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Don't Be Limited by What Others Have Done Before

Tutorial / 11 November 2020

One of the lessons that I try to drive home in all of my writing classes, is the will to risk. Risk doing something different. Risk changing the status quo of your writing. You never know what is going to be successful and absorbed into the genre or fandom. 

The easiest example I can make of this is modern film and fiction depicting vampires or werewolves. What most of us think we know as standard facts about werewolf or vampire mythology was actually created by the movie industry in the last 100 years and were never part of the original myths and legends. Death by sunlight? Made up by movies. Must sleep during the day? Made up by movies. There's actually a much better and great explanation of this concept by Simon Pegg by way of Max Landis, which used to be on youtube that I would have dropped right here, but it seems impossible to find now. If anyone knows what I'm talking about and has a link, send it my way. 

The gist of Pegg's advice video is this: Don't be afraid to create your own rules for fictional characters and don't be constrained by rules created by other writers. Want your vampires to sparkle? Not sure why, but why not? Want your vampires to prefer their hemoglobin mixed with bourbon? sure. Want a werewolf who transforms at the sight of a cat and fears rolled up newspapers? why not? Vampires and werewolves don't exist, so why be held to account by the rules another writer made up 50 years ago? Don't be afraid to make your mark and be different. It may catch on. 

In a similar spirit, I've been thinking about comics lately. 

I got into comics because I wanted to make art and tell stories and the sequential form really resonated with me. I loved comics. Spent my life learning to make them and eventually became a working member of the industry. 

This is a moment where sayings like "Be careful what you wish for" or "Don't ruin your passion by making it a job." come to mind. 

I still love comics and sequential narratives and storytelling, but the industry scene is a hot pile of garbage right now. 

Never in the history of comics, as I've known, have the different segments of the industry and fan base been so at each other's throats. Fans hate the distributors. Distributors hate the retailers. Retailers hate the publishers. Publishers hate the fans, and no comic themed conversation can be had online without it devolving into childish know-it-all-ism and name calling. 

DC Comics literally can't do anything without the entirety of the internet screaming in disgust, whether what they are doing is really that big a deal and even worthy of attention or not. 

I have lost all desire to work in mainstream comics and don't read them any more. I don't think any of those publishers really give a shit about their existing fanbase or making good comics. Pretty sure they don't give a shit about my demographic by the junk being put out. 

It's a hot mess with no security and at the end of the day, it's very uncertain whether you'll be paid for your work from ANY publisher right now.

So why wade into this sewer and try to get everyone to play nice? 

I just want to tell stories. I want to share them with people. I want to make art that makes you think and discuss it intelligently with readers.

I don't need mainstream, or even comic book publishers to do that. I'm fully capable of producing my own comic, but in the uncertain economic times that are 2020, why put out the extra expense and headache? I think I'll be shying away and strictly limiting any print self-publishing that I do from here on out. Digital publishing is way less headache for a small business or individual artist and since there are way more options and possibilities with digital delivery, why not explore them?

At the end of the day I'm happy to take my own ideas and skills and make my own kinetic novel, visual novel, motion comic, video game or any other creative work featuring my own characters on my own terms and share them with supporters on my own website. 

If word-of-mouth can't grow my audience, then I need to go back and look at my work. I prefer my work to speak for itself, so if something I'm doing isn't resonating, I need to go back and review my approach and no amount of money spent on Facebook or Instagram ads will change that. 

Don't get sucked in by those social media platforms or by "mainstream logic" that says you have to slave away for a corporate giant while being underpaid and disrespected. Make your own way and your own mark.

 Make your own rules. Comics are supposed to be fun after all. 

That's my rant for today, and also, here's some art:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

Fan art and Copyright

Tutorial / 04 November 2020

The issue of copyright as it applies to fan art is convoluted and purposely confusing, to discourage budding artists from creating a situation that could compromise their financial future.

There are a lot of different sides to the issue: artistic freedom, moral philosophies, intellectual property protection rights, and more.

I’m going to use my limited space, time and audience to lay out the details of the legalities of fan art and hopefully dispel some myths.

Please note that this info is for general purposes and you should consult a legal professional in your area for more specifics about how copyright as it applies to fan art may effect you.

Is fan art legal?

Yes. There are those who will argue not, usually based on moral or financial interests. The truth is that, in any major civilized country, there is no law restricting what artists can create as it applies to copyright or intellectual properties. You are allowed to make art of your favorite characters. No question.

If I make fan art of a recognizable property, is the property owner granted copyright?

No. If you live in any civilized nation, laws may vary slightly, but the core of the law is that a citizen owns the copyright of any art that they create, the moment that they create it, regardless of content, unless that work was produced under contract for a client on a work-for-hire basis. This means that unless someone else hired you to produce the art specifically for commercial purposes outlined in a contract, you own the copyright to your artwork. Most countries offer additional protection with official copyright registration available for a fee, which will strengthen your case if you have to take someone to court for stealing your work, but the necessity of this will vary from country to country.

I can make fan art, but I can’t sell it, right?

Wrong. In most modern civilized countries, you are allowed to print and sell a limited number of copies of a recognizable character. The usual allowable threshold is 1000 copies or less. For example, if you create a wicked Superman pin-up, you are perfectly within you legal right to print and sell 700 prints of that art without compensating DC Comics. In most regions, if you want to sell more than 1000 copies you are required to approach the rights holder of the character and request permission, which usually includes negotiating a deal with them before printing that includes a sales percentage going to the owner of the character as a royalty. Keep in mind, it’s best to just keep your print runs less than 1000. If you sell out make a new print or a variation that clearly differentiates it. I keep all my print runs of merch and art under 1000. Remember, if you intend to sell more than 1000, it is always best to contact the character owner first and come to an agreement in writing, otherwise the character owner can ask a court to force you to release your sales records. If the character owner can prove that you sold more than 1000 copies, a court can level fines for damages, legal costs and a percentage of your sales to the character owner.

Keep in mind that big companies will use and abuse this system to their advantage. A great example from recent history was that Marvel had no problem with the original creators of Ghost Rider selling art and prints at conventions. When those creators told Marvel that they thought that they deserved some royalties for the Ghost Rider movies, Marvel instead sued them into oblivion for daring to make a living by selling art of a character that they created. Marvel was totally within their right to do this, as all of their talent must work under work-for-hire agreements, making Marvel the legal owner of Ghost Rider.

What could be changed?

There are a lot of varied opinions about how to improve this system, but I personally feel there needs to be even less restriction and more freedom for the artist. Prior to the modern copyright enactments of the early 1900s, when an artist created a piece that featured a famous person, scene or character, there was no question who owned it. Copyright laid with the artist and unless the piece was commissioned by a patron, the physical art was property of the artist until sold. A business could hire an artist to produce work for specific reprint or publishing, which usually consisted of a split of sales or a verbal agreement with the artist. It was possible to hire an artist on a work-for-hire basis, but this was generally reserved for specific logos and branding for business.

I’d like to see all restrictions lifted on the artist, allowing them to sell as many prints of their art as they want, regardless of content.

The entire subject has been made murky by modern business. Legal teams for big corporate property holders will argue that the visual representation, imagery and shape of their characters is a recognizable aspect of their business branding and is a Trademark in and of itself, and that your work devalues their property based on confusion with their own legitimate Trademarked products. Essentially the argument is that selling prints of your Batman fan art is the equivalent of selling prints or other product featuring the Starbucks logo.

Though this is the argument that entertainment giants will often lean on to win cases against individual artists, who rarely have the money to fight these giant companies in court, I think this argument should be turned on its head, in favour of the artist.

If pointed ears, a cape, cowl, and bat emblem make a piece undeniably recognized as Batman, or if a circle with two smaller circles on top and a pointed nose is undeniably Mickey Mouse, I would say that the character has become engrained in the culture. Any registered Trademarks should be declared void, and the characters should be considered to have entered the public domain. 

This is where corporate lawyers would clamour about unfairness, but the truth is that public systems and institutions are supposed to look out for the interests of the public first and are not obligated to protect the profitability and assets of a private business. Bottom line. Unfortunately, the system in North America has become so corrupted by money and special interests, getting those systems to change their perspective in favour of the public and artists is an uphill battle.

Some online merchandise and art posting websites have gone as far is to ban fan art, a position that I hope to see reverse, not just in my lifetime, but sooner rather than later. Fan art is a part of the culture and it is art. I feel that it should be treated with the same rights and protections given to any piece if art, without any restriction or differentiation.

Well, that’s all for today.

Here’s some art:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

Just something to think about...

Tutorial / 01 November 2020


How to have fun, get cool stuff, and support charity!

Tutorial / 29 October 2020

Hey guys check this out, I thought I'd share a highlight from my recent Twitch stream. If you haven't heard of Humble Bundle and you like comics, games, RPG, etc. you should check it out! (They do not pay me to say that and I am not associated with Humble Bundle, I just love the stuff they have and charities that they support)


3 Simple Rules on Writing and Drawing Female Characters

Tutorial / 26 October 2020

In the debatably classic comedy "As Good As It Gets", Jack Nicholson plays a writer who, when asked how he writes women so well says: "I think of a man, then I remove all reason and accountability."

A hilarious moment, but definitely not an approach I would use in my own work. 

See, you can find something funny (or offensive) and not adopt it into your core identity (or storm the internet convincing everyone else to hate it because you do), but that is a subject for another day.

In the meantime you're here to find out my approach to creating female characters, so let's get on with it.


RULE 1: No damsels in distress. 

I'm sorry, but at this point in history, the damsel in distress is clichéd to eye rolling levels every time I see someone still using it. The weaker sex is a myth. And could you imagine being in a relationship with one of these characters? I don't care how hot Lois Lane or Mary-Jane are, after a few months of constantly rescuing someone from situations that could only be arrived at with poor judgement, that lady is getting cut out of my life. 

Now, some of this is personal preference and it will resonate with some and not others. That's fine, my opinion is not the end-all be-all of the creative process.

Helpless damsels don't do anything for me. Maybe they are the epitome of desirability and alluringness to you or someone else, the idea of saving the helpless woman and having her fawn all over her hero. Not for me, as said above.

I love the female form and I've looked on women as real living, walking works of art for most of my life. I love the female form, but I don't need to draw some weak, twiggy screaming waif being menaced by some beast for an excuse to draw the female form or put them in alluring, skimpy or shredded clothing. 

In real life I like strong, independent women. I don't expect anyone to wait on me hand and foot, have dinner waiting for me when I get home or helplessly run to me over every minor issue or dilemma. I like a boss bitch. A strong woman who knows how to handle herself, her business, earn her own money and have her own independence and individuality. Sure, we can cuddle in and have some fun after work, but there needs to be a mutual strength of character and mutual respect. 

I treat my female characters the same way. That's why in my work and the majority of my art, you won't see the stereotypical helpless girl. If I'm going to create a character of any gender, they need to be strong and strong-willed, otherwise, what's the point? Weak characters don't interest me. I make a conscious effort not to depict helpless women just cowering in fear of any menacing man or other threat. That's just me. I hate cliché'.


Rule 2: Depict realistic body type

In classic renaissance art women are full figured, voluptuous and generally beautiful while still looking like a regular human. I really don't know how this twiggy thin waif-like body style became the default body style for female characters in modern art and pop culture, such as comics. 

If a woman can lift 100 tons, she better have some muscle tone and an imposing body size. If she's not a physical fitness instructor and she works in an office., etc. there's no reason for her to look like a stick thin supermodel. 

I actually wish that some of my pieces had fuller figured women. I make an effort to use realistic and varied body styles and there are a few concepts and story ideas I have that center around full-figured and larger women, that my scheduled just hasn't allowed me to develop yet...but you will see them as soon as I have the opportunity. 

That's not saying that in real life I think that all women should be one way or the other, or that they should look a way that reflects their personality, or I only like big ladies. That would be crazy. I'm talking about art, which when boiled down is the skill of using visual communication to present an idea. If there are no words, you need to tell as much as you can about the character visually. 


Rule 3: Not everyone is white. 

I've been preaching about this in comics for about 20 years.

It's a good idea for any character, male, female or otherwise. 

Look around folks. Not everyone is white. Get some diversity in there once in a while, if you want me to believe the story you are trying to tell. 


Honestly, it's 3 simple rules that, if like-minded, you can follow and with practice I think you'll find that your render will become more interesting and compelling over time. 

That's all for today!

Thanks for reading,

Mike

Things you always wanted to know about composition, but were too afraid to ask!

Tutorial / 19 October 2020

In the interest of helping out anyone who might be new to art or struggling, I thought I'd throw together some examples of the challenges that my own students face online and in-class. If you're not even sure what composition is, this little lesson could make a world of difference in the quality of your art.

I've provided some of my own art samples below with explanations that can help you better visualize your art for any purpose.

1: The "regular" look:


In the days (or perspective) of the "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way", this would have been considered a "regular comics" composition or as Stan Lee would have said at the time, "how the OTHER guys do it.”.

Now there isn't necessarily anything that is glaringly wrong. We get both figures (Marvel's The Puma and Werewolf by Night) in full body. Each one is equally respected with page space and representation. Puma's wardrobe contrasts well against the background. 

Werewolf however is struggling to be seen and fighting with too many similar blues and dark colors from the plants in the background. The posing, though interesting and somewhat dynamic, loses some punch and goes a little flat because of the camera position, giving the image too much of a standard profile look and not fully pulling off the illusion of three dimensions at some points. 

Though there is technically nothing "wrong" with the image it could just be more visually appealing and dynamic. This is what was described as the type of art that would be totally passable for the average comic or magazine. 

2: Visual balance/discomfort


In the second version the entire palette has a purple tint instead of the previous blue tint. Posing has been changed to give a better view of the front of the characters, with Puma getting just a little more prominent real estate. Shifting the trees in the background gives a better feel for the environment and lends more to the feel of a man-made tree line as opposed to a dense jungle. The shift in positioning also allows the dark colored character, werewolf, to stand out and contrast against the lighter background while Puma’s red and white colors contrast nicely with darker outcropping in the background.

Sounds good right?

What doesn’t work: though the angle of the shot is more interesting and complex overall, but the character shift doesn’t work. Both characters are too close to the center and each other, all those key details are jammed into the center of the frame with lots of open unused space on the sides. The forced perspective is slightly confusing. How far away is the werewolf? How far is he jumping? He also seems  a little too low in the frame. Aside from that, Puma can be seen with a blur effect attempting to mimic photographic visuals. This can be a very useful and powerful trick in the artist’s tool box, but in  this case, I think we are on the wrong track and it leaves me wishing for sharper visual detail on Puma. That coupled with the awkward shadow under the werewolf and the overlapping palm trees on the right, it’s distracting enough that I consider it a miss, but also a step in the right direction.

3. Dynamic action and posing


They say “third time’s the charm”.

In this version I feel I’ve merged the best parts of the first and second image while leaving the weaknesses behind.

The characters are given roughly the same amount of space on the page, but on opposite sides of the page, similar to the first version. Now we have the focal length to understand the danger AND the distance. 

Werewolf is now high up on the page, with stark contrast against the lighter background and a nice 3/4 angle that isn’t too much profile or too much head on. The 3/4 at the angle is very important to preserve the perspective of the piece.

Puma is a little more in-focus than in the second example and his wardrobe contrasts well against the foliage in the background. The tribal necklace is given more attention too, lending to the native/Spanish history of the character.

The posing is expressive and dynamic, so the figures emote and the viewer understands how each character feels.

For a little extra dynamic pop, I also tilted the camera, just to give that slightly uncomfortable “off-kilter” feeling.

I like to think that Stan would have thought of it as “The Marvel Way"

Composition is all about placement of characters, backgrounds and any other elements in the most visually appealing way. Don't be afraid to try different camera angles, character poses or background placements. Should your character be in the shadowy corners of the room or backlit by the light of the full moon coming in through the window? Try both and see for yourself. 

The important thing to remember about composition is that it is okay to try several variations to see what looks best. Make sure your perspective makes sense. Create visual balance with character placement and remember to focus on action and suspense. Now, by no means do I mean to hold up my art as a perfect example, trust me, I can pick any of my pieces apart, but if you keep a few of these pointers in mind and practice by focusing on experimenting and generating new art, I believe that you will be happy with the results. 

Thanks for reading,

Mike

Thinking Ahead to Make a Better Christmas

Tutorial / 13 October 2020

Of course, I know my favorite Halloween, hasn't come yet, but I'm already thinking ahead.

I'll explain why. 

We all know 2020 has been an absolute shit of a year. Worse than any I can remember in my lifetime. Genuinely for the first time, I'm not certain about the future of society.

It's been very hard, emotionally and financially, for a lot of people. 

And it made me realize this the other day; A lot of kids are going to have a very shitty Christmas. 

So, I think I'll start planning ahead now. Buying. Saving. To make a decent sized toy donation to a kids toy charity in my area.

In fact, if I thought that trick or treating was actually going to happen this year, I'd buy a pile of toys and hand them out instead of Candy. 

So, there's got to be a way to make this happen on some scale. 

If you're out there reading this and want to join in, make it bigger, have ideas, know of a good children's toy charity, anything like that, feel free to drop me a line and let me know. 

Of course, it doesn't have to be a big event, especially if you live in a different region or country than me. Just find a charity in your area and do what you can, even if it's just spreading the word.

In the meantime I made some art:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

Don’t get sucked in by media, you probably already have everything you need to be happy

Tutorial / 28 September 2020

It’s easy to get lost in a world of music videos, polyamorous discussion threads and youtube videos that are as much advertisements as the commercials that interrupt them.

It makes you sit back and wish you had the money and attention of the rich and famous. Oh, the things that you could do if you had the money and fame of a celebrity.

Well, let me tell you, from the perspective of someone who has tasted just a small part of that success and creative circle in my life:

It’s empty. It’s vapid.

Fame fades. The same people who praised my work, 10-15-20 years ago, don’t know my name today.

Money dwindles. Once you start being seen in a lot of places, TV interviews, radio, online etc. on a regular basis, friends of their convenience come out of the wood work. People you went to high school with need loans. Less accomplished colleagues and acquaintances need help creating a project with little to no budget and benefitting no one but themselves, people in and on the periphery of the entertainment industry suddenly want to be your best friend and take prt in a fantasy lifestyle of parties, events, schmoozing and hookups. All on your dime, of course.

It occurs to me that I, and most people, probably have everything I need to be happy:

I have my art - a creative outlet that allows me to express my ideas and, if luck holds out, earn a living in this crazy world.

I have a roof over my head, food on my table and a circle of friends and family who live and support me.

That’s all I need. I can be happy with that, especially after having experienced the “high life”.

Accolades and applause fade. The mob is fickle. Don’t get sucked into believing that you should be working and struggling and striving to get noticed or attention from the world at large, in the hopes that fame and recognition will solve your problems. They won’t. And don’t believe the hype and extravagance. It’s fake. Smoke and mirrors. 

Most famous people are as miserable and broke as you are, and the ones who aren’t broke are still miserable.

Be thankful for your loved ones and supporters. Keep them close and don’t let the fake world you see on a screen suck you into belueving it’s real. You probably have everything you need to be happy with your life, it’s just a matter of perspective.

Here's some art!:


Thanks for reading,

Mike

It’s good to have an outlet

Tutorial / 24 September 2020

I gotta say, if you’re out there, reading this, during these cray cray covid times, it’s good to have an outlet.

Mine are art and writing. The majority of the writing that I’m doing now is for this very blog. Even if no one ever reads it, for me it is very helpful and therapeutic. 

With my anxiety, it’s like all my insecurity and overthinking create some type of psychological cyst that grows and festers until the tiniest bit of pressure causes it to errupt and squirt out all the anger and rage and disappointment that had been building up and festering.

So, when that happens, you may see more frequent, more negative posts, but now that I’m aware of it I’ll try not to let it get that bad again. I can’tpromise not to rant, but I can promise not to hold back my thoughts as often or for as ling.

In all honesty, just writing my thoughts like this improves my mood and outlook and frees up my mind so much, it doesn’t matter if this is read by a million people or none at all. It’s helping me copewith the insanity and in this moment, that is enough.

Also, here’s some art I did:


Thanks for reading,

Mike Gagnon


I hope the next Michaelangelo has an Instagram budget

Tutorial / 01 September 2020

Really though, when you think about it, I really do hope that the next epic history changing artist does have a budget for social media ads, otherwise, they may never get discovered.

Contrary to popular belief, historical artists whose names are still recognized today, did not die broke, insane and unknown. This fallacy also seems to help perpetuate another myth, that an artists work isn’t valuable until they are dead.

I won’t go into an encyclopedic 20 pages review of history here, but with a little time and research, you can verify that many historical artists did experience a lot of fame and financial reward for their work. In fact, most of the classical artists had multiple apprentices that they would train to paint and sell small replicas of their most famous works to sell and split the revenue. Apprentices would even paint backgrounds and small details for some of the most famous and recognized pieces of art in history. (Some artists also trained their lovers to paint and be apprentices, but I don’thave time to get into that right now.)

The point is, to spite what you may have heard. Most famous historical artists were successful in life, that’s why we still remember them today. Often, when one of these artists did come to an unfortunate end, it had as much to do with the artists own vices and demons as it does to their finances.

When you compare the output of those artists and their apprentices, some artists have thousands of pieces to their name and I would submit, objectively, that if compared the volume of work of a modern commercial artist without apprentices to that of their historical counterparts, the volume of the modern artists portfolio will dwarf that of their classical counterpart.

Thanks to modern advancements in traditional and digital art, artists are able to produce large volumes of professional quality work in much less time. Thanks to the integrated world wide web and slave-like contract standards, they are also required to.

Subjectivity of art quality aside, most modern artists have never and will never experience the living success of their classical predecessors. Even those who do achieve success in their own niches such as comics and video games.

The average comic book contains approx. 120 illustrations. That’s more than the number of famous pieces that some historical artists had in thier entire careers, and a full time comic artist does this every month. Video game artists have to produce even more than this.

So how is it, that today’s artists seem to work twice as hard for half the money and none of the recognition?

Work for hire. Once it became known that a famous piece of art would increase over time, business people have been trying to get a piece of that action. With the advent of the modern marketing and advertising industry, big business realized the power and influence that art could have in influencing the opinions and purchases of consumers. 

Big business can’t risk having an unhappy artist walk away with the rights to thier branding, so of course, they need to create agreements that state that they fully own the rights to any art produced.

Thus the hungry maw of modern business demands of the modern artist that they produce more and more work, faster than ever, for less money and no statement of ownership and little to no recognition.

Raphael, Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Donatello (the men, not the turtles) did not die poor, starving and unknown, but if modern business continues to degrade modern art for commercial purposes today’s artists will.

Your other option is to produce great work and spend tons of money online to get it seen.

Personally, i think both are stupid and too time consuming and I don’t plan to involve myself in either situation.

Btw, here’s some art I made!


Thanks for reading,

Mike