different "look" or feel to the book. This can be attributed to their "house" style of pre-production. This can include lettering the books (dialogue and sound effects), title pages, page size, page numbers, ads, letters pages and many other elements that come together to get the book ready to go the printer. You need a masthead or Title Logo for your book, usually a company logo, Issue # and date, Artist credits and sometimes a UPC all on the cover. Who does all that?.... Pre-production staff at your publisher. This also means that if you decide to self-publish, all that work falls on your lonely shoulders.

Like I said though, some of that work (like the letterer) is often farmed out to freelancers. I have worked on a couple projects where the pre-press was freelanced out before sending it to the printer on self published books.

So those many steps of the process all come together to get your project to the printer. If you are working on a "monthly" book, that means there is a very tight deadline to accomplish all this work in. Often the death sentence of many books is their untimely schedule and blown deadlines. If there is a major hold up or delay in any one of these steps, there is a very real chance that you miss your publishing deadline.

It usually takes a penciler working full-time 8-12 hours to pencil one comic book page. So with an average 22-24 page comic, you need to plan on at least a full month for the penciler to finish one issue. The inker should be given at least 3 weeks for a comfortable deadline, even more if it can be spared. In a perfect world you could even give the colorist that much time, before the book goes to pre-production. On that time-line it would take nearly 3 full months to create one monthly book. Obviously that math doesn't add up and you would get behind pretty quickly.

That is why most publishers expect at least 3 full issues completed before they even consider soliciting (making the book available to order for retailers) the first issue. On that schedule with 3 issues done by the time your book is coming out you should be working 3 issues in advance of the book on the shelf. Again...that's in a perfect world.

Sometimes artists have lives, and life gets in the way of deadlines. When the writer is slow getting a script approved, or to the penciler, expect that to ripple through the production schedule. More times than not, that delay comes from the penciler for various reasons. It becomes a very rigorous schedule for a penciler to consistently pencil a whole page every day, month after month. This is often why you find "fill-in" issues through most books. Either the penciler is so far behind that it has accumulated to over a months worth of lag time, or they just need a break. It is easy to get burned out creatively on that kind of schedule.

This applies to each step of the process when there are delays. But usually the burden of blown deadlines gets laid on the backs of the inkers and colorists to pick up the lost time. Inkers are forced to crunch 3 weeks of work into 2 or even 1 week. I've seen this and been a part of these expectations far too many times. I've seen colorists forced to crank out 20+ pages in 3 days, due to blown deadlines just to keep on schedule.

It ain't pretty when that happens, you end up with a disgruntled and burned out creative team that can't possibly create their best work.

There is no clear cut solution to the deadline problem. If there were, you would have a lot more comic book artists out there. It is a difficult and stressful job when working on deadline. The best thing you can do is plan ahead. Start working on your project WELL in advance of your first solicitation. The more lead time you have before a project, the bigger window you allow yourself for the guaranteed mishaps that cut away at your production schedule. So plan ahead, and have a back up plan of what to do if you are late in any one step of the process.

Well that's enough for now. In the next installment I will address proposals to publishers, and the many options you have for publishing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Up and Running Part 1

Quinn and I have been putting the art for RuneStone together for nearly a year now. When working on a creator owned series, and getting it off the ground there is a lot of preparatory work that needs to be done. A lot of fans of comics enjoy the medium without knowing the amount of work that it takes to bring them their latest issue.

In a few installments I wanted to take the average Joe through the process of making a comic book, and more specifically creating and publishing your own work.

As we move further along in the process of getting RuneStone published we will take you along with us for the ride, and let you all in on the ups and downs of self-publishing.

To begin, when you have an idea that you think would make a rockin' comic book (i.e. RuneStone) there are certainly a few things you need in place before anything else can happen. I have worked on quite a few small-press projects. And through my career have seen a pattern of what makes a project work and what are the pitt-falls of the project that could have been.

First you need the "idea". At the very least you should have an outline of your story plotted out. You need to have direction and a good idea of where your story will end up. How it will evolve and finish. Now that doesn't mean you need to know how your epic ends in all its glory, but at least the first story arc. How do your characters change or develop? What is accomplished by your story arc? Why would anyone care about your story or the characters in it? These questions should have a clear answer in your mind, and show through the outline or the story you have before you even begin. The more writing you have done before a project begins the more confidence your artists and publishers will have in the project.

I've worked on projects where the writer was breathing down my neck to finish the first issue, when he hadn't even written the second issue yet. It left me with a lack of confidence. I felt the writer wasn't as invested in his own story. It is hard for an artist to spend so much time on a project and commit to that much time, when they don't have confidence in the story or the writer.

I've also worked on a project where I was came into the first story arc with issue #3 and the writer had no idea how the story arc was going to end. ???? He said, and I quote "if I don't know how it ends, then the reader is definitely going to be surprised!"......umm, I quite the project not too long after that. For multiple reasons, but again, it is hard to gain the trust of an artist when you don't know where the story is going.

So, now you have the story written out and paced into issues, or at least the first issue scripted and a solid outline for the first story arc. I would also suggest at this point to let as many people read that as possible. Get feedback and make sure that your story is compelling and makes sense outside of your little creative bubble.

Now you are on the look out for a penciler for your story. This is it's own beast. And you might be in for the long haul. There are many ways to find an artist, but keeping an artist is another matter entirely. To find an artist, there are many websites that aspiring comic artists congregate to show their work and get feedback. Here are a few.

Some of these are general forums of artists, others are art studios where artists have grouped together and have their own website. Check out the art, and when you find an artist you like, send an email or pm to see if they are interested in working with you. Don't be too discouraged if the first artist doesn't jump at the chance. We often have multiple projects going on at the same time just to pay the bills. It is a lot to ask to begin a new project, and a huge time commitment from the artist.

Before you send that email, realize it will make or break that first impression with the artist. You need to have a plan to present to the artist and in a very quick sentence or paragraph synopsis of the story. You need to know how you are willing to compensate the artist for their time (either and upfront page rate or a % of creative rights and profits). I will say upfront that you have a much, MUCH better chance of getting the artist you want on your project if you are willing to pay them an upfront page rate. Even if it isn't much, that will go a very long way in letting the artist know you're serious and KEEPING that artist on the project.

Now, not many people have the financial capital to pay an artist out of pocket. If that is the case, you need to be willing to sacrifice creative ownership as collateral. As an artist, I can say that it is really quite insulting to have a writer approach me and say " Ive got this great story I want to do, all I need is for you to draw it up! It will be a hit, I swear...I don't have the money to pay you anything, but this could be your big break!" The artist doesn't need your help or your story for their big break. That will come by that artist being persistant and choosing the right project for them. More importantly, they need to pay their bills and possibly help support their family. Will your project be an end to those means? That is for them to decide.

....seriously.....That has happened more than I would like to count. I think as a general rule I hae found that writers underestimate the tremendous amount of work and time it takes to draw a comic book. I respect the time and effort that writers put into their work. It is no easy task.
But quite honestly, it takes 8-10 hours to pencil ONE comic book page. How long did it take you to write that one page? IF you expect a person to commit a full-time work day to your project, and you have no way to compensate that artist for their time... do not expect to keep them long.

For most small press projects I have found, unless the artist is a co-creator in the series, they will not stay on a new project long. There are many reasons. They are offered a better, more financially stable project (i.e. work for Marvel, DC or other page rate company), they feel underappreciated by lack of compensation for the time they are committing, the story itself turns out to not be a good fit for their art or interests, lack of communication with the writer, or other paying work taking precidence. These are all reasons I have left a project or seen other artists leave a creator owned series. Even with a publishing deal, any of these problems can arise.

Landing that publishing deal is really only the begining.

So you have finally found your artist. They are on board with you, and excited about the project. Next step, proposal pages and sending in a proposal to publishers. Choosing publishers and where to go next.

Check it all out in Up and Running part 2

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Submission to Top Shelf Productions

So it's been a while since our last post! Sorry about that, things have been busy getting Issue #1 ready for posting! (In the next week or two!!) The plan is to have the issue posted on the website in 5-page installments every two weeks, in a format that will not only allow people to download it onto their computer, but also to email it around, post it on their own websites, etc. All done under Creative Commons, which still prohibits people making money off of or modifying the comic, but allows it to spread far and wide over cyberspace, sharing Elders of the RuneStone with the world and getting the word out! So anyone out there who would like to share RuneStone with others is greatly appreciated!

All that said, here are a few illustrations I did about four years ago as part of a submission packet I sent to Top Shelf Productions as a pitch. Sadly it was turned down, but that's understandable as Top Shelf traditionally publishes work NOT in the mainstream "superhero" genre (with a few exceptions); also Robert was not yet part of the creative team (his art is MUCH better than mine) and the story was still far from true production at that point. (Side note: Top Shelf has a ton of amazing stuff to check out, including one of my favorite graphic novels, "Blankets" by Craig Thompson. Plus Chris Staros, the main editor there, is a very cool guy; I've had the privilege of talking with him a couple of times.) Anyway, hope you enjoy the art!


Scott / Gar


Dain / Gremlin


Zeniff / Adder


Sunday, September 16, 2007

New sketches.

Just some warm up sketches the other day. I will post these periodically, nothing special, but fun to see. I really spend like 10-15 min on each if that.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Some of the previous images would not enlarge so I re-posted them for a better view! Enjoy.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Concept work and design.

One of the most difficult, and fun aspects of creating a new property has been getting to know the characters. It takes a lot of drawing and sketching to really nail down the visuals for each character in an ensemble cast such as RuneStone.

Of course there are the specifics of each costume that change as we go, and there are elements of each costume directed by what their power or ability is. i.e. Adder's crazy ninja skills require a darker outfit for stealth.

But beyond that, what do each of these characters look like? Quinn had basic descriptions, and I'm sure a visual image in his mind, but how do I tap into that and interpret these descriptions. Like I said, lots of drawing.

I did a slew of initial character designs about 3 years ago when we first talked about RuneStone. I was happy with a few (Gar came to me right away, and has always been a favorite of mine to draw) and still needed to define others (Jenny and Dain have gone through more than a few face lifts).

At first Jenny was the dorky, almost kid-like character in my mind. So I drew her that way, looking almost too young compared to the others. As I worked through the preview and finished more recent character designs, I've come to find her character isn't so young looking, but more young at heart. She's kinda dorky because of the way she acts, not the way she looks. Big difference.

So I came to draw Jenny as that girl everyone knows and can talk to because she knows who she is and isn't ashamed about it. That will always set you apart from the crowd and has given her that stamp of "outsider" in high school.

Dain, what a punk. Man, as I was reading through the first story arc again, I realized how much this guy annoys me. He's such a turd. So when I first started drawing him, he was larger than life, that cardboard cut-out Jock that every regular dude hated in high school. He wanted to feel better about himself by knocking down the other guy. Because that was my attitude I didn't have fun drawing him. And I think that showed. I realized I have to understand where this character is coming from, and where Quinn intends to take him through the coarse of RuneStone.

So my approach changed. Dain's life can really suck sometimes. He chases that attention to cover his own insecurities. And who's to say there isn't a part of this guy worth getting to know. I started drawing him more of an "everyman" as opposed to the "Super-Jock", because I thought more of how his character can develop, and that has to be a realistic transformation both visually and through story.

Here are just a few other concept and warm up sketches for the current pages and covers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Elders of the RuneStone...the Early Years Pt. 3

And now for the third installment of the gritty, no-holds-barred behind the scenes look at how the story of Elders of the RuneStone has developed over the years.

So far we've covered four of the main characters: Dain (Gremlin), Kat (Catalyst), Zeniff (Adder), and Jenny (HardTap). Now on to the fearless leader of the team, Scott (Gar)! I always had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted him to look -- T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes. Just your average guy who wouldn't call much attention to himself except for the fact that he's twelve feet tall, has no pupils in his eyes, and has no nose. While the extreme tightness of his wardrobe has changed (see this circa. 1994 drawing), his ability to kick butts hasn't.

I switched back and forth between giving him a white shirt and a tanktop, but after consulting with Robert later on, we wanted to avoid any comparisons with the Hulk. So I gave him his black shirt that I just think looks slick. Other elements of his costume will be tweaked as the story goes on, but I can't give out details at the moment. :)

So what makes Scott / Gar special, other than the missing nose thing? (For some reason that's how I always wanted him -- it makes him look more inhuman, which I really like.) Comics are full of big, super-muscled guys. "Hey Quinn!" you may say. "He's no different than the Hulk!" There's that "h" word again. And yes, he does get extremely strong when he's got adrenaline flowing through his veins, i.e. when angry or scared. To that legitimate claim I ask this: What defines a comic character? To me if you want any sort of lasting coolness for him or her then it's much more than what their powers are. Scott is more than a guy who's super-strong, he's a guy who is very religious, reflective, and concerned about doing the right and moral thing. His abilities make him a juggernaut of destruction, but he has to balance that with his respect for human life and the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." Unlike the Hulk when he is transformed he retains his gentle, thoughtful nature (though he is indeed influenced by his adrenalized, fight-or-flight mentality that contributes to his powers). It's a balance that he must constantly struggle with, using his strength for good without losing control or giving in to a gnawing destructive appetite. He's a natural leader, a gifted tactician who is the heart and moral compass for the rest of the team. So for me, Scott / Gar is very different than most other superhero powerhouses. Again, as stated in my previous blog "The Human Element in Comics", the big question is whether a character is one with super-powers who happens to be a person, or one who's a person who happens to have super-powers. Elders of the RuneStone is very much the latter, and I think that's what makes it cool.

So onward to one more character: The powerful villain Monolith. I can't say much about him since who he is is wrapped up tightly in the mystery that drives the story, but I can give a few interesting tidbits. He actually started out as a villain for a completely different comic book character I had created in 6th grade, a martial artist lizardman named Slythe. I'll talk more about Slythe at another time, but his main nemesis was a dark sorcerer named the Reaper, who always kept his face hidden under a creepy hood. After I found out Marvel already had a villain by that name, I changed it to the Dark Hood. Part of the Slythe story had him being kicked by Slythe into a vat of acidic chemicals, which mutated him into a huge buff monstrosity. The part about his big size remained, but again his name continued to change, even after I decided to let go of Slythe, focus on RuneStone, and make the now-titled Dark Spectre the arch-nemesis for them. Eventually I settled on his current name, since "monolith" accurately describes him as larger than life, not only in size and strength, but also in intelligence, political power, and evil. I pretty much always pictured him as big and green with sharp teeth, but again that was too boring, not enough to really make him stand out in someone's mind. It wasn't until I was serving a volunteer mission for my church from 1998-2000 that I got the idea to give him long, jet black hair and my favorite part, the white skin pigment that runs down his face and body whenever his passion for killing is being indulged. (See the attached doodle -- "concept art" is just a fancy term for the same thing) Just imagine walking down a dark alley and seeing a huge hulking silhouette waiting for you, with only glowing red eyes, pale yellow teeth, and white dripping pigment visible through the shadow. Scary stuff!

So there you have it. There's much more to the story of the development of the book, but you'll have to wait until the comic has been going to get in on more of the secrets! Speaking of which, keep an eye out for the first installment of Issue 1, which will finally be available for FREE download within a couple weeks! We're very excited, and hope you'll join us as we start on the adventure for real!


Saturday, September 1, 2007

Elders of the RuneStone...the Early Years Pt. 2

Back for more, eh? Well don't say I didn't warn you! Wait...okay, I'm warning you NOW.

Continuing on with the history of the characters, Adder was always one of my personal favorites. He was based loosely on a grade school friend of mine who studied ninjutsu, had bright blonde hair, and was somewhat of an outcast. I knew I wanted a really cool, dark and mysterious ninja-like character. An initial idea I had for his origin was that his abusive father kept him locked in his room as a child and the only outlet he had for his emotions was comic books, and this warped him into an obsessive vigilante. Yes, it was a horrible idea.

Later on one of my older brothers, Jim, was taking classes at a local martial arts studio run by a guy named Tom. Tom's style, called Tang Wei (sp?), was basically a refined amalgamation of every known martial arts style and technique. Handed down and streamlined by hundreds of generations of an Asian family who acted for centuries as the Chinese emperor's bodyguards, the style was finally passed on to Tom, the first Westerner to learn the style, since he was adopted into the family. This became the basis for Adder's fighting style, known as Nakashi Do.

I always wanted Adder to wear a black mask, but wanted to keep in the "urban ninja" feel. So my initial designs had him simply wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and originally I had him use taped up wooden fighting sticks as his primary weapon (a nod to one of my favorite comic characters, Casey Jones from TMNT). Eventually I added the black overcoat, and a few tweaks to get his look of today. I think it was Robert who suggested the chest strap for his throwing knives. Posted here you can see a conceptual drawing that hints at a future look (from 1997, first year of college).

One last note: Ever since I can remember, I've always had very cool dreams (being James Bond, being a werewolf, and yes, being my own characters). And very involving, very scary nightmares. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the nightmares that plague Adder, but what exactly his mean...well, you'll all just have to wait and see! ;)

So onto Jenny, aka HardTap. She went through several changes. My initial thoughts were to make her plain and fairly unattractive, but I like the way she looks now: cute in a nerdy sort of way, kind of like the ugly duckling story--lots of people may not seem attractive until we see them for who they really are. And that's how some people fall in love. I'm told. :)

I originally pictured her as a quiet, shy, mopey kind of character, the "nobody" girl that slips through the cracks and is never noticed. While this was much like many girls I knew in school who never really got their due, it made her kind of an uninteresting character and not very fun to write. Enter the pigtails. She was tweaked to be much more outgoing, to the point of being "wacky", with her own goofy, crazy way of doing things, and that is what makes her an outcast from the otherwise preppy cliques of her high school. How many people do we know who are shunned because people are too proud or lazy to try walking in their shoes? For a while I had her wearing bright red suspenders with a neon yellow and white-striped shirt, but it turned out to be just too much. As I "got to know" her character more, she turned out the way she is today--a "grungy" tomboy who is cynical about the world, but counteracts that with her great but often unappreciated sense of humor.

Her powers were also tweaked. Whereas originally she had a forcefield to protect her from danger, I rehauled her with sweet-looking translucent energy armor that for some mysterious reason looks somewhat alien. Hmmm...

Thus ends Part 2. Stay tuned for Part 3, coming soon!

ALSO keep on the lookout for some awesome additions to the site coming very soon: FREE downloadable wallpapers and a downloadable version of the Preview Book we debuted in Wizard World Chicago a few weeks ago!

And be sure to register on the new Darkhan City Forum, accessible on the home page.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Elders of the RuneStone...the Early Years Pt. 1

Ah yes, time for a walk down memory lane. RuneStone has been a work in progress for quite a while; since 9th grade, in fact. Those of you who have read the "Story Behind the Story" section of the site already know some of the details, but I thought it would be cool to share a little more of how far the idea has come. (Attached are early sketches from high school)

My first burst of inspiration came when I was in Mr. Browning's physical science class at Butler Middle School (junior high by a different name). The image that popped clearly into my mind was of a large noseless giant (who became Gar), crouching and looking out through a hole he'd just smashed through the wall of a locker-lined hall in a high school. Clinging to his neck and riding on his back was the girl who would become Kat. For whatever reason, this image really got me excited and I started to form a whole team and story around these two.

Originally Dain started out by the name Spencer Mabius, based off a guy I knew in high school who was friends with all the girls and had a rebel attitude. His name later changed to Spencer Hunt, then became Dain Mabius because I liked the sound of it. A cocky hockey athlete (instead of football, since every teen movie ever has the blonde quarterback as the bad guy) known for his physical ability and tendency to start fights, I gave Dain powers that would be the antithesis: he was amazing with computers. This intelligence-based ability would force him into a role he wasn't accustomed to, and therefore make him a more interesting character. These powers also evolved over time: at first he could simply remember everything he ever learned, especially computer skills (under the hero name "Sage"); then he could actually mentally link up to computers (changed to "Haq"); until I made it so he actually transformed into living cyber-hacking energy, able to enter the cyber-world and hack through it, perceiving it as an actual physical realm (now with his present alias "Gremlin"). I also wanted to make his skills in hockey part of his "real world" arsenal (see the early concept image), but changed out his dorky "super-hockey-stick" for an electric staff weapon. I also got rid of an initial idea for roller blades that popped out of his boots (due to nightmarish flashbacks of the 1997 movie "Batman & Robin").

Kat also went through several changes. At first I was going to call her "Fireworks" since she could fly and shoot fire (her real name was even going to be "July Forth"), but decided that was the same power that roughly 65% of superheroes have. So I had to rehaul her to make her more interesting. I thought about her shooting explosive "fire-bombs" out of her hands, but figured that was too close to Jenny's powers. So eventually I made her able to manipulate her own gravity to fly, and to effect the elements in her atmosphere, i.e. pulling carbon out of the air to make shards of lead to shoot at bad guys, combining oxygen with hydrogen to shoot water, use various gases to shoot fire, etc. This was also a cool change because her powers had such potential to evolve as she gained greater control and understanding of how her powers work. So look forward to some really awesome developments as the series goes on!

Thus concludes Part 1. Keep your eyes peeled for the further story of how RuneStone came to be...

(Author's note: He would like to apologize for his inability to draw girls very well, an affliction that continues to this day.)


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Inking RuneStone

I talked alittle about inking over my pencils for the preview, in the last post. And like I said, we decided if this is going to meet any form of a deadline we needed to bring in some help on the inking end of the process.

Da dun da daaaaa! Enter Rick Ketcham (inker extrodinaire) I've known Rick for 3 years now, we are a part of the same art studio. Tsunami Studios . I originally joined after working with Randy Green as a background artist for New X-Men. That didn't last long, but I had moved up to North Carolina and joined the studio. It was quickly apparent that Rick and myself were really the only guys that were up at the studio on a daily basis, and we quickly became great friends.

As Rick would work on various projects for Marvel (namely, New X-Men, New Excaliber, and now Joss Whedon's run on Runaways!) Occasionally I had the chance to fill in on various projects. Rick really tutored me when it came to inking. I learned more from him than he probably knows or would admit, but I can guarantee that I've improved as an inker soley based on his instruction and guidance. To the point that I found myself getting hired as an inker before I was penciling full issues. I never thought that would happen. SO all that credit goes to my good friend Rick.

So imagine my amazement when I had the chance to have my mentor finish the art for my very first work at Marvel! I mean Rick Ketcham ladies and gentlemen....suffice it to say, it was a great experience. When we realized we needed an inker, I brought it up to Rick. Honestly I was kinda beating around the bush trying to ask him, because I didn't know if he would want to spend his time away from Marvel work to do RuneStone. As I was explaining the situation, he interrupted my babbling and just said, "Well, are you asking me to ink it?". I answered
dumbly..."yeah". He said... "well, sure" and that was that.

So from now on the work that will be posted on the site will be graced with the spectacular inking talent of Rick Ketcham...or a.k.a. THE RICK. (thats his wrestling name)

I am currently working up single character covers to use as promo art and covers for the
subsequent issues for the first story arc. Once I'm finished penciling those, I will hand them over to Rick and we will post the images.

"I love it when a plan comes together"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My approach to RuneStone's "Look"

Hey all-

Basically I wanted to talk a little about the "Look" of RuneStone.

Generally, the work I've done before has been an action adventure tale set in the world we live in. I know that sounds pretty broad, but when it comes to comics, that actually narrows it down a bit. I've worked on books that were military, fantasy, and even superhero in nature. What I found in RuneStone was a combination of all of these things and more!

The preview that you can see on the site was my first time doing the penciling and inking myself. Previously, I've either had to pencil very tightly because I didn't have the inker to finish the lines, or I was the inker over another penciler. Having to pencil tightly (and very clean) was due to not having an inker for most of the GI JOE books I did. I was the last say, when it came to the line art. So that made me very detail and line weight concsious.
I will go into the professional benefits of an inker, and being on both sides of the process at a later date.
Only recently with the work I did at Marvel was I finally allowed to pencil a book knowing a very professional inker (Rick Ketcham) would be handling the finished line art. I could trust the process enough to not have to draw every bit of detail, texture and line weight in. It's amazing how much time that saved me!

So, having professional experience in both steps of the process allowed me the ability to do both jobs on the preview. What I learned very quickly about RuneStone, was that we would be better off getting someone else to ink it. Heh.
Towards the end of the preview I was finally letting up in the pencil stage, and doing the details and finishing touches with the inks. But I'm still too set in my ways for that to save enough time.

One interesting effect of inking my pencils, I was alot more free with spotting blacks and finding places for heavy shadows. It certainly helped with the mood of the preview, being at night and the seriousness of the fight. When we have more scenes at the school, I'm sure that will lighten up as needed.

So with a moodier feel to the art through heavier shadows, another major contributor to the art is of course the colors.
By acquiring Bob Pedroza to color the book, we knew going into the preview that he would really be able to handle the effects and mood of the fight. The abilities each character has needed to have their own signature color/design. We wanted them to very much feel like an unique individual, but also keep them feeling like a team. Bob did an amazing job with that. Gar's blue transformation, Jenny's orange surrounding armor effects, Kat's ability to manipulate fire were all rendered in a unique way. However, you never feel like it's out of place in this world we've created.
We wanted a very slick, but dark superhero atmosphere. And through a combination of shadows and texture in the inks, and Bob's many embelishments through great color choices, we've found a great "look" for the series!

At any rate, there is a look into the process. I will be posting more sketches and character designs, so be sure to check out the block regularly!

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Art of Runestone

Robert here!

We are excited and pleased with the reception of Runestone so far! We had great success at the Chicago Convention being able to get the Runestone preview books in people's hands and get some feedback from the crowds. We hope to hear from all of you that are reading the blog and checking the site regularly!

So please comment on the blog or email us directly at with your comments on the preview you can find on the site, or you read through the preview book.

As the artist for Runestone, I will first confess that the pages and promo art look as great as they do, because Bob Pedroza has really surpassed all our expectations and makes RuneStone come alive! We found Bob through an ad we posted on ( a great web forum for comic book colorists to showcase their art) He responded with a gallery of his work, and we quickly hired him!

The first art for Runestone began in Quinn's sketches and doodles in high school, and would continue to be refined through his college education at the Savannah College of Art and Design. It was there that we met. We were both Sequential art majors, basically learning to tell a story through art, and we went to the same church aswell.

Quinn told the story to me over the course of a long church trip, and I was facinated by the characters and their struggles with life, and newfound powers. Soon after I was doing some initial character designs of the major characters. This was about 4 years ago.

Since then we talked about putting out Runestone as a book, but I knew I wasn't quite ready to tackle such a cool story. I just felt like I wasn't good enough. Since graduation I went on to work as a background artist for New X-Men, New Excaliber, and JLA. I started getting my first solo work through Devils Due publishing working on GI JOE (namely SnakeEyes Declassified, and Dreadnoks Declassified). I've kept pretty steady working for them over the last 3 years on various titles. Finally this summer I was able to do my first work for Marvel comics! It was a blast, and a lot of fun considering my first story had Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk all in one story!

Starting last November I began work on RuneStone again with revised character designs, and begining to layout the Preview you can see here on the site.

So, finally I felt my art was at a level that I could do RuneStone justice. We are currently in production on the first 40 page issue that will debut here on the site for FREE! Penciled by myself, inked by Rick Ketcham (New X-Men, New Excaliber, Venom, and currently inking Joss Whedon's run on Runaways for Marvel!!!), and of course colored by Bob Pedroza!

Be sure to check out the site as we update art and sketches for the upcoming story.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Human Element in Comics

Today I wanted to write on a topic that I've thought often about and I've tried my best to implement. It's the importance of the human element in comics.

We as humans are so complex; there is so much about ourselves that we don't understand. Case in point: for anyone who's ever attempted dating, there's a lot to figure out and work through. Does that girl like me? What is it about myself that I can change so she will? Should I even try to improve myself, or am I okay the way I am? And when I do get the courage to ask her out, how do I proceed? I've had so many times where things just haven't worked out for one reason or another. I'll like a girl a lot, then after we go out, my feelings for her fade. Why? Am I non-committal? Is it just not right? And perhaps the biggest question of all: Why can't I just find someone who I like, who likes me the same way? And how to make it last? Those of you who have had long-term relationships (I regret to say I'm not really in that category yet) know that there's a whole new slew of challenges to deal with once you have committed to someone. And all this is just on the subject of love.

Just like songs, poetry, paintings, movies, etc., comics are a great way to look at ourselves and our fellow human beings and attempt to explore why we are the way we are, and to learn these lessons in a safe medium (i.e. when the story's over, we shut it and don't have the repurcussions inherent in real life). We also have the luxury of theorizing on the human condition in fantastic scenarios we'd most likely not encounter in real life. This opens the door for some truly rich journeys of creativity.

Some examples: As a lifelong fan of the Mirage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series, several stories touched on this. In Vol. 1, Issue 28, the Turtles come up against a dying race of Fish-men. The fight ends when the last remaining female member of this race dies from exposure to a nearby nuclear power plant. As the survivors solemnly take the body of their kin back to the waters, the thought hits April (who is narrating) that just like the fish-men, the Turtles are the last of their race, and one day, they will die and be gone. In a very solemn and touching ending, April takes Casey Jones in an embrace saying, "Just hold me, Casey."

In Issue 9 from Vol. 2 of the Tales of the TMNT series, Michelangelo has to come to grips with the death of his beloved cat Klunk. When offered a chance by a mysterious stranger to sacrifice the life of a local alleycat in place of Klunk, Mikey hesitates, then realizes no matter how much he loves Klunk, he can't make the sacrifice of an innocent soul, even a mangy, flea-bitten one. As the story ends, Mikey finds out that the alleycat is the mother of Klunk's kittens, and hope softens the bitterness as life goes on.

Another fine example is the graphic novel Creature Tech by Doug TenNapel (from Top Shelf). Within the framework of a goofy, action-packed science-fiction adventure involving alien symbiotes, a mantis-man bodyguard, a malevolent ghost and a resurrected space eel, there is the story of a scientist coming to grips with his religious beliefs and convictions -- taking a look at what he really believes and knows for himself, and how that will change his life.

A final example is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. In the story, an exiled Batman in his sixties must come to grips with a world that claims they don't need superheroes to save the day, even as their society is torn apart by sadistic criminals who don't believe in retirement. He decides to take up the cape once again, dishing out his own brand of harsh justice despite a media-controlled society that brands him as no better than the criminals he's hunting. It's a bleak and dark look at the character that forces us to ask ourselves the questions: When does one let politicians and popular opinion determine our inner convictions? And when do our inner convictions mirror the darkness we are trying to fight?

Now you may have noticed that I've focused on super-hero themed books. There are many, many genres of comics out there, several of which are focused specifically on this human element I've been discussing; some not based in fiction at all (Blankets by Craig Thompson (from Top Shelf) is a shining example of this--recommended reading, as far as I'm concerned). But the reason I have talked specifically about the super-hero genre is because it's what I prefer to write (i.e. Elders of the RuneStone). In this mindset, I've realized that there are two main ways to implement the human element: There are comics that are about super-heroes who happen to be people, and there are comics that are about people who happen to be super-heroes. Personally, I prefer the latter. And in the past several years, mainstream comics have definitely moved in that direction. Thank goodness!

I think there's a place for the "popcorn comic". Sometimes we just feel like having a good time. For people who want non-stop action without having to think much, I would recommend the early 90's Image Comics. Big muscles, big boobs, big guns, crap gets blown up and everyone goes home happy. Back in the day they sold like crazy. But for my part, it makes me feel empty after a while. Case in point: the movie Blade (I know, it's a movie, but it's based on a comic :) ) was full of cool fights and great action. But it was hard for me to care about a hero that had so little personality. I didn't see myself in him at all, so how can I care if he dies? Whereas what has made the Spider-man comics and films so successful is their blend of action with a deep look at Peter Parker's life as a normal human being: trying to juggle his fantastic powers with holding a job, dating Mary Jane, and paying the rent.

Those who know me will see that the plights of the heroes in Elders of the RuneStone to be very auto-biographical. Some are taken directly from my life: Scott's mother dying of leukemia, his father being remarried, and the subsequent introduction of new brothers and sisters, etc. Another is Jenny's trying to keep her chin up in a school that doesn't easily accept new ways of thinking.

My hope is that as I write these stories I can better understand myself and always be moving forward in my life. If I can somehow help shed some light and help those who read my work do the same, then all the better. And if comics can transcend their sticky label as mindless, childish entertainment and truly help us become better people, well then, I guess it's art after all, isn't it?


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Website Update and Sketches

Hey All!

I wanted to say thanks to all those who are checking out the website while we are getting things together. Elaine is working feverously to get the site completed, so we certainly appreciate her hard work and your patience with us.

For the next few weeks we will be adding content and making the website a way to get introduced to RuneStone. If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to contact us through email. That can be done through the contact button on the site or email us directly at

We will have the second half of the preview uploaded soon for all to see! Once production is completely underway we will be posting 5 new pages of story every 2 weeks. The first issue is a double-sized 40 PAGER! So expect 8 free updates in the course of the next 3-4 months.

In between those page uploads I will be uploading to the blog new sketches and behind the scenes stories and art associated with RuneStone!

Here is one to get started.

This is Smiley, the leader of a gang that members of RuneStone face in the first issue. He is incredibly creepy to draw....

First post! and the unveiling at Wizard World Chicago

Well it's finally up, the creators' blog for Elders of the RuneStone. I can't tell you how excited I am to be involved in this comic series, seeing as how it's a story I've been working on my entire adult life. To finally see it as a reality--well, it's just something very special. I hope that all of you will be along for the ride as we kick things into high gear!

So a little report on how things went in Chicago this past weekend as we officially unveiled Elders of the RuneStone to the world at the Wizard World Con. I flew from Salt Lake City, Utah to Springfield, Illinois where Robert (the artist on the series) lives with his wife and son, and soon joined by his sister Elaine (our web master) we set about feverishly preparing the last details for the show. Basically, that meant getting all the preview books ready to go with teaser pages of the series and behind-the-scenes character art. Although we had spent the past several months on everything from the artwork (a huge process) to the coloring (from our amazing new ally Bob Pedroza) to lettering (me) to the trademarking process (thanks Dave) to registering and building the website (many, many thanks Elaine), there was still a LOT to do.

And that meant dealing with every possible setback.

We had problems getting the art files to work between our three computers. Then we had problems getting the fonts to work right. Then the ink ran out of Elaine's printer as we printed the books. Then the store didn't have any more ink, so as a last ditch effort, we bought a NEW PRINTER. Then THAT one ran out of ink. And all this being done in the last hour before we had to leave for Chicago. Stressful? Yes. Frustrating? Oh yeah. But rewarding? Well, of the 50 preview books we printed (which after all was said and done came out looking awesome), we gave several away to publishers and fellow artists, kept a few for ourselves, and sold the rest. Robert, who is much more experienced in the convention circuit than myself, said he expected us to sell 20 at most. What a blessing it was that our debut went so well!

A special thanks goes out to Mike O'Sullivan, editor at Devil's Due Publishing, for graciously letting us crash in his apartment for the duration of the show, and for his generous friendship. We had a great (and exhausting) time and are already seeing the results as our site has received numerous hits.

For those of you checking out Elders of the RuneStone for the first time, we're glad to have you along for the trip. More updates coming very soon as we prepare for the launch of the FIRST ISSUE, available for download this fall! Until then, get ready to rock!! And enjoy the features we've added thus far as the story unfolds.