Making Geeks In Love
I recently mentioned Plus belle, ma vie en ligne, the wonderful article by Claire Ulrich in Le Monde 2 that happened to mention me and Pamela, and led to Le Monde 2 publishing a Geeks In Love episode.
In both posts, I bemoaned the fact that Le Monde 2 had paradoxically no online presence.
Well, I’m delighted to report that the article is now available online on the Le Monde site, in the technology section, with live comments. They hopefully realized that this was too good not to share!
I’m so glad more people will get to read it! Claire so deserves it!Tweet
And of course, I drew a Geeks In Love episode about being mentioned in Le Monde.
Then, Claire called me last week to say Le Monde 2 wanted to publish that Geeks In Love episode. So I emailed a high-res version to a nice lady at Le Monde, and sure enough, they published it, as a “letter to the editor” about the original article (so of course, this week’s Geeks In Love episode is about that).
Pretty damn cool!
My mother has been waiting 44 years for this moment to arrive.
But this is different. This is Le fucking Monde! Major bragging material!
She made me promise to say that she’s very proud. That’s the understatement of the year. As I write these lines, she’s contacting every person she knows on the planet to let them know, and when she runs out, she’ll probably start hitting the white pages, or the Who’s Who.
So I’m really happy for her. This one’s for you, Mom.Tweet
A while back, I whined that the Geeks weren’t really doing as well as I had hoped.
They’re still getting only a few visits a day, with a weekly peak when a new episode comes out…
And so, a couple of weeks ago, the unthinkable happened: I didn’t post a new Sunday episode.
I was busy with the launch of Francophilia, but the truth is, I just wasn’t inspired.
Then last week, Francophilia inspired a new episode that I’m particularly happy with.
And I thought to myself: “that settles it, from now on, I’m only posting when I’m inspired.”
Then Tech Bee blogged about the launch of Francophilia, and mentioned the Geeks in her post.
Since then, in the last few hours, the Geeks have welcomed over
600 1000 visitors!
What’s more, ozoux.com’s oO’s Very Eclectic blog is about design & culture, so their praise is particularly gratifying.
So a big thank you to Tech Bee (la fée) and to Olivier & Natasha (who seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to the Geeks) and to their readers who came to pay the Geeks a visit. I hope you’ll keep coming back.
But for now, I guess that means I have to come up with a new episode for next Sunday.Tweet
After 25 full-fledged episodes, a couple of interludes, and contributions from two guest artists (and a last minute server outage), the are taking a well deserved break.
Hopefully, they will be back by September.Tweet
My vacation from continues, courtesy of…the Geekette! Check out her rendition of the Geeks.Tweet
I’m really honored and proud to announce that this week’s is the work of a guest artist who really nails the geeks.Tweet
I’ve been drawing Geeks In Love since January, putting out a new episode every Sunday.
I’m very happy with the way it has evolved.
You see, for me, it’s mainly about the art. What I hoped would happen happened. As I’ve learned to draw the geeks, the drawing has become looser, freer, occasionally attaining a kind of essential simplicity that delights me.
Take the line that goes from the top of the forehead to the base of the nose in this drawing:
Or the arms and hands (and pelvis) in this one:
Beyond that, when the idea came to me, I thought that Geeks In Love might actually have some wide appeal. After all, Geeks are well represented on the Web, and even non Geeks can theoretically relate to the Love part.
So how is it doing?
Well, I’ve been linked to from prestigious and more confidential sites alike. But even when sites like Micropersuasion (or TechBee) linked to the Geeks, the site saw only a modest and short-lived increase in the number of visits.
In fact, it seems that Geeks In Love is being received like most of my music has. A few people are enthusiastic, but by and large, nobody gives a fuck. (Update: See the comments for an explanation of what I mean by that).
Look at the hits for this week:
Most of those hits are probably due to spambots. Look at the actual visits, according to Google Analytics:
Again, I expect this kind of response to my music. I was hoping for better for the Geeks. In fact, my music is doing much better.
During this time, I’ve obviously been on the lookout for geeky comics on the Web. Some are widely read and universally praised. They all share one thing in common from my perspective. The drawings are truly awful. They are usually drawn on the computer, have horrible colors, and show no artistry whatsoever. At best, the art seems to be an afterthought.
I rest my case.
These types of successful geek comics may be hilariously funny, and/or incredibly smart and intelligent. I don’t know, because I can’t get past the bad art.
As a teenager, I used to be a huge fan of French (and Belgian) bandes dessinées. The art had to appeal to me or I wouldn’t read them. For example, I remember this one series drawn by Alexis (I think it was called Timoléon), in the seventies. Alexis drew wonderful hands. Having read the stories, I would go back, and just look at all the hands, from cover to cover, in wonderment.
I think that a good deal of European bande-dessinée lovers are similarly sensitive to the quality of the art. Gotlib‘s huge appeal is as much about his art as it is about his particular brand of humor.
So the lesson learned with Geeks In Love is that the art doesn’t seem to count for shit.
I know I sound bitter. I don’t think I am. I’m used to my “art” not appealing to the masses. But I am disappointed. I expected a little better (Oh all right. I secretly hoped that the Geeks would make me rich and famous).
So where am I going with this? I’m not sure. What I do know, is that I’ve run through most of the strip ideas I had when I imagined the series. I’m at a point where I have to rack my brains to find new subjects every week. And since my readership seems to barely reach beyond my immediate family, I’m not sure I’ll be all that motivated to publish on a regular basis anymore. Or at all.Tweet
There was no episode this week.
I draw Geeks In Love “in real time” and it so happens that I was abroad (in Cologne, Germany) these last few days.
I did post an official apology that you might enjoy though.Tweet
While I decided to draw Geeks in Love in the analog realm, on paper, with a brush and ink, it wasn’t out of some purist attitude. It just feels better than to draw with a graphics tablet, and the result is “warmer” for lack of a better expression.
Still, I wasn’t going to deprive myself of a little technological help.
Tag cloud is an obvious example.
So is On the clock. I drew just one image…
…without hands on the clock, copy and pasted it without shame or mercy, drew in the clock hands in a vector program (Fireworks), and then erased the characters in the noon image, which I reused in the 3pm image. The perfect copies reinforced the “gag”, so why not? I might have done the same thing with a photocopier if computers weren’t an option.
But let me give you a less obvious example.
When I started, I didn’t know whether I wanted to hand paint the boxes or draw them with a ruler. I didn’t know what tool I would use to do the bubbles and lettering either. So on episode 1, I didn’t ink the boxes or bubbles or text, and scanned the image without them.
Using a makeshift light table, I then hand painted the boxes and bubbles and text on a separate sheet, and scanned it in. I then composited the strip image and the box & bubble image in Photoshop and decided that was the look I wanted.
Notice that I made a typo in the first bubble, which I fixed in Photoshop using the H that was already there.
So for subsequent episodes, I just hand painted the boxes and bubbles and text directly on the strip.
I’ve done “worse” though. I drew two versions of episode 1. Both versions were quite different except for the third image, which was nearly identical. I preferred the second version of the strip by far, except that I messed up the third image a bit. So there again, I composited the best parts of both versions of that third image in Photoshop.
version 1 / version 2 / version 1+2
Why not? I had all I needed to get the result I wanted, and the techy solution was faster than to draw a third version.
Here’s a final example. This is what I originally drew in Tag Cloud.
While I like the eye, the style strays too far from the general look of the strip. So I redid it in Photoshop, by copying a hand-painted eye from another drawing, flipping it, stretching it, etc. until I had a satisfactory result (and while I was at it, I made the hairline recede a little more).
All in all, it’s very liberating to know that small mistakes can be fixed and small adjustments made in the digital realm, especially since real-life brushes can have a mind of their own, which introduces a certain amount of randomness and unpredictability at the inking stage, for better or worse.
The technology helps me get closer to my goal, with less hassle. Who could ask for anything more?Tweet
The US, comic-strip, funnies, format or the more familiar and flexible European bandes dessinées (BD) format that I grew up with? I settled on the US comic strip style for several reasons. I had never worked in that format, and as a staunch believer that constraints are the mother of invention, I figured that working in this rigid and limited format would force me to get rid of any excess “fat” and focus on the essential.
Vous dessinez à la plume ou au pinceau ?
This is the cliched question, immortalized by Gotlib in the Rubrique-à-Brac, that all BD authors supposedly get asked. Do you draw with a pen or a brush? I had my pencil sketches. Now how would I ink them?
I don’t like using the plume (fountain pen?) and that scratchy feeling of the pen scraping the paper. I drew my last comics, 82 centuries ago, with a japanese brush and ink. I love the feeling of the brush on paper. It barely registers in the hand, and the result has a lively look. But brushes are also messy, they lose their bristles, they have to be cleaned, ink splashes around, ink bottles topple over…
Enter my 10-year-old daughter. Like me at her age, she spends most of her free time drawing, in her case amazing manga-style art. One day, she brought home a strange implement I had never seen before. A “brush pen”. Basically, it’s a felt pen, but the nib is shaped like a brush and is somewhat flexible. I tried it and instantly fell in love! It felt good on the page, and gave me a graphical look that delighted me, thanks to its ability to vary the thickness of the lines. Here’s an example of what I mean:
Unfortunately, the next day, using that same pen, which I had barely used the day before, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get those thickness variations. The pen was shot, despite my light touch. The result looked like it had been done with any old felt pen.
I didn’t want to be dependant on such an unreliable tool, so I reluctantly gave up on the Pitt, and figured I’d have to resort to a real brush.
Bristles, Buns and Ponytails
I went to the art supply store, and while I stood there, staring despairingly at the 457 different brushes on display, Pamela strolled through the store and stumbled on another brush pen, the Pentel brush pen. But this one was different. It was a cross between a real brush and a fountain pen. The tip is made of real bristles, and the barrel houses ink cartridges. A real brush, with none of the drawbacks of a real brush!
So I bought it, rushed home, and tried it, and instantly knew I had found the perfect drawing tool for Geeks In Love. If you want to know more about this marvelous invention, read this Ode to a Pentel brush pen.
For example, by then, the Geekette had lost her initial bun, and I was struggling with the way to render her ponytail. The Pentel put that problem to rest in an instant:
Next: The Making of Geeks In Love Part III: A Little Help from Technology.Tweet
Once I started drawing the first sketches of Geeks In Love, I pretty much nailed the Geekette right away.
I knew I wanted simple lines. In other words, I wanted boil down the characters as much as possible, to their essential characteristics. If a line or a detail could be left out, it was.
So I set out to draw a Geek that would match the style of the Geekette. This proved to be much more difficult than I had envisioned…
The Geek, Phase 1: Stumbling in the dark
I sketched and sketched and sketched, and while I got a few OK Geeks, I couldn’t reproduce them at will. Worse, I had no idea what made the ones I liked work.
The Geek, Phase 2: A more structured approach
In desperation, I tried to work from a photograph. I came up with a nice, clean character, in a style reminiscent of the traditional Belgian ligne claire.
But I had to face the fact that this Geek was much more detailed than the Geekette, required a beard to be recognizable (I wanted the character to be consistent regardless of the length of his beard or his hair, etc.). This phase did help me get a real feel for the lower part of the face. I finally had a clue what made that work or not. Still, I just couldn’t simplify him any further. I had hit another dead end.
The Geek, Phase 3: Back to the drawing board
I took a bunch of images with the built-in webcam of my MacBook, put one up on the screen, and went to work. I came up with this drawing:
It helped me nail down a vital characteristic I was missing: the overall shape of the head. I wanted the Geek’s silhouette to be instantly recognizable, just as the Geekette’s silhouette was. With new hope, I blackened dozens and dozens of pages.
Strangely enough, I knew I had the Geek when I drew the following picture:
Even though I knew this wasn’t the character, I recognized in that drawing that I finally had all of the ingredients I needed to draw the Geek: the nose, the simplified mouth and chin, the shape of the head. Like so:
I had the rounded counterpart to the angular Geekette.
In retrospect, I realize that during my years of cartooning a lifetime ago, I never went through such a meticulous process. I was too impatient and spontaneous. Paradoxically, this time, it is precisely because I wanted to be able to draw my characters spontaneously, en trois coups de crayon (in just a few strokes), that I pushed myself and found the strength to endure this painstaking ordeal.
Next: The Making of Geeks In Love Part II: The Look and Feel.Tweet
It seems that from the time I was born, all I ever did was draw cartoons. In my late teens, I discovered the joys of making music, and pretty much stopped drawing, except for an occasional phone doodle, much to the dismay of my friends and family.
Then, about two weeks ago, while I was sipping coffee in bed, an idea for a cartoon popped into my head out of nowhere. I further developed the concept in the shower. I then scrounged for pencils and paper and started drawing in a frenzy, giving form to the two geeks I had imagined.
A week later, once I had the characters down, and with some trepidation, I entered an art supply store for the first time in years and years and bought some fancy brushes and paper. I then proceeded to give the cartoon its final form and to design the website on which I would publish it once a week.
So without further ado, I am proud to unveil the first episode of Geeks In Love, and I hope you will tune in each week to follow their geeky adventures.
(Thanks to Pamela for writing the flattering About Geeks In Love page).Tweet