Archive for the ‘Featured Projects’ Category.

New cards + the 2014 Wondermark Calendar.

I have some new holiday cards for you! The line of Wondermark greeting cards — Monocle Poppers™ — are always popular around this time of year, and I’m pleased to share these 2014 DEBUT DESIGNS:

“Mad Night”

“Antlers”

The design above is by the wonderfully talented Emily Partridge! Emily gave me this design last year and told me I could do what I wanted with it, and what I want to do is pay her a royalty on these cards. Because they’re super great and I like ’em!

These and dozens of other card designs are available for you to order right now, if you like!

The 2014 Wondermark Calendar

Is available now for pre-order! UPDATE: It is sold out. Its title is:

Roll-A-Sketch Yearbook: 2014 Graduating Class

A Record; A Reminiscence; A Catalog; A Chronicle; An Indictment; A Regret; A Cautionary Tale For All Time of The Grand Experiment & Mistake.

LIKE EVERY YEAR SINCE 2008 — it is available in strictly limited edition only, each piece individually signed and numbered.

LIKE EVERY YEAR SINCE 2009 — you can get the calendar with display apparatus included, or just the cards themselves, if you want to reuse the stand from last year.

LIKE LAST YEAR — this is a biweekly progressive calendar, meaning rather than being broken into months, it’s broken into 14-day chunks, and no matter what day of the month it is, you can always see at least two weeks ahead. (More on the unique design in these posts from last year: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3)

LIKE LAST YEAR — The art is created by me, and beautifully watercolored by my friend Max Loren Shepard!

New For This Year

The art on the calendar is Roll-a-Sketch drawings, with added biographical information about each strange creature! The art is all mine, and the color is by Max.

Last year, we ordered wooden backboards cut to size and then had to spend a bunch of time sanding and drilling holes in every single board. This year, however, I’ve made the acquaintance of a man with a laser cutter! (Seen here working on the deluxe editions of the Machine of Death game.)

The backboards available this year are custom laser-cut wood, with integrated easel legs, manufactured to order by my new best friend, Jason Lioi of Dapper Devil. The separate metal easel is no longer required; this backboard comes in three pieces and can stand on its own once assembled (which takes all of two seconds).

Of course, the cards themselves are fully backwards compatible with last year’s stands.

In addition, I am offering — as an exclusive bonus with the calendars — a brand new book, called Horrid Little Stories:

Horrid Little Stories collects all the calendar content (art and text both — not the grids, though, because who cares) from the 2008-2012 Wondermark calendars. Sixty grim little tales in all! (Max painted the cover to this one too.)

The book is available as an option with the calendar, if you like! All copies of the book that ship with the calendar will be signed by me. For the moment, this particular book is only available here, now, with the calendar.

OH YES AND THIS IS ALSO IMPORTANT

I still have all of last year’s original paintings from the Gaxian Almanac. They look like this:

They’re super wonderful pieces of art — my halfway-okay pencil drawings were really enlivened by Max’s beautiful paintings!

So this year, I’m offering the ultra-limited ART COLLECTOR BUNDLE, which gets you the new 2014 calendar, the Horrid Little Stories book, and one of these pieces of original art, matted with that card’s text from last year’s calendar, and signed by me and Max.

The overall matted pieces are 8×10″. Only 29 Art Collector Bundles are available! And only 250 calendars overall are available!

This is a PRE-ORDER. The calendars, books, and original art will ship by December 18.

(If you order greeting cards and a calendar both, unless you specify otherwise I will ship you the cards right away, then follow up with the calendar later in a separate shipment.)

THE 2014 WONDERMARK CALENDAR: AVAILABLE NOW. UPDATE: SOLD OUT!

Enliven your life in 2014 with 27 fortnights of Wondermark and Roll-a-Sketch!!

BEHIND THE SCENES of the Real True Actual Stories

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Real True Actual Stories of America videos! I wrote that introductory sentence and then realized it was NEARLY IDENTICAL to the one I wrote LAST POST but I’m just gonna leave it there because THE SENTIMENT STANDS.

I wrote a blog post for Audible that goes BEHIND THE SCENES of how we made them a little:

To bring characters from Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927 to life in a series of six videos, we merged traditional hand puppetry with motion-capture techniques to create a unique form of animation. Wait -— did we create it? Or did we independently invent a technique that smarter people than us have perfected years ago and are now yawning about? I don’t know and thankfully I don’t care.

BEHIND THE SCENES VIDEO:

The ‘Real True Actual Stories’ videos are animated, but it only ends up as animation via the long way round. The original performance for every character is performed by an actor, using a clothespins-and-rubber-bands-controlled hand puppet with a face drawn on it. I first made a bunch of these very simple puppets a few years ago, for a series of video experiments that were basically just an excuse to talk in funny voices all day long.

The more complex the videos became, the more we began to butt up against the physical limitations of building puppets, props, and sets. We wanted to spend time performing, not laboriously cutting out paper. So I decided to turn to my film editing expertise (from my prior career, before I started making comics), and came up with a way to merge the worlds of live performance with digital design…

The full post is here!

LAST TWO: Real True Actual Stories of America

Here are Episodes Five and Six of my animated series ‘Real True Actual Stories of America’, sponsored by Audible.co.uk and Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927.

Episode Five features volatile newspaper magnate and obscure cult leader Bernarr Macfadden! WARNING: Might be saucy; viewer discretion is advised.

Episode Six features America’s most memorable hero of all time, Gutzon Borglum!

VOICES: Jeff Feazell as Bernarr Macfadden! Nikki Rice Malki as his nanny! Narrated by Matt Hopper! And Gutzon Borglum was played by himself.

PREVIOUS EPISODES: ONE AND TWO / THREE AND FOUR

ANIMATION: Real True Actual Stories of America

Here’s something neat! I was contacted by Audible.co.uk and asked if I’d like to help promote the new book by historian and memoirist Bill Bryson, One Summer: America 1927. TURNS OUT it’s a really interesting book filled with factoids and stories about the personalities and social movements of the 1920s — Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Al Jolson, and many others whose names are less familiar to us now.

Audible allowed me to, uh, loosely interpret some of the moments in the book to create a series of six animated videos! The first casts Babe Ruth & Calvin Coolidge as odd-couple roommates. The second is about good ol’ Henry Ford.

I’ll post the others in the coming days. Check out the videos, I hope you like them! We had a lot of fun making them.

Cocoapotrace and the Emergency Beard: A Case Study

One of the graphic design tools that I use almost every day is a little free program called Cocoapotrace, which is a Mac port of an open-source program called Potrace.

So far as I can tell, the downloadable program lives on a Japanese Geocities page, and every time I think about updating my version of OS X, I’m terrified that it’ll break the program’s compatibility and I’ll be up a creek. I’ve made the decision multiple times in the past that a working version of Cocoapotrace is worth more to me on a day-to-day helpfulness basis than all the other features of a new OS.

Luckily, it’s only broken for me once in the past few years, and it seems that random helpful people are continuing to update it. Here’s another possible source for an OS X version. (Disclaimer: I haven’t tried the download to see if it works.)

So what does Cocoapotrace do that makes it so valuable? Simple: it converts bitmap images into vectors. In this way it’s similar to Illustrator’s Live Trace function, but it’s way simpler and in my opinion, more powerful. It only works in 1-color (it generates black-only EPS files), but that’s still a very useful thing.

Here’s an example of how I used it just today! BACKSTORY: My wife sent me this text message:

As I explained on Tumblr this afternoon, as soon as I got the initial text, I thought “Hmm, this design would totally be doable!”

After some Google due diligence, I opened up Illustrator to make the basic design, since I knew I’d want to deliver it as a vector file:

Then I drew the beard in Photoshop, and saved it as a black & white PNG to vectorize in Cocoapotrace:

This allowed me to place the beard into Illustrator as a vector element:

Now everything’s in Illustrator, but it’s a bunch of separate objects and I want to create a single EPS file containing just the white portions. There are a lot of clever ways to do this, but here’s how I did it. First, I took a super-big screenshot — yes, a screenshot! — of the entire composed design.

Since I know Cocoapotrace will save dark or black areas, and discard white or light areas, I opened the screenshot in Photoshop and converted the white areas to black, and the red areas to white:

Then I opened up a stock grungy texture, overlaid it on the black areas, and saved as PNG. I then put this file into Cocoapotrace to generate a new vector version of the final composed design that includes the texture.

Now I have a super-sharp EPS file that’s all a single vector object, but that still contains all the elements of my original composition. All my screenshots and raster images were hi-res enough that they converted to vectors cleanly without any aliasing. Cocoapotrace is amazingly good at generating extremely high fidelity vectors.

I opened the EPS in Illustrator, converted the black areas to white, and saved! That became my final design file.

If you’d like a copy of the actual shirt, I’m doing a one-week pre-order only through October 31 — and it’ll only be printed at all if we can sell 60 copies. Here’s where to get it!

The final composite file is no longer easily editable, but I still have my original Illustrator file in case I need to make changes, and it’s a simple matter to run things through Cocoapotrace again.

I’ve found variants of this overall technique to be extraordinarily helpful in a variety of graphic design projects. Since vector images are infinitely scalable, when placed in things like book design files, they can guarantee a super-crisp print in a way that even high-resolution grayscale images can’t.

For example: I downloaded a digitized old magazine at web-resolution, cleaned up an advertisement in Photoshop, and then vectorized the resulting design. This was for a page of my book Dapper Caps & Pedal-Copters.

In the early printings of my first book, The Annotated Wondermark, I used scans of old line drawings as section headers, an example of which is below. You can see how it printed decently, but the dot pattern is evident to the eye. For the later printings, I vectorized all these elements so they’d print more crisply.

You can even vectorize text — with Cocoapotrace in your back pocket, you can feel free to do heavy Photoshop effects to text. Sometimes flattening to a high-resolution raster file and vectorizing gives you more interesting results than trying to mimic the same effects in Illustrator or InDesign. Vectorizing raster text + images together can also make the different graphic elements look more unified.

Here’s the difference between the “advertisements” pages from the hardcover and paperback printings of my book Beards of our Forefathers — for the former, the entire page was laid out as a raster element (oh, my naïveté), but in the reprint, it’s all vectorized. I even love how the vectorized text is slightly irregular; it makes it look more vintage.

When I laid out the first Questionable Content book, I even vectorized one of Jeph’s line drawings of Pint-Size for use as a design element:

For Machine of Death, any art that came in as a 1-color bitmap, I also vectorized to be sure it would print as crisply as possible — such as this illustration by Roger Langridge for the story “PRISON KNIFE FIGHT”:

And believe it or not, even the line drawings on my book covers are all vectors generated by Cocoapotrace:

Despite the fact that it can only convert 1-color images, it’s one of the most useful programs on my computer, and it’s tiny, lightweight, and free. If you do any graphic design work that moves between raster and vectors, I highly recommend checking it out! Cocoapotrace / Potrace

And hey! You can order your own Emergency Beard shirt on TeeSpring! Available only through October 31!