Sunday 20 February 2011

Sunday Surgery: But at my back, I always hear…

… Time's winged chariot hurrying near.*

Following up Thursday's post about saving time, I wanted to share the following time management technique, brought to my attention by the sickeningly talented PJ Holden (follow him on Twitter: @pauljholden).

I know every third person thinks they have some magic solution to time management, but I've only been working like this for a few days, and have found my productivity noticeably increased, so I thought it was worth a blog post.

I've started using the Pomodoro technique which, put simply, involves working out your tasks for the day, ordering them and working through them. You work absolutely flat out, with no interruptions and no distractions for 25 minutes, and then you take a 5 minute break before resuming. Each of these is called a pomodoro and, every time you complete four of them, you take a longer break.

You don't need anything more sophisticated than a kitchen timer for this, but you'll be unsurprised to hear that there's an app for that, and a variety of Android apps, too. There are actually several iPhone apps, too, but I'm using the free LE version of the app linked above and it seems more than sufficient.

To be honest, I don't have a problem with my work ethic, which is pretty strong. My problem is with my ability to become distracted, and for those distractions to quickly start eating into what should be working time…

Up - TM & © Disney/Pixar
So, whilst the enforced 25 minute working period introduces a useful sense of purpose and urgency, it's the five minute breaks that really work for me, bringing my time-wasting activities into very sharp focus!

(In fact, there's been an unexpected peripheral benefit, in so far as five minutes is almost exactly enough time for me to boil a kettle, make a cup of tea, and get back to my desk. This has largely eliminated my habit of snacking and forced me to schedule a proper lunch break into my day.)

Obviously, you still require a certain amount of willpower, without which the exercise is ultimately futile. It's still an effort of will, for example, dealing with e-mails. When one announces its arrival, I permit myself to quickly switch to my mail application and check the sender and subject line. If it's not work-related, it can wait for a break. 

If the e-mail is work-related, I permit myself to read it but unless the message is saying: "OMG! My regular letterer on Captain Stupendo just fell into cement mixer! Can you letter all 24 pages of #47 by this time tomorrow?" Then, frankly, it can wait!

An additional benefit, for me at least, has been a more acute appreciation of how my regular working tasks break up into these 25 minute chunks; just a better understanding of how long things take which, as a freelancer, is pretty important when making a judgement on how much to charge for a job!

So… all in all, a deceptively simple time management technique that I've found to be of surprising value. Give it a try -- it might be of benefit.



* From Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress"

Thursday 17 February 2011

Midweek Surgery: Otto-whatnow?

(Yes, I've admitted defeat with Wednesday Surgeries… I'll still try to do them on a Wednesday, where possible, but I might as well recognize the fact that I can't always manage it!)

This is a Mac-only workflow tip. Apologies up-front to all my Windows-based readers, but I simply don't know how to replicate this on a Windows system…

Also, apologies if I was the only person who didn't know about this, but a quick straw-poll of Mac-using friends and colleagues suggests that I wasn't alone in ignoring …

…The OSX Automator application.

I'm aware that I've barely scratched the surface of what Automator can do, but the one pre-set function I'm going to talk about today is already saving me significant amounts of time and inconvenience.

You're about to start a new issue or project. I'm not sure how you set up your .ai files, but I now save a single blank document into the folder where the Illustrator pages will be saved. This document is the correct dimensions for the project, has the layers already set up, and has a couple of standard balloons and a sample of text formatted to the size and font selected for the specific book pasted outside the art area. 

In Finder, I click on that file, go CMD-C and then hit CMD-V twenty-one (or however many more pages you require) times. This gives you a folder containing twenty-two identical but unhelpfully named files.

At this point, you need to fire up Automator, which you will find in your Applications folder.

Choose 'Workflow' from the options screen that greets you:

Drag and drop your files from the Finder into the Automator window as indicated:

And your files will be added to Automator, waiting for you to tell it what you want to do with them:

Scroll down the list of actions (the inner of the two columns on the left) until you find "Rename Finder Items" and double-click it. This will get the action ready to apply to your files:

(The sharper eyed among you will probably have noticed that you can keep adding actions from the left, so that complex workflows can be built up. You could, for example, add another instruction to move the files to another folder once the first action is complete. As I say, I've barely scratched the surface of this one.)

You now have a number of options for re-naming your files in a batch. In this case, I want to have sequentially numbered files…

…with brand new file names:

All you need to do now is click on "Run":

…And your files will all be renamed and automatically given numbering:

Whilst this sounds like an astonishing faff, when you try it, it's actually remarkably fast -- certainly quicker than renaming the files manually!

It's also worth directing your attention to some of the other options in this screengrab:

For some reason, when I export TIFFs from Illustrator, AI has inexplicably stopped adding the .tif extension to the end of the file name. Note the "Add Text" option above, which even has the option to add file extensions.

A quirk of CS5 I haven't been able to work around yet is the infuriating habit of adding "-01" to the end of filenames when you do an export. Using the "Replace Text" option above, you can search for "-01" in a batch of filenames -- if you leave the replacement text field empty, the offending text is simply eliminated from the name of all the files in the batch.

I have a distinct feeling that this little chap…

…is going to become my new best friend.



Sunday 13 February 2011

Sunday Surgery: Q&A

This week's Sunday Surgery brings a quick Q&A to some queries from talented artist and all-round top geezer, Conor Boyle, whose work you should definitely check out.
"Do you use a specific font size to page size ratio?"
Short answer: no. I have occasionally read suggestions on various forums that there is a formula for working this sort of thing out, but I've never seen it explicitly spelled out. Additionally, back in the Postscript days, 6pt was 6pt regardless of what font you used. Now, with OpenType (.otf) fonts, size appears to be variable in relation to the proportion of the font; fonts with wider characters appearing larger at a given point size than narrow fonts.

Trial and error will eventually give you a feel for it! I have a couple of bits of sample text that I know have worked at a specific point size locked on the pasteboard at the side of the artwork and I match the chosen font to one of these samples by eye.
"Do you have a particular amount of tolerance of breathing room between text and a speech balloon edge?"

Bizarrely, I now realize that I've never given this any consideration at all, having always done it by eye. However, having gone back and checked a few pages at random, it turns out that my spacing is fairly consistent unless specifically constrained for room, and works out at a single character top and bottom of a balloon, and more like two characters extra space left and right:

Charmed #5 -- Zenescope Entertainment
Script by Paul Ruditis; Art by Marcio Abreau

Note that there are plenty of letterers who fit their balloons much more snugly to the text, so this is very much a matter of personal preference. When using a font with wider characters, I notice that I often reduce the horizontal spacing to a single character myself.

"Are there rules to characters talking off camera - do you use boxes or speech bubbles with no tails? Or something else?"

Yes, I believe there are rules for this. I'll confess that I have largely inferred these through observation, so I'm open to correction by older or wiser heads than mine.

Someone who is in the scene and speaks off-panel is represented by a balloon with a tail that is cut off by the panel border. Using a wavy tail is optional: I tend to use one when the tail itself is overly long, or if the unseen speaker is supposed to be speaking from some distance away:

Charmed #5 -- Zenescope Entertainment
Script by Paul Ruditis; Art by Marcio Abreau

Charmed #4 -- Zenescope Entertainment
Script by Paul Ruditis; Art by Dave Hoover

If dialogue is being used as a voice-over; if it is articulated speech coming from someone not present in the scene, then it goes in a caption box with quotation marks.

Charmed #5 -- Zenescope Entertainment
Script by Paul Ruditis; Art by Marcio Abreau

Note that if the same speaker continues to speak across multiple captions, each caption opens with a quotation mark, but only the last caption has a close-quotation at the end.

Vampire Vixens of the Wehrmacht -- WASTED Magazine/Bad Press
Script by Emperor; Art by Alex Ronald
If you have two speakers in captions on the same page, when one speaker finishes, you should close their dialogue with a close-quote and then start the next speaker, leaving their captions open until they finish speaking.

The only exception to this is that I will always close the quotation marks in the last caption on a page.

First person narration that is thought, or is a "voice-over" that comes from outside the direct narrative of the story (think of Deckard's narration in the original cut of Bladerunner) goes in captions without quotation marks.

Hopefully, that all makes some kind of sense. If it needs clarifying, or throws up further questions, please feel free to use the comments section below.

Saturday 5 February 2011

How d'ya like me now?!

It turns out that in Germany, I don't do the lettering… in Germany, I do the buchstaben, and they take their buchstab-ers seriously in Germany, because I get second credit!

Check it out!



(Special thanks to True Grit adapter Ben Read for bringing this to my attention.)

Friday 4 February 2011

Submitted For Your Consideration…

Nominations open today for the UK's well-regarded Eagle awards. When you get to the upper echelons of the lettering profession, I really don't think there's anything to choose between these guys in terms of technical skill, so it's all down to a matter of aesthetic preference; of taste. So, it's a given that one of lettering's big names will pick up the award, and deservedly so, whoever it is.

(I'd like to see the award go to Clem Robins or Nate Piekos, so often the bridesmaids but rarely the brides in these things, just for Clem's relentless efforts to make computer lettering look like hand lettering or Nate's indefatigable contribution to the lettering field, not least of these giving away a free font almost every month.)

However, given that I know (quite rightly) that I won't win, it would be nice if I could get on the nominations list. The current voting form is to build the "long list" -- a single vote will get you added to the present voting form. Once nominations have closed, the long list will be pruned down to the top five (or so) and voting proper will begin. 

I won't lie: even in the certain knowledge that I won't win, I'd be thrilled beyond words to make it onto the nomination shortlist. I've had a fair old chunk of stuff in print this year: Romeo & Juliet and The Canterville Ghost for Classical Comics; Charmed, Neverland, Salem's Daughter, GFT: Inferno, and sundry issues of Grimm Fairy Tales for Zenescope; Discovery Channel's Ten Deadliest Sharks for Zenescope's young reader imprint, Silver Dragon; Turning Tiger and the fill-in episodes of Spine Chillers for Renegade Arts…

And I've tried to maintain an active contribution to small press, lettering about half of the Millarworld anthology A Fistful of Comics; 'Old Friend' (which I also drew) in #22 of Dogbreath; 'Jikan: Cave of Death' and an episode of 'Battle Ganesh' for Paragon, plus the newspaper-style Jikan and the Kappa King for Paragon's blog; more CLiNT submissions than you can shake a stick at; 'Pleasing Symmetry' for Something Wicked; McAuliffe & Boyle's Dark Judges Special for Zarjaz; 'Replacement Heroes' for Reading With Pictures; 'Senior Citizen', 'Drop Ship' and 'Privacops' for Sleepless Phoenix; and, of course, Fractal Friction, which you should all vote for in the web comic category because it's brilliant.

So… if you read any of that little lot and enjoyed it, please consider visiting the Eagle Awards Nominations page and casting a vote for me to go forward to the nomination shortlist.

Even if you don't, thanks for reading this not-very-exciting post, and for supporting this blog.



Wednesday 2 February 2011

Steve MacManus: Hero of British Comics

You'll find a link to writer (and former 2000AD editor) David Bishop's excellent blog in the sidebar to the right of this post. 

However, I wanted to single out today's post from David, singing the praises of Steve MacManus, who was editor of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic during what is widely regarded as its Golden Age, and also oversaw the birth of its companion title, the Judge Dredd Megazine.

Steve's contribution to British comics is hard to overstate, and David's excellent post gives you an idea of why this is the case. Read it here.

And, Steve, in the unlikely event that you read this: thank you for the 2000AD of my childhood which, more than any book, TV programme or film, I think made me who I am today.