ancient relics: part 2

This is a continuation of the previous post.

People always ask why the characters are not human. in the beginnings of the project they were still always the kangaroo lizard aliens, but originally it was just because i was an edgy teen who wanted some sci-fi spice. that was really about it. but now i am a boring adult who wants some sci-fi spice but also realized how useful a non-human is as a tool to make the reader re-evaluate their expectations.

i was looking back through some of the old drawings and realized i sometimes forget how different it is now. the first official page was only completed in 2017 after i graduated college. it was a good seven years from its inception until I began to work on it in earnest. a lot changes in that time.

tastes change over the years of course, but people really don’t. i have pretty much the same underlying motivations as an adult as I did as a child. I’ve come to realize that understanding is one of the most important things to me, though that understanding can manifest in different ways. I want to understand the motivations of people and I love playing with ideas strange and mundane. the comic has always been about that and almost everything I make has that motivation somewhere at the core.

of course, ten years helped me understand people a lot better. it helped me understand myself better as well.

i’ll never claim to be particularly fast at working on things. nor am i a particularly fast learner, art included. i’m a pretty slow boy. long story short: this page process took way too long. it wasn’t sustainable while getting pages out at a rate that didn’t wear thin on the patience of others or myself. i learned from this that I needed to do it in monochrome and simplify the workflow. which is fine. i never cared much for color anyway.

even the first published chapter of the comic took a lot longer than the subsequent ones. people occasionally note that it looks a bit different in style compared to the others and they are correct. some of that is that I switched tablets and software that made certain line types either more or less difficult. but honestly most of it is, again, I found that i needed to simplify the workflow more. chapter one was created between 2016-2019 during a pretty dark period of my life. i worked around eight jobs over the course of a year and realized later that I was also putting undue pressure on myself with the comic. I was driving myself nuts in addition to difficult circumstances. i had to ease off a bit.

I definitely enjoyed working on the comic more after i eased off. chapter 2 and especially chapter 3 were much more fun to create in the day-to-day. ‘professionals’ in the comic field crank out many more pages a week than I do. four is about the max I can do, usually fewer than that, sometimes none at all. but this is just how I’m wired. all we can do is the best with our gifts and our circumstances. I’m definitely a lot happier in life when I give from what I have and not from what I don’t. and trust me, i’ve tried to change who I am. I wanted to be more of a hustler. but you can’t really change how you’re wired. I’m more at peace with that now. does being slow or unproductive make one a bum? maybe, but you would only know by comparing yourself with others. comparison never ends well. it will either fill you with arrogance because you see yourself as superior, or it will lead to self-hatred because you think you are worse. neither is good. we all have our strengths and struggles for a reason.

so where do we go from here? one day at a time, as always. I’ve found there’s no use worrying about the future. God will provide and he will continue to meet my needs. I have invaluable worth apart from my work. I personally need to ease up on the self-pressure. if I’m a slow man, forcing myself to be otherwise isn’t sustainable.

perhaps in another ten years i’ll revisit this topic and see what’s changed by then. 🙂 hopefully this journey can bring encouragement to others who struggle with similar hurdles.

ancient relics: part 1

what a difference twelve years makes.

the concept that would morph into this comic started back in 2010 back when I was in early high school. i was really into bionicle and sci-fi and history and i wanted a way to combine these interests.

At that time I had the fairly common habit of doing endless concept art and not much real comic work. but in hindsight I don’t really regret it or think it was a mistake. I personally wasn’t prepared at the time to do consistent pages. I was still in a major period of honing my artistic skills and I just needed time. I was learning. some pages or layouts were attempted here and there as tests but nothing took off. I wasn’t ready yet.

and I wasn’t even really sure what I wanted the story to be about. I had all these ideas for settings and locations and concepts (still the way i am!), but not really a good idea for the story itself. i am not a writer. i don’t deal much with plots, i tend to focus more on shorter character pieces rather than having some big overarching saga. but at the time i was more unaware of my own strengths, and wasn’t really working towards them well.

the original tale revolved around lain (a very different character from what she ended up being) and her journey across the land. there were always sci-fi elements and the sudden attack of the renes with an unknown weapon. it always took place in a pseudo-ancient setting with anachronistic elements. I enjoyed working on it a lot, despite angsting over it as only a teenager could. but i’m also glad looking back that i didn’t really ‘release’ it until years later. it just wasn’t very good. it did have core elements with merit, however.

i would take short breaks from it here and there, dabbling occasionally. i’d come back to it as I grew and wondered why I did some cringy thing and update it. then i’d look back on the update and update that. this happened for six or seven years. but gradually i began to feel that I could finally deliver some quality work as I became more confident in my art and my understanding of people. I began it in earnest after college once I finally had time.

the character interactions definitely became the primary focus over the years. i realized how much the story was changing over those years and saw no reason to think that it would really ever stop changing. i’m just not a person who can sit down and commit to a decade long story. in hindsight i really think it was a wise choice to go with the anthology format because it makes the story so much more flexible. I can basically do whatever I want and I can switch off when I get tired of one thing. It was probably the best choice I could have made with the way I work. but I don’t think I would have known that was a strength of mine unless i doodled and didn’t ‘have much to show for it’ for those years.

it’s hard for most creatives to not cringe when looking at their old work. creatives tend to be detail people, and being a detail person means you notice flaws easily. this very much includes your own flaws. but I think it’s important to keep old work around for the sake of others. for a curiosity of course, but hopefully also as an encouragement. if I could get something out there then many others can too. 🙂

more of the saga to follow.

the voice of the character

Back when i was laying the groundwork for the comic I worried about having to follow a small cast of characters for years on end and was worried that I might get burnt out on them before long. one of the strengths of the quasi-anthology format I came up with for motherland is that it lets me flip around between new characters often. if I like one I can come back to them in the future, and if I feel satisfied with a character’s arc I can leave it there. it lets me dabble. i like to dabble.

most of the time when i do a story i just have a very rough outline of what happens. i more or less make it up as I go, filling in sections here and there and letting the story sort of take its own path. I’m sure that ‘winging it’ would make some creators cringe but it gives me life. i spend less time worrying about who i want the characters to be and just go along for the ride for who they are. i sort of treat them like if I was meeting a real person.

as a result, when i am working on the visual design of a character, the design may not match up with who they seem to be turning out to be personality or arc-wise. Su for instance i knew from the start was going to be one of the main players for ch4 and she originally was going to have the design shown on the upper-left. but the more i got to ‘know’ su, the more some elements felt out of place. i ended up with the headdress shown on the upper right after some iterations because it felt much truer to something that a very shy introvert might wear. i did like the first headdress design, so i ended up using it on the older sister. but it felt too ‘confident’ for su.

that is just a tiny example, but for my process it is a frequent occurrence. the design of the character influences who i imagine they might be, and vice versa. they feed into each other. i really enjoy the process. not every artist necessarily thinks that way.

a lot of times i’ll just doodle face or body shapes and mill over ‘who could this be’? a lot of character designs i’ve come up with over the years came about as a result of this process. a lot of it is barely intentional. i’ve always thought that I was stronger at ‘putting together a puzzle’ than i am at designing according to a strict concept. people ask me if i draw what i see in my head. i do to a degree, but it is more that I can turn shapes into other shapes and make an image or a statement from elements of what i see rather than have a clear concept in mind from the start. i play and listen a heck of a lot more than i plan.

i like the characters showing me who they are, so to speak. i’ve come to realize in recent months that understanding is one of my main driving forces in life, whether that’s people or concepts or anything else. i want to know and help others know and that is a huge reason why i pay attention to people and their motivations. this doodling process that i do is just one way that i use this desire and hope to share it with others. i enjoy the artistic process, but it is more of a means to an end for me. however, it one of the best facilitators for me to understand others and help others understand – regardless of if those others are real or fictional.

This is how I make a page

figure i’ll show my current process. people seem to dig that stuff. the process is heavily subject to change as i find new ways to be lazy.


^ these are the layers i use in case anyone is interested. i use a surface pro with clipstudio. i like clip a lot but am by no means an expert. part of me would like to do it with ink on paper but digital is way faster and more flexible. i may experiment with traditional media for a mini-chapter at some point before i commit.


i have a rough script and plot points that i have written but no huge storyboard. so from my rough idea of what i wanna do i then make the background sketch. i draw this in blue but i changed it here to black just to help visibility. after that i make the panels (which clip makes very easy to do).

i pretty much sketch it straight on the page as shown above and occasionally use the lasso tool to move parts of the image around to get a composition i like. that level of detail is about the best balance for me between intricacy and speed. i often find if i make the sketch too in-depth then when i do the final lines it looks really stiff and lifeless.

often i’ll play around with a few panel layouts to get the flow right but generally i do one page’s layout at a time. i rarely sketch out more than like 3 pages in one go. ‘wing it’ is a dirty term to some people but that’s basically what i do. me and my soul mate toriyama. if i storyboarded out the entire comic chapter all at the beginning i would 1) be bored to tears and 2) likely waste a ton of time because i’ll get to page 3 and decide i want to change something, meaning i’ll have to storyboard a lot of it all over again. again, some people work that way but i do not.


after that i do the main lines. it really doesn’t take super long assuming i’m not braindead. i do most of it on the Char[acter] layer and extra stuff on the FG and BG just so it doesnt get too messy. i’ve been using vector layers lately. they seem to work well, especially in regards to coloring and rotating parts of the image. a lot of times if i drew a character’s arm too long or something i’ll just lasso it and move and rotate it and whatever. vectors make that pretty painless. if it was raster it would be all blurry and nasty and also a pain to color.


to further help coloring i also work with aliased lines at a big resolution. if they were anti-aliased i couldn’t use the fill bucket tool as easily. after i shrink and export the final image for web use you can’t even tell.


then colors (b&w in this case). clipstudio makes it easy to fill in big areas even without completely closing the lines. after that i also do the stars (which are just a scatter brush). for this chapter i am using two gray shades (30/50%) and it seems fine. i may do something else in the future. i did it with just the one 30% gray originally but it was a bit flat at times. way back when i used yellow instead but i switched it out for a few reasons.

after all that i do the speech bubbles and that’s pretty much it. in total it takes a few hours give or take. i really don’t have it in me to draw for like 8 hours like some people. i’m sure in a year i’ll have refined the process further but i thought i would share. feel free to ask questions if you dig.

Page 31 process

(click for full-size)

quick gif of my current process. right now I use photoshop CS2 cause it was free legally. I make a loose sketch “guide” layer first and get the panel layout how I like it before I add the main lines. some panels I do things in different orders but generally I add the lines first and then any background blocks of black or yellow as I need it before adding yellow shading if I need that too. the yellow is there to do whatever i need it to do. sometimes i use it for ‘normal’ shading, sometimes to highlight objects or backgrounds, sometimes both. basically whatever looks best on a case by case basis. I like B&W a lot but I think the yellow is good to help things stand out and makes a very recognizable color palette at a glance. my goal is to have some joe see a page at a distance and go like “yellow and black? must be song of the motherland”. hopefully.

it can be a bit difficult to strike a balance between detail and speed. making it up as i go honestly which is half the fun to me. my drawing style is very loose in the first place so I’m trying to find ways to capitalize on my strengths. too bad i shot myself in the foot on this chapter having to draw tons of buildings and crowds ughhhh