Online Art Censorship Marches Forward, Unchecked

Article / 04 March 2020

Well I got an e-mail this morning that does not bode well for my continued presence on artstation. One of my works, not containing nudity, has been deemed offensive and removed from the print store. First, here is the e-mail that I received:

And here is my response:

And for reference, here is a shot of the image in question:

I would love to have someone explain to me if they even understand the context of this painting and what reasons they find it offensive. Do they understand whether it is anti-religious OR anti-commercialism?

Either way, this kind of shit is nonsense and becoming too prevalent. As much as I hate wasting my creative time on complete website rebuilds, I'll be doing it soon, as I won't stay on artstation or any forum that is going to bow to such ridiculous complaints. 

I will always be on formats and platforms that don't censor and suppress art and expression. I'll be doing the research and appreciate anyone who forwards me info on platforms that allow freedom of expression. 

I don't want to support suppression and censorship. I don't want to build my own platform. I want to make art. If a free expression platform on social media, art, news anything doesn't exist I will create it. I don't want to, but I will if I have to. I'd prefer to support existing platforms that allow creative freedom, so I'm open to recommendations from anyone who has any.

After all of the trouble getting Trumpocalypse Now out and available to readers and gamers, I just have no tolerance or patience for this type of narrow-minded knee-jerk pettiness any more. 


I think I may have outgrown comics - Part 4 of 4 - Changing forms of art

Article / 25 February 2020

I think it's clear by now, if you've read the previous articles in this series (let's face it, you should have) starting with this one right here: 

Then you already know that I don't have much of an optimistic outlook for the future of comics, at least the way that we know it. Hearkening back to one of the points in that original article, the comic industry has failed to keep up with changing delivery methods and formats, instead of continuing to push the overpriced and gimmicky print format (Hey we did 47 different covers for this one issue!). 

Let's be real. At&T and Disney could shut down monthly print comics of their properties tomorrow and be fine. The money is in the movies and games and merchandise. Not only Could they stop producing new comics, they could do it and actually make the fans happy. They could just start reprinting the 80 plus years worth of comics in their library as affordable reprints every month. They could publish collected trades every month for 20-30 years and when they were done, start re-printing them again. There are more than enough stories to draw from for movies, games, TV and their reboots every 5-10 years. Whether it was affordable monthly floppy reprints or trades, they could support comic artists by commissioning new covers or even maintaining just a handful of new adventures. They could also print monthly 100 page giants with one new story in them, giving fans the best of both worlds; new stories of favorite characters and classic stories they may not ever have had a chance to read otherwise. They could even commission existing comic artists  to produce new original graphic novels to be published of top tier characters every 3-6 months, thus maintaining the livelihood of at least some mainstream comics creators.  (Though If they do this I think it will only be during a transition period until they move to a fully licensed format as outlined in part 3, here:

If they wanted to exist beyond this as an official publisher instead of a licensor, they'd likely need a time-machine to go back and embrace new comic-style storytelling formats like visual novels (choose your own adventure style narrative video games that are hugely popular in Asian countries), or comics tailored for widescreen format and digital distribution instead of traditional print style formatting. DC's early attempts at widescreen web comics, called Zuda comics, ultimately failed, but that failure was a mix of poor execution and lack of corporate interest, fearing change and revolving back to the familiar print format for their profits. Had they taken another stab at a successful format, today's comics landscape could be quite different. DC Universes streaming service that gives subscribers the ability to read DC's catalog on their TV is a step in the right direction, but one that may be too little, too late. 

The time is coming soon that technology is going to change the nature of art as we know it as well. Unless you've been living under a rock for the better part of the last 20 years, you're probably familiar with the advent of digital illustration and the growing number of artists that produce their art electronically (with tablets and software) instead of traditionally (paper, pencil, ink). What i'm talking about goes a step beyond this.

Now, I absolutely love and respect the work of every comic creator, especially those of previous generations, heck, I'm part of that group, and I always think there will be a place for comic art as we classically recognize it. I'm right along there with everyone else who has spent years honing their craft and refining their skills in perspective, proportion, light & shadow, body language and a million other facets of creating professional quality illustration.

What I am talking about is the advent, ease and accessibility of 3D CGI art and modeling. Some of this technology is already being used in places in comics (some professionals that I know of have actually been CGIing their work for years and hiding it with digital filters, editing and layering with digital art techniques), but as the next generation comes up in a world where digital modeling is easily accessible and accepted as a visual part of entertainment, there will come a time when the traditional skills of art and illustration will become niche skills. I'm not saying they will go the way of the town blacksmith, but they won't be the dominant form or style of comics, or even commercial illustration. 

Think of it this way: Why are comic books and cave paintings drawn? Because it's the fastest and easiest way to visually share an idea in your imagination with someone else. Sure you might be able to tell them and explain it, but what if you don't speak the same language? Drawing has been the quickest and easiest way to explain something that you imagine to someone else clearly since the dawn of man. Thanks to technology that fact is on the cusp of changing.

Up until the mid-40s or so, most magazines and newspapers used illustrations, because that was the best way to visually show a picture of something. With the advent of affordable and accessible photography that fact changed quickly. Those that made a living illustrating newspapers found themselves quickly out of work. Those that were smart became photographers.

CGI character design, animation and modeling is not new. Anyone over 30 has literally watched the technology grow from very rough early infancy, to the prevalent use in all manner of media and pop culture that it is today. And that use is growing. And CGI software becomes easier to use and more accessible every year. Self-publishing and authoring tools have given the common person access to sharing their work in many different formats. 

CGi gives a designer or artist the ability to create a virtual object or character that exists in a 3d space with 3 dimensions that they can rotate view and examine with high definition. 

Let's look at it this way. Why does drawing exist? Because it's the fastest easiest way to visually explain what we see in our imagination. If there was a better option that was as easily accessible to someone then we would use it.....

Up until now, drawing has been the best choice. Thanks to technology, 3D modelling will soon overtake that age-old truth by making the ability to craft your ideas in high-detail for practical use. 

People spend years perfecting the skills needed to draw and ink well. I'm one of them. The reason for that is to be able to make those ideas put to paper more and more accurate to what we see in our imagination. I've been drawing for 33 years. Working in comics for 20. I've been working with CGI design and animation for less than 2 years. I can tell you already that I can create an illustration or comic book page in more detail and more accurate to my imagination in less time with CGI than with using my drawing skills.

I'm not saying that there's no place for drawing skills or that I don't still use my own. Personally, I tend towards using my drawing skills in the earliest rough stages, and when the design idea is more solidified in my mind, then I move to 3D modelling. As an artist, the choice has become natural, because I know that the work I do in 3D is more detailed, realistic and accurate to what I'm imagining than any drawing can be. 

That doesn't mean that I think 2D classic comic art will disappear. I love the look of many 2D artists. I'd never want to see Cyanide and Happiness or the plethora of other web comics and independent comics that I love switch over to CGI rendering. They don't work that way. The style of their art is part of their charm. But when it comes to mainstream monthly scheduled comics run on a regular deadline, written in a format where publishers survive if readers keep coming back for the next issue, 3D art creation has 2D beat, hands down. 

Again, that doesn't mean that there won't be comic-style art, but I do believe that we will get to a point where such art will be a conscious aesthetic choice made by a creative team after considering other options, and probably easier for creative teams that aren't working towards a short, looming deadline.

Just as there are specialists in penciling, inking and coloring, in the future there will be artists specializing in sculpting, design, materials and surfaces and lighting. Those who are currently working with traditional comic art techniques and are technically inclined may be well-served to add one of these 3D art techniques to their repertoire, to keep their skills current and in-demand. A penciler may also want to learn to digitally sculpt. An inker may want to get very familiar with digital lighting. A colorist may want to learn about materials, textures and shaders. Mainstream comics in 2D or 3D will still be a collaborative group effort, it will just be using newer art generation techniques.

Writing won't change much, other than maybe the script format may move closer to that of visual novels.

In actuality, most of these programs have optional filters and plugins to render outputs that look like flat 2D comic drawing. As mentioned before, there are already some artists working in the field doing exactly this. Once you get really familiar with the process, a good eye can spot a few visual signs that this is how a piece of art was created. Working in the field, I personally know of a few artists who do this. I don't feel any need to "out" these artists. An artists creative process is their own business. If they can create their art in 3D and output it to look like 2D comic art and everyone is happy, then why bother? What does it matter? I've also very openly done this with a few of my pieces and explained how to do it both online and in-person at conventions. 

The reason I don't think creating in 3D and outputting in 2D for the illustration of classic-style work will become the norm is that it's adds extra steps and makes more work necessary in order to complete the same project. Another drawback is that converting 3D to look 2D looses a lot of fine rich detail that texture artists put into their work.

Many 3D programs come with pre-built starter models and basic objects, meaning that the barriers of having to spend the time necessary to perfect things like proportion and perspective are gone, allowing new creative talent to jump in and start sharing their work and ideas with others faster than ever before, which ultimately gives easier access to more voices across a broad spectrum of people, regardless of race, gender, status or anything else. Take some time to check out programs such as Maya, ZBrush, 3DS Max, DAZ 3D and many more and you'll see the amazing quality of art that is possible. 

If you have read my previous article (again, you should have. Again it is here: ) You'll know that I strongly believe that the current publishing landscape is going to change and what we know as monthly floppy comics are going to fold, no pun intended (but appreciated). 

When compared to the other options that entertainment consumers have for serialized content, such as streaming video, video games, television and more, the monthly serialized format we are all familiar with from comic books no longer holds up. People don't want to wait a month to find out what happens next when they are used to being able to see the next episode now. Even traditional network television has new installments every week. Comics take a team of artists a month to produce, so increasing frequency isn't necessarily realistic. Some weekly comics have been done, but are far from the norm and don't have any real stand-out successes. If mainstream comics were set and committed to maintaining serial print product, which I think would be a mistake, they could go weekly, but the logistics of such, and multiple creative teams that would be necessary quickly make the proposition sound like more complication than it would be worth.

A well crafted, affordably priced, detailed 3D visual novel with interactive features will always offer the reader much more value and entertainment for their money and would have a far better chance of succeeding on a monthly, quarterly or irregular schedule than a floppy comic book. 

This is what I see coming in the future anyway, not from a fever dream, but from the writing on the wall of watching comics and pop culture change, mutate and evolve over nearly 40 years. 

I could be wrong. If none of this comes to pass within a decade I'll be the first to raise my hand and say how wrong I was, but in the meantime I'm going to hedge my bets and and steer my ship towards a future that looks prosperous and relevant. 

Thanks for indulging my rant (even if the only person who reads this is my mom).

Yours Truly,

Mike Gagnon a.k.a. All Day Breakfast Productions

I think I may have outgrown comics - Part 3 - Retreading old stories and Neutering good creators

Article / 24 February 2020

Having an unusually easy day today, so let's keep this ball rolling shall we? If you haven't read the previous pieces, please understand, I still love comics, just not the industry. For a more complete understanding of how my ramble started, feel free to check out the first article in this series, which you can find here: 

If you have followed my previous works, or the blog I used to do for Medium (let's face it, you didn't) I have touched on some of this subject before. You can get some of that here: 

So, let's start with the biggest picture. The major publishers of the comics industry are all owned by Multi-Media conglomerates. This was not always the case. These monopolies bought these companies, not because they know or care about comics, but because they see the profit potential of owning the intellectual property for producing media spin-offs and licensing. 

In the old days people cared about the characters and everyone involved in making the books also cared about the characters. Even if that meant telling stories that put the characters in uncomfortable situations, they did it, not because they wanted to hurt the character, but because that is good comics. Good comics is good storytelling. Good movies are good storytelling, good video games are good story telling. You get the idea. 

So in the old days we had heroes addicted to heroine, heroes in unconventional relationships, all kinds of things that were very ahead of their time. Not the facade we have today, but I digress.

I was writing articles about the mainstream needing to make changes in comics decades ago. Needing to have more characters of different ethnicity, genders and sexual orientations. Not to be a "social justice warrior" or to push a "PC Agenda", but to reflect reality. If you want your comic world to have continuity and be set in a world that readers can accept as real, you need to reflect reality by having characters from all walks of life, not just over-muscled white dudes dominating every book with a handful of big-titted white women and a token black character. Real diversity. Written in a genuine nature by writers who care and aren't being mandated from above. What's passing for diversity of characters in comics right now is a facade. It's someone taking a cursory glance of a segment of the population and shoe-horning it into an old concept and re-packaging your own culture and selling it back to you. It's sad because it could be done in a much more genuine and honest way.

And tied together with something else I've always pushed. Aging of characters. Characters should age, even at the same speed as real life, get older, deal with life issues, have kids, families, protege's etc. Even superheroes. All flagship characters should be legacy characters. One of the themes comics has revisited over and over again is that a hero is a symbol and an ideal that is more powerful and bigger than any one person. We seem to make exception for the secret identity of a hero though. Batman is a timeless symbol who has the flexibility of telling a million potential stories. I don't think I can buy many more stories of playboy Bruce Wayne having to maintain his heroic identity, be essentially a one-man super-spy organization, a ninja and also keep the schedule of a Gotham socialite in order to maintain his secret. Batman can be anyone who has the right motivation. So can any super hero. True, some heroes have tried to pass on their mantle in the past, Batman included, but those stories were often done as a gimmick to increase sales or even just poorly executed and poorly received, but rarely have they ever tried to create a genuine succession over time that makes sense and is believable because of the history of the character. In the rare instance that much care and attention has been used, it worked,; like when Wally West transitioned from being Kid-Flash to the Flash, replacing his dead mentor. Of course, falling comic sales would push DC to cash in on a gimmick and undo that later, justifying the temporary jump in sales as a good excuse for ruining the work of many writers over decades, but that's the way of the world when money takes precedence. 

I'll steer myself back on track here to my original point, which was corporate oversight. The cost of mainstream acceptance of comics has been increased profitability, thus increased attention from the media conglomerates that have bought them as a prized asset. And those conglomerates do not want some lowly writer or artist to damage the value of their intellectual (intangible) property. They don't really see the publishers and editors (who used to be the top of the heap) much better either. They hand their decree to the editorial and publishing team and then they forward that to the lowly creators. They may decide it would be good for profits to include a new ethnic twist on a character, change genders, or flirt with questions of sexual orientation, but above all and definitely more important than those things, the standing order is: "DO NOT DEVALUE THIS PROPERTY". No bad press. No drastic or unpopular changes. It's a really lame status quo with the occasional veneer of ethnic or gender progress, always temporary and usually to distract from the fact that nothing significant ever drastically changes for good with a major character. Because that's what these media giants know. They don't know the 80 years of Batman or Superman stories. They know Superman is Clark Kent, he can fly, has a red cape and an S on his chest and forever it shall be. They don't know or see the potential of the ideas they own, they see a static one dimensional property that should never be changed for fear of lowering profits. And so, today's comic creators for the major publishers are hamstrung as never before, transcribing mandated stories more than being given the freedom to write their own. The decree comes from on high and trickles down to those who execute the work. Nothing too controversial. Nothing too risky. We don't want to ruin the profits for the next movie. The work that I've done for major publishers in the last 5 years has been the most creatively restrictive work I've ever done, even with me constantly pushing in every direction. Even being lucky enough to sneak some work in that wouldn't have been allowed, if I hadn't purposely turned it in too close to deadline for changes, for that exact reason. But they still weren't the stories I would have told with those characters if I'd been given the freedom too. An empty accomplishment that looks good on a CV.

I've done that song and dance and I'd rather just write my own stories and publish them with new formats and distribution channels that don't gouge the fans and readers unnecessarily for their hard earned money.

When it comes down to it, the industry as we know it is already living on borrowed time.

If you read the link above (let's face it, you didn't), Marvel has already been licensing the comic book rights of top tier characters to smaller publishers like IDW. It's only a matter of time before these media moguls figure out that they can make more money and reduce expenses by shutting down comic publishing and licensing the comic book characters to smaller publishers. Profits are in movies, media and merchandise. At this point the comics are about six feet away from being ads for the movies. The stories and likenesses of the characters are slowly being changed to match the Hollywood adaptations and it won't be long until the stories featured in the comics are inspired by the movies and not the other way around. Ad sales in the comics already generate more revenue than the actual print sales of the comics. Any media conglomerate has one goal in the world: increase profits, reduce expenses. It's all gravy and profits if they just license the rights to other publishers, instantly removing all of the expenses related to producing the comics. I don't think it's far off to say that within a decade of this writing the world of publishing superhero comics will be drastically different, and that firms like Marvel and DC will be more devoted to overseeing brands, licensing, film and media adaptations, than producing comics. It only makes sense for Disney or AT&T to cut their loses, reduce expenses and increase profits by focusing on the film and media spin-offs. Media adaptations are actually profitable and they will let the smaller publishers who license the comic book rights figure out how to make money with them after paying licensing, printing and production expenses. It does not bode well for the page rates of comic book professionals. 

In a pie in the sky world it would be great to see these media companies return the rights to the characters, that they paid millions for, to the original creators, or even let characters like Superman and Batman enter the public domain, but we know that's not going to happen. As mentioned before, corporate interest is based on increasing profit and reducing expense, not in good-hearted deeds or doing what is right. 

I think I may have outgrown comics - Part 2 - The positive aspect of change

Article / 24 February 2020

Since I've decided to continue writing on this topic and expanding my thoughts on this, I thought I'd take a look at a positive outcome first.

What follows is something that I've been telling students, fans and readers for several years now. It's my positive outlook for the future of comics. I'm less inclined to believe this will happen than I once was, as just as recently as a year ago I thought that it would be certain, now I'm not confident that the industry has enough quality leadership for it to come to pass. 

What I'm talking about is format change. More specifically format change that would revitalize the sales of new comics as well as the collectible market for current back-issues.

Simply put, print sales are getting lower. Lower print runs causes the cost per unit to go up. Unit cost going up causes higher cover prices (which are already overly inflated, but I'll cover that later)

Instead of fighting for print sales to increase, have a set cap on a print run and have a push for casual readers to go digital. 

What does that mean, for retailers and cover prices? Well. Think of it this way. 

A limited print run will drive up the cover price, (though lets be honest, comics have priced themselves out of the market already), a higher cover price is going to push more readers to digital (assuming they aren't dumb enough to keep trying to charge the same price) and the limited print run will ensure. that there is more demand than supply in the market, meaning that although a hardcore collector may purchase a new comic at a cover price upwards of $6.99 or beyond, the short supply will drive up the prices of new print issues on the collectors market, which would translate to increased sales dollars for collectors, traders, and convention retailers. It would put the rarity and value back into comics and make them a legitimate investment commodity again. Those who care about selling and having increased value over time would get it, and those who don't? Well, they can buy the cheaper digital version. Everyone gets to read and own the comics they want in some format or another and everyone is happy. 

I mean, that's what could happen. I am no longer convinced it will be that easy or rosey, but that's what could happen. 

One thing to keep in mind is that comics are already grossly over-priced, beyond the rate of inflation. Page rates haven't gone up much in decades, paper prices have increased, but not enough to warrant the cover price increase. Basically the publishers have been covering themselves from loses by lower sales numbers by increasingly padding their cover prices to offset those loses. A solution that may look good on paper, but is shortsighted when taking into account that the solution will slowly push more and more fans out of the hobby over time who can't afford it, making the problem a snake that eats its own tail. Higher prices cover publishers from lower sales loses, but in the long run also cause lower sales. Without any kind of vision or innovation publishers are driving their own print sales business into the ground. Those making the decisions seem to be clinging to these decisions come hell or high water, though if they were realistically objective, they would see how unsustainable it is. 

Take for example: I can remember a time in my youth when the price of a new comic book held at $1.25 for a steady while, in the early 90s. So, let's take into consideration things like inflation...would that justify today's $4.99 average cover price? Well, let's consult our trusty online inflation calculator, which you can try for yourself at: (there are actually tons of these online if you search for them, so don't think you just have to use this one) Anyway, after inflation an item that cost $1.25 in 1990 should cost...$2.48. So if inflation accounts for a significant increase of 98-99%, just a shade under double, why are we paying 400% of the original cover price? Essentially, you are paying more to cover the publishers loses in reduced sales to the tune of twice the rate of inflation. 

We should all be mad about this and asking more questions, but I'm sure we were all too busy trying to scrape together our quarters for our weekly pull list to look this closely at it. 

Can you name many other industries that have survived charging twice the rate of inflation on price increases? Not many. 

DC Comics has recently stated/leaked that they intend to increase some cover prices to $7.99 by mid-2021. It makes no difference to me. I haven't read a new issue in 2-3 years. It makes no difference to me whether they ever publish a new issues of Batman or Spider-Man or anything else. If they want to maintain their business, let alone win back readers like me, those $7.99 comics better have 100 goddamn pages, preferably with a larger trim size (page dimension) too, or 5G/5th Generation is going to be DC's swan song, but more on that in one of my upcoming posts, if I get the time.

Could this be a good thing? I thought so, but seeing the way many parts of the industry are going I think it's going to lean more towards the bleak future, much like one of those ridiculous "DARK" themed alternate comics Marvel did a few years ago. 

I think I may have outgrown comics

Article / 24 February 2020

Ha, the title is self-explanatory, but not in the way it sounds. I don't think I've outgrown the tales of adventure told with sequential art and word balloons, when I say I think I've outgrown comics, I mean I think I've outgrown the comics industry. 

It's an industry I've outgrown through experience. Personal and professional. Sort of the way you hear about some people "outgrowing comics" in the floppy format.

Well in this case, without tooting my own horn or trying to sound grandiose, I've outgrown the industry because of personal-growth, a type of growth that the industry itself has rejected, and in so doing stunted itself irreparably. 

Much like the music industry failing to see digital revolution of distribution before it came, comics have clung desperately to outdated distribution and delivery methods, gimmicks and narratives. 

I, like many others, didn't think that this would happen to comics. Readers in comics fandom seem more technically inclined. Comixology and Drivethrucomics and other distributors have had strength and longevity. Modern readers have accepted the digital delivery of comics. Print sales have gone down steadily, but if you ask any comics retailer they know already that the money to be made is in toys, games, merchandise and other physical items. 

But clinging to print sales figures and desperate gimmicks to try to increase these instead of finding new delivery methods has led the industry to a drastic and speeding decline, and ironically, if the comics industry wants to implode and destroy itself, I don't care. 

There are reasons that I don't care, primarily being that if the comics industry does die, it won't stop me from making my own comics and it won't stop any other like-minded creators. 

I've worked for publishers. Even the world's biggest one. I don't need to name drop, those who really want to know can do a Google deep-dive and figure it out. 

So how does one make comics if the industry dies? Comics won't disappear. Maybe comics as we recognize them now will, but not altogether. Time marches on whether you like it or not. 

For me personally, publishing digitally and in other formats such as video games and visual novels is more rewarding in every way possible than struggling to fight for sales and shelf space with a print book. 

Don't get me wrong. I love comics. They have been the greatest most enjoyable part of my nearly 40 year life-time thus far. I love the Justice Society, Superman, All-Star Squadron, The Mighty Crusaders, Hulk, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and on and on. I could spend the day listing hundreds of characters, but you get the idea. 

Where the problem of the industry lies is with its largest publishers clinging to old formats, reducing creative control and having corporate overseers from parent companies dictate content, to protect the value of the acquired intellectual properties. Otherwise, they might not make as much money with the movie adaptations. They don't want to lose money from ticket sales or streaming deals with negative press. 

Going mainstream was the worst thing that die hard comics fans from back in the day asked for and got. Now that publishers and creators aren't allowed to test and explore a wider range of ideas without having to answer to business and financial interests above them, mainstream comics have lost their edge and just keep retreading the same old gimmicks and story lines over and over again at an ever-increasing pace, until the most die-hard fans start to wonder what the point is and why they are continuing to spend money on the same old crap. 

Remember folks, there are more genres than super-heroes. The most successful smaller publishers realized this long ago. 

I have a lot of thoughts and analysis on this and the contributing factors. I'll try to write something about each factor if I have time. 

The heavy hitters of the industry either have no interest in adapting or have become such large near-monopolies that the sheer size of their operations make it impossible for them to adapt quickly enough to changing tastes of modern readers and fans, something that didn't encumber them when they weren't owned by several parent conglomerates and just worried about producing quality and engaging stories. 

And I say, so be it. 

Apps have changed the way we read comics. Writers are next.

Article / 29 May 2019

Wanna read an informative article that I wrote about how tech has changed the creative process?

Cool! It's on Medium, click the link below!