Monday, June 25, 2012

Bad Cartoonist Trivia Night

Here in the Twin Cities there are tons of comics-related events happening all the time, including gallery shows, art swaps, jam comics meetings, lectures, and even the occasional cartoonist camping trip -- but our new FAVORITE event is the Bad Cartoonist Trivia Night at the Bad Waitress restaurant in Uptown Minneapolis. And what a coincidence, the next one is TONIGHT!

Local "Manly Tales of Cowardice" cartoonist Danno Klonowski started this up a few months ago and it's exactly what you'd hope it is: five rounds of nerdy trivia with tons of great prizes (and some not so great ones, I have to admit, but that's the fun of it). And if you know nothing about comics, don't fear -- most of the categories are more pop-culture related, involving topics like "Terrible Ridley Scott films" and "Name that Goosebumps title". The point is, you're sure to have fun even if you don't know the answers.

Plus, it's easy to put back a few while you play because the Bad Waitress has a two-fer-one drink special on Monday nights. You'll actually want to get there a little early to put some food in you too -- follow @BadWaitressDiner on Instagram or @BadWaitressMpls on Twitter to see some of their delicious dishes (I really shouldn't be writing this so close to lunch)...

Oh, and did I mention that the Bad Waitress even coats all the tables with butcher paper beforehand so you can doodle while you eat? Name one other restaurant that goes out of their way for a bunch of cartoonists. You can't.

Currently the king of table sketches is Nick Straight:

The poster I drew for tonight's event includes a not very subtle reference to Downton Abbey, because I've been waiting patiently for MONTHS for Danno to have a round of questions about that show. Of course, now it's been so long since I've seen it so I'd probably get every question wrong, but that's nothing new. Swing by tonight to see what the topics really are:

Nicollet & 26th in Uptown Minneapolis
8-11 pm
Last Mondays of every month!
RSVP (if you want) on the Facebook Event Page

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Playing Skyrim with Jin (age 4)

Jin and I like to play video games together, and shouting the wolves away with the "Unrelenting Force" shout in Skyrim is one of the ones that entertains him the most, for some reason. Since the shout is in a made-up dragon language, Jin thinks that they're saying "Wolves, hi-yah!", which is about the funniest thing ever.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

FAQ: Piracy and DRM

I really like the idea of the Double Barrel's format, but I was wondering if you're planning on a DRM-free edition? I just can't bring myself to support Comixology's proprietary format, and my Android phone won't work with iBooks, obviously. It comes down to this: I would like to own a file and not the right to access a document for as long as Comixology sticks around.

Paul Constant
Seattle, WA

Z: Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is very much a concern for us, and we had some long discussions both with each other and with Top Shelf in the months leading up to Double Barrel's digital launch. The short answer for us is that we are simply creators, and the avenues for distributing the comics in the numbers we are hoping for are only through avenues that are -- at the moment -- protected proprietary formats.

Need a longer, better answer? OK.
We are very much in favor of a DRM-free edition for the following reasons:
1) Double Barrel is intended mainly as a loss-leader and promotional tool for the final books, and pirated copies floating around the web, if people enthusiastically want them, actually help us in the long run. For that reason, it's counterproductive to annoy people with DRM just to slow down that piracy.
2) Double Barrel is very fairly priced at $2, so if there were a competition between no effort + $2 and a bunch of internet searching + $0 + a small pang of guilt to get the same unrestricted file, we feel like the legitimate route would at least have a fighting chance.
3) DRM is irritating and limiting, and for the people who can't stand it, the only way to get around that irritation and limitation is to pirate the book. If people are going to pirate the book, we'd like it to be for their complete and utter contempt for how much money we make*, not because our product is unintentionally irritating.

*We currently do not make a lot of money.

So such is our intention, but the likelihood is that things will remain as they are for the time being. I will reiterate my earlier point that we are cartoonists, not technologists, or even publishers, and so we kind of have to go with whatever is happening if we want to get things out there to a significant number of people. Our hearts are behind a shift toward a DRM-free future, but the actual crusade is for someone else to head up.

Now, in our own defense, I will point out some of the things that, I feel, mitigate the problem somewhat:
1) It's only $2 per issue. If Comixology gets flattened by an asteroid or something and somehow you can't access Double Barrel, you're not out a whole bunch of cash. And in the ensuing nuclear winter, you may have other, more pressing problems.
2) Along with the low price, Double Barrel's format is intended to be a magazine in the most classic sense; it is meant to allow you to read new material assembled around a central idea, get interested in some of it, and then seek out more permanent manifestations of the best stuff. The permanence of the magazine itself is a low priority. And finally:
3) If there indeed is a shift to DRM-free versions in the vendors we go through, we will make every effort to ensure that future issues will be in that format, and that DRM-free versions of back issues can be had with a minimum of additional effort or cost.

Hopefully this is at least moderately satisfying. The life of a freelance cartoonist is one of constant compromise, and we feel that the current compromise level on Double Barrel is manageable-to-good, which, let me tell you, is saying quite a bit.

Paul sent us this email separately from his duties as a writer at Seattle's The Stranger, and then posted this review of Double Barrel #1. Thanks, Paul!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Double Barrel Press Round-Up


…is pretty much the only thing to say at this point. Zander and I and the Top Shelf team have spent the last week with wide eyes watching all the wonderful press and comments come in through the interwebs. The reaction has been fantastic, and of course makes us want to deliver even better issues every month. Thanks to everyone who took a shot at ol' Double Barrel, and we can't wait to hear what you think of next month's issue!

Here's a quick round-up of all the amazing press we've run across. Dig in!

  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ CBR Robot 6
    "Double Barrel is downright wonderful."
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ Osmosis Online
    "Is any major publisher embracing digital comics in so compelling a manner as Top Shelf right now? ...While I’d be remiss to leave paper comics behind, if books like Double Barrel prove to be the wave of the future, I’ll feel a heck of a lot better about it."
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ The Stranger
    "There's more plot, more character, and more high-concept craziness here in this first issue than you'll find in any three or four collected trade paperbacks from the big two comics publishers. But the reason you should be especially excited for the comic is this: the Cannons have finally gotten the e-comic publishing model right... Double Barrel is a lot of fun, and most importantly, it's a lot of different kinds of fun. If you love (or ever loved) reading comics in a serialized format, I urge you to give Double Barrel a try. I think it's going to be a great ride."
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ The Savage Critics (podcast)
    "Double Barrel is spectacular... It is the closest thing indie comics has to a Shonen Jump Alpha... absurdly satisfying."
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ Institute of Idle Time
    ""Both parts of this double-barreled anthology are excellent... one of the best reasons to embrace digital comics.""
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ USA Today Pop Candy
    "Very promising... I was shocked by just how huge the first issue of Double Barrel is. At 122 pages, it's more than worth the $1.99 price."
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ CBR Robot 6 (preview)
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ ComicsAlliance (preview)
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ Boing Boing
    "The Cannons and Top Shelf are doing something right here. I can't quite pin my finger on it, but I have the feeling this is the true beginning of the future of digital comics."
  • DOUBLE BARREL #1 @ Star Tribune
  • KEVIN & ZANDER CANNON @ ComicsAlliance
    "On June 6, cartoonists Kevin Cannon (Far Arden) and Zander Cannon (Top 10: Smax), along with Top Shelf Comics, are launching a monthly digital comics project that's ambitious in a lot of ways, but is maybe most audacious when it comes to the price... There's plenty packed in these digitized pages."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesday Cartooning Tips: The White Halo

We've all seen that some cartoonists like to put a thin white halo around their characters to set them off from the background. As a younger cartoonist, I always considered this cheating, because obviously your character will stand out when you literally separate him or her from the background; the challenge is to compose your drawing well enough that you don't have to resort to such trickery. In the ensuing years, I found that this mode of thinking was rather shortsighted, because I realized that the white halo is not just a function of laziness, it replicates three things that are hard to communicate in comics.

1. Light
Image: Crowded Comics single panel image by Kevin
This would be the obvious one. If your subject is in bright sunlight and things behind it are dimmer, there would be a literal white halo of light that separates them. Not really a cheat, since that is what one would actually see. In more illustrative and/or single-panel drawings, featured characters need to stand out boldly from the background, and so can be used to great advantage here.

2. Focal shift 
Image: layouts for "A Magic Life" from Fables #113, written by Bill Willingham.
In a camera, when you are zoomed in, your focal depth is very shallow; only your subject is in sharp focus, while the background is fuzzy. This is also true of the naked eye, but the instant that you move your eye off of one thing and onto another, you automatically focus on the new object, so you don't notice.  The white halo in this situation replicates the focal shift as you move your eye from a foreground object to a background one. 

3. Movement
Image: pencils from upcoming chapter of The Replacement God.
In real life, when we observe something moving in a large field of vision, our attention is drawn to it and momentarily shuts out the surrounding detail. In comics, we don't have the option of having something move in a panel, and so there is an advantage to slightly dropping out certain nearby details to draw the eye to this one subject that is moving. It works particularly well when the object on which we're focusing is in a position that shows that it's moving: e.g. a running person, a bouncing ball, a train with trailing smoke, etc.

In dark environments, the equivalent rule works, in which you can drop out details in the darkness as they come close to a foreground character or object, so that there is a halo of black around the character.

Speaking personally, I felt that coming to realize this was extremely liberating from a layout perspective.  Everything I'd learned in the last 20 years was still intact, but there was now one more thing that would allow me to make my panel layouts just that much more effective. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Shackleton's Influence on Army Shanks [2 days to launch!]


"Shackleton's Influence on Army Shanks"

Double Barrel will be serializing Crater XV, the 500-page sequel to the slightly-smaller Far Arden, which came out from Top Shelf in 2009. The main character of both books is Army Shanks, a salty ex-Navy sea dog who is most at home on the deck of a clipper ship.

The character of Army Shanks was inspired by Ernest Shackleton, the famed polar explorer who was trapped with his men on Antarctica after his ship Endurance was crushed by the pack ice. Army was created ten years ago while I was tooling around London, and at the time there was a fantastic exhibit at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich called "South." The museum had tons of artifacts from the five main Edwardian-era Antarctica expeditions, and I even got to lay a hand on the chair that Shackleton died on (despite signs telling me not to).

Shanks' specific outfit was inspired by a trip I took to Dulwich College, where Shackleton went to school. There I saw the infamous James Caird (the tiny boat that meant the rescue of all the stranded men) and a Shackleton-specific museum where I saw the explorer's man-hauling harness up close and personal. That harness immediately became a staple of Shanks' wardrobe.

Since that trip I've become even more infatuated with other polar explorers, like Roald Amundsen, Peter Freuchen, and Lauge Koch -- but more on those guys in future posts.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Northeast Ride Cartoon Map [4 days to launch!]


"Northeast Ride"

Today is the Northeast Ride, a huge bike tour around Minneapolis's northeast quadrant. The event is co-organized by Double Barrel's good friend Jamie Schumacher, who has also helped build and promote tons of cartooning events in the area. Jamie asked me to do a cartoon map of the route, which is pretty much my favorite thing to draw in the world, so I jumped on the opportunity right away.

Here's a quick behind the scenes look at how a map like this comes together.

First off, Jamie sent me the exact dimensions of the map as well as a rough version of the map that she marked herself on a google map. This sketch included legend items and organized stops that should be included in the map.

Based on that information I drew a quick rough sketch:

Jamie ran this sketch by the NE Ride Team, and with a few suggestions it was approved. So now I had to make the whole thing actually work. That involved collecting every map of Northeast Minneapolis I could find so that the cartoon map was as functional as it was fun.

Due to time constraints, I focused only on the art side of the map, and let Jamie deal with the map's legend. Here is the tight pencil drawing I submitted, as well as a snapshot detail:

To make a long story short, after the pencils were approved I went in and inked the whole thing and then colored the map in photoshop. The color scheme is based on the NE Ride's own logo colors. The finished map is below -- But to see it in person you can go to the event today and pick up a brochure!

Uh, so you might be confused about all the turkeys in the map. There are turkeys EVERYWHERE in Northeast, and there's a gang of them that roams up and down Johnson street. And for some reason they love standing in front of building doors and staring inside, like some weird fowl version of the Blair Witch Project. Why, here's my friend "Dinner" standing outside my apartment building a few months ago:

Gobble, gobble.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Comics Alliance Interviews Double Barrel

It's so fun to watch the press for Double Barrel begin to ramp up. Here's an interview we did with Comics Alliance's Matt D. Wilson mere days ago, and it's already up online for you to read!

Matt writes:
On June 6, cartoonists Kevin Cannon (Far Arden) and Zander Cannon (Top 10: Smax), along with Top Shelf Comics, are launching a monthly digital comics project that's ambitious in a lot of ways, but is maybe most audacious when it comes to the price. Buyers who pick up the first installment of the duo's 12-issue Double Barrel on Comixology, Comics+, Apple iBooks and other venues will get a whopping 122 pages of comics for $1.99.

Read more…

Why Digital? [5 days to launch!]


"Why Digital?"

Q: Why digital? Don't you know you're ruining comics?

A: We are big advocates of the analog arts, and probably always will be. Even though Zander gushes over Cintiqs a little more than a grown man should, we both learned the art of comics in the days before scanners and computers, when you drew your comics, made changes right there on the paper, and pasted everything up for the camera (we actually worked for the same newspaper without knowing it -- more on that in a later post). We both were raised using rotary phones and typewriters, and we both see the value in comics as an art form that you can easily produce on a desert island.

But we're also both broke most of the time, and to be able to put out a hard copy magazine the way we envision it we'd have to charge you a fistful of dollars just to break even. And that's not fun for anybody. Digital allows you to read our comics for only eight lousy quarters.

Q: But how do you feel about destroying brick & mortar stores?

A: We don't think we are. We have several friends here in Minneapolis that either run or work at comic book stores, and we don't want to see them go. They're anchors in our community. We actually think that by first releasing HECK and CRATER XV digitally, MORE people will know about -- and want to purchase -- the physical books when they come out in Spring 2013. Kevin put his first graphic novel, Far Arden, online for free (where you can still read the whole thing), and while that move was controversial at the time, he heard from many people who said either they read the book online and that inspired them to buy the hardcopy, or who said that they started reading it online, but decided to wait to pick up the physical book.

Also, in this particular case, Top Shelf doesn't typically put out serialized comics ("floppies"), so we aren't competing with an existing or even potential print product, which both salves our guilty consciences and allows us to price our digital serials to be more competitive with other digital media.

Q: But if people are buying Double Barrel, aren't they essentially paying for the same book TWICE?

A: We intend the experiences of reading Double Barrel month to month and reading either HECK or CRATER XV to be different; The books, of course, will be the complete stories of both HECK and CRATER XV, formatted to suit each tale best, but Double Barrel will be a window into our studio, with the extra content giving a sense of what goes on here and how and why we do what we do.

As for buying things twice, that is the model that we are trying to subvert here. Most comic books are serialized for a time and then collected once they have completed a storyline. Backup stories are rare, letters pages are gone, and so you are paying only for the privilege of reading the book ahead of time. With so much competition for your purchasing dollar, we want to make both experiences worthwhile and distinct. Most other art in digital form works out to around $2/hour, give or take, and so that is what we intended here.

Hopefully if you enjoy the experience of reading the graphic novels HECK and CRATER XV and decide to buy the collected editions, you will feel like you haven't already paid us a fortune.

Every publisher is playing with the notion of publishing both digital and hard-copy versions of the same book, but some publishers (not to name names, but they're owned by some huge corporations) are charging you around three bucks for maybe 20 pages. Top Shelf is capping Double Barrel at two bucks and each issue will have at least 50 pages of content. A year's worth will be $24, which will include 2 full graphic novels, extra comic strips, FAQs, How-To essays, sketches, and more.

Q: If you like digital so much, why aren't you putting it online for free?

A: The potential plus of Double Barrel making a little money and freeing up some of our time that is otherwise spent on uninspiring freelance work is what we're after here. We've put many, many small doses of comics on the web for free (and still feel like that's a great thing to do with a strip), but when you have a product that's best read in large chunks, we feel it's better to package it together and charge a token amount, and see if we can't all be happy with that. With this number of pages, we can feel good about giving you a long bus ride's worth of reading for about the same price as the bus ride itself, and we hope that many people will feel the same way.

Q: Well, you've convinced me. Thank you for your time.

A: No, thank YOU, Mr. Straw Man; it's been a delight.