Friday, October 3, 2014

Ultra Update: The project in a nutshell

I realize that I haven't been exactly clear about what's going on here. So here it is:

  • About 30 years ago (among other things), I created a superhero called ULTRA.
  • I sent rough sketches to Steve Addlesee, who refined my initial costume ideas and did some concept art for me (check the last post for two of the images from the character design phase).
  • I then wrote a 20-page story and Steve penciled and lettered it. I may or may not have done some layouts/breakdowns for this story.
  • I then had some trouble finding someone to ink it. Ken Holden, Jr. inked the first 5 pages, then dropped the project due to other commitments.
  • Andrew Peopy (who was a teenager at the time and has since gone on to become an award-winning artist) inked the first 11 pages before dropping it (it's also possible that he never got the second half of the story -- I'm not sure).
  • I then got distracted with other things -- being the president of the Collectors' Club, going to college, dating, etc. All the usual things encountered by guys in their early 20s.
  • So I dropped the project. It's been sitting in my files, unfinished and unseen for about 30 years.
  • I recently went through my files and found a LOT of cool stuff.
  • So, I've decided to reactivate my old fanzine label, MELEE PUBLICATIONS, and print/reprint some of this old material.
  • I've contacted both Steve and Andrew, and they both gave me their blessings on this project. And they will receive royalties from each issue sold.
In future updates, I'll fill you in on the clean-up process for the artwork, and some of the other zines I'll be printing.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ultra Busts Out in COLOR!

This may sound odd, but when I created Ultra 30+ years ago, I never really thought of her in color. I was pretty sure she was a redhead, but since I was working in b&w line art, I designed the costume to look good in b&w. Back then, color was prohibitively expensive for a small press publisher to use, so it really didn't cross my mind.

Of course, nowadays we have cheap Print On Demand color, and the Web is a cornucopia of color. It's everywhere. In fact, the only people using black and white on the Web are doing so to be artsy (and even then, most of them use pops of color for emphasis and drama).

But I digress.

Now that I'm going to reprint ULTRA in this modern era, that means I need to figure out what she looks like in color. And, I must admit, that's proving to be a challenge.  You see, I really like the idea of gold boots and wrist bands. I also know she's a redhead. So, of course, that moves me toward green as her costume color. Um... high yellow boots and a green outfit? Sound like anyone's favorite female mutant with a fiery bird motif? Yup. It would be very easy to have her look like Phoenix.

Which is something I don't want.

So, Right now I'm taking suggestions (my old buddy Eric C. suggested I glam her up with metallic colors and some greens, purples, and so forth. I like it, but I'm not sure it's exactly the look I'm going for.  

Ultra Color Concepts. If you have any suggestions, send 'em in!

 I also took Eric's advice about making the trunks and vest purple. I actually kind of like that (as you can see above, I extended that to the trim on the boots). I'm considering adding it to the wrist bands. I like the orange, but it reminds me a bit too much of when Nova Kane had super powers in the old E-Man comics. It's also a little too Aquaman for me. But -- well -- it does kind of work. 

If you have any suggestions for her costume colors, send 'em in. If I use your idea, I'll send you a free PDF of the comic when it comes out.


Ultra will soon appear in a full-size comic book, FANZINE FLASHBACK: ULTRA #1. It features a 20 page story penciled by Steven R. Addlesee and the first 11 pages were inked by a teenaged Andrew Pepoy. For project and ordering info, visit us at: www.meleepublications.com

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ultra is Coming!

Illustration by Steven R. Addlesee, created Sept. 1982
Copyright 1982, 2014 Mike Mitchell

Here's a little glimpse at what I'm working on next! If you blow this up to full size, you'll see that I did NOT draw this. It was created based on original sketches and ideas that I sent to the incomperable Steven R. Addlesee waaaaay back in 1982! Yup.

I was just out of high school, and must stop before I call myself a "fresh-faced kid," because, if I recall correctly, I was rocking a serious boy-stache back them. Yup. That bit of under-nose hair all guys think makes them look older when they're at that age. And, of course, it really just looks silly.

But I digress.

Back then, and for several years after, I self published comic books and magazines. I created this superhero and sent the very rough concepts to Steve (we knew each other through the auspices of the Collectors' Club, which is a group of people who collect & enjoy comics) and he created the stunning b&w inked illustration you see above.

I added the color to make her "pop" in this image.

Stay tuned for a big announcement next week!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Galaxy Prime Art 16: So Long, and Thanks for All the Art!

Last week, I started telling you about the differences between Word Processors and Page Design programs. Now it's time to dig a little deeper.

Word Processors: You should write your text in a word processor. It has automatic spell check, automatic grammar check, and should help you do simple formatting like lists and tables (if your work requires it). It should also let you import images and set margins nicely. The main strength, though, comes from the tools that let you write quickly, outline if you need it (hopefully automatically, if you've been using Title and Header styles). It should also automatically generate your Table of Contents, have footers & headers. But mainly, it should be there to help you write quickly and clearly.

Page Design: This software is for after you've written your novel or book or whatever. It usually does not have automatic spelling or grammar checking (and often, it does not check grammar at all). That's not its job. It is supposed to help you create uniform pages with left/right headers & footers. It should let you adjust the spacing of your text, both horizontally and vertically. If you have a font that looks tight at small sizes (or you are printing it over a dark background), you can take complete control of the letter spacing to add 5% spacing between each letter. You can easily add a different title page, like the one above.And it handles spreads (left/right facing pages) much better than MS Word ever dreamed of doing -- see the example below.

GP, pg. 84 - 85 

Page design software handles styles in a similar way to Word and Open Office: You define them beforehand and then just put your cursor in a paragraph and then click on the appropriate style from the list. Bingo! The text is formatted correctly. Another great thing about Page Design software is that you define boxes/content holders in which to put your elements. In the cases above, I placed an image box at the bottom of the page, imported the image of the air car, and then added another small box for the caption. The text automatically flowed around the image. The same is true of the table on the next page. This sort of design only takes seconds to add to a page. Yes, you can do similar things in Word and Open Office, but the layouts are not stable, and unless you know exactly what you're doing, the tables and images will flow along with the text, causing weird page breaks and formatting problems.

Text handling is where the page design software really shines. As I said above, you can compress or expand text and control exactly how much space to put between lines. This is a powerful tool to help you with type fitting. How many times have you had a paragraph that is just two or three words too long, so it creates a new page that will be 98% blank? With the type tools in these programs, you can compress a few paragraphs (or just single lines) to imperceptibly suck space out between letters so that those few errant words wind up on the previous page, thus eliminating that extra blank page. This is the most invaluable tool in the typesetter's arsenal. And yes, it does it better than Word, Word Perfect, or any of those other programs.

GP, pg. 184 - 185 

Finally, if you are going to have your book professionally printed, it handles bleeds (ink running off the edge of the paper) and color with more precision. Galaxy Prime had a bleed on almost each and every page of the book.To do this, the actual size of the each page was 8.75 x 11.25 inches. After printing, it was trimmed to a standard 8.5 x 11 size. The design tools in InDesign (which I used to create GP) gave me the control and power I needed to create a solid, exciting, and professionally typeset book.


Earth Re-entry in 3... 2... 1...
I think this concludes our trip to GALAXY PRIME. Although I might do a few more illustrations or covers for future projects, I've moved on to other work and different genres. Before we move on, though, I would like to remind you that this is a really fun Role Playing Game, and it is available from Amazon.com. BTW: My work on this book is finished, so I don't get any money for suggesting it. It's just that if you're looking for a good RPG, I think you'll enjoy this one. Also, if you go to the Amazon site and click the "Look Inside" arrow above the photo of the cover, you can look at more pages from the book and see how I worked with Amy Fanning's incredible artwork as I integrated them into my page design.

I had a blast on this project, and I thank James Shade for letting me take full charge of the editing and design of this book so I could make something we could both be proud of.

Pleasant travels, spacefarers! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Galaxy Prime Art 15: Paging GP

I think we're just about ready to come back to earth from our tour of Galaxy Prime. That's my glib way of saying that I've finished reprinting the illustrations I created for the book. But there was one other aspect of art I created for the book, and that is the book itself.

GP, pg. 208
The illustrations I created weren't standalone pieces -- they were part of a page design that I was also responsible for creating. In this case, I used Adobe InDesign to create the book that author James Shade had originally written in Microsoft Word.

In this example below, you can see how the illustration is at the bottom of the page. It also extends far to the right of the text margin because it "bleeds" into the spine of the book. That's also why my signature is so far indented -- I didn't want it to get lost in the fold where the pages gather.

This is actually one of the things that I had to think about on a regular basis with this, and all other commercial illustrations that I create for publication. The original image actually needs to be a little larger than it will appear in the final book so that there is room for it to bleed off the page or into the spine.

A few of the cool things I liked about the design of this book was that each chapter opened with a quote -- which I wrote. I read the descriptions that author James Shade wrote about the various races, and then came up with some sort of saying that reinforces some of that race's basic traits. For instance, the Uncha are a race of gnome-like tinkerers known for building fantastic devices. For them, I wrote this saying that appeared at the start of Chapter 4:

"Planning is overrated. Just start putting things together and sometimes something wonderful happens."
Or this fun Molgan saying from Chapter 5:

"Money can't buy you friends... but when you have enough money you can always rent some." 

As you can easily guess, the Molgans are the financiers of the galaxy, always wheeling and dealing.

These quotes (and other textual elements) are the sort of features I worked into the text to perform multiple functions:

  • They help introduce new material that supports the content, but isn't part of the main text.
  • The reinforce character traits and give the book personality
  • They break up the text so it isn't overwhelming. There is little more dull than page after page after page of boring text. This is a game book, not a novel. 
  • They take up space. As a design decision, the side bars tell the reader which chapter is currently open. This meant that chapters start on the left page (even numbers). So, every chapter has to start with an even page and end with an odd page. To prevent blank pages, textual elements and graphics were added to just fill space. As in the example below, I tried to have fun with it by putting quotes in an alien font, and then putting the translation below it.
  • There are also 16 sectors in Galaxy Prime, so I selected an "sigil" for each one. So, when I put one of those in the background, it actually indicated which sector the quote originated from.

GP, 228 - 229
This is one of the few times James edited one of the quotes I wrote:
Translation of a Runarian saying: "The Future is not your to take, it's yours to make."



Word Processors vs.
Page Design Programs
The Galaxy Prime book that went to press would not have been possible if I had been forced to work with MS Word. In fact, James actually tried laying out the book in Word -- and he did a passable job of -- but it was unstable (an edit on one page could start a ripple effect that would reflow the text throughout the entire book. Plus, it was more than 350 pages long!

MS Word is a fine program -- and many people successfully use it to create fairly complex documents. Including myself. I've published many documents in Word, and got very nice results. But, it is not a page design program (or what we used to call "desktop publishing software").

I actually had a discussion with a fellow professional recently who said that almost anything you can do in InDesign can be duplicated in Word. That is true, but the key phrase is almost anything.  I'm not going to go into a long discussion about how the page design program is better at using visual and spacing algorithms to better process type (but if you're interested, there's a very accessible article about it here). I'm just going to list a few of the differences between the two types of software.

Word ProcessorsPage Design
MS Word
Open Office *
Google Docs *
Word Perfect
Text Maker
Corel Write
Adobe InDesign
QuarkXPress
MS Publisher
Adobe Illustrator (single pages & short docs)
Page Plus (* free version available)
Scribus *
For a review of many of these products, check out this link: http://office-software-review.toptenreviews.com/word-processing-software/
* Indicates Free software
For a review of discount products, visit this link: http://desktop-publishing-software-review.toptenreviews.com/ 
* Free tools reviews: http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-desktop-publishing-program.htm

There are MANY more programs out there. Many of them free. Many of them very good. But I'm going to be brutally honest: MS Word is the top word processor and the top two design programs are Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress. Everyone else in the market is an "also-ran." Those programs dominate their markets, and rightly so. They are good programs that get the job done.


In our next installment, we'll do a level-1 diagnostic about
the differences between these two types of programs. See you on Friday!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Galaxy Prime Art 14: Space Station Wire Frame

Even though I use 3D models as the basis of my illustration work, I actually don't want it to look like it's 3D. I'm putting in a lot of work (my Photoshop Wizardry" as I call it) to make it look like traditional line art.

GP, pg. 208, This station is allegedly abandoned...
but we know better, don't we?
That's why this illustration for the Galaxy Prime book was a lot of fun. Since this was for the adventure, "The Lone Liyek," I felt I could break loose a little more. Plus, the material was being presented like a technical briefing (sort of), so this seemed like a good time to let the readers see behind the facade, so to speak, and see the wireframe underneath the artwork.

In this case, I created the image normally (but using a smoother art style than usual), and then created a second render of the wireframe. I then faded between the two images in Photoshop for a pretty cool effect. Click on it to see a bigger version -- it really brings the detail to life.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Galaxy Prime 13: The Cutting Room Floor

This week, I thought I'd share something that didn't make the cut. This ship is a cool design, but I could never get it to turn out right. This is what I started with:

This cool ship never made it into Galaxy Prime.
I guess it's Q*Drive stopped working in mid flight.

And, when the usual effects didn't pan out, I actually tried a few approaches like the one below. Although it looks kind of cool, it just was too different from the other illustrations I had created for the Galaxy Prime RPG published by Epic Age Media.

You know, this ship always reminded me of the Blackbird that the X-Men flew around in. In retrospect, I think the failure of this design to mesh well with my style stems from its smooth lines. There's not enough detail for me to pull from. This model is all about sexy, shiny surfaces... and that's not quite right for my "old school" retro approach to this project.

Plus, I really didn't like the way the front window came out. It looks recessed, for some reason. This definitely got the fate it deserved.