The Magic Sketchbook is a success.

Years ago, my animation school roomie Gabe went to a con and chatted with master cartoonist Sergio Aragones. Aragones often draws incredibly complicated, goofy comics, and has a pretty impressive rate of output.

Gabe asked his secret. And passed it on to me: instead of working at a larger size than the printed page and shrinking it down, as most comics artists do, he uses typing paper on an ordinary clipboard. The compactness of this setup means he can draw anywhere – even on an airplane. Any spare moment can become drawing time.

This stuck with me. I fell in love with Adobe Illustrator and got used to being tethered to a huge desktop machine. The highly portable sketchbook was just for roughs and practice, not finished work. Finished work happened at home. Eventually I shifted to a laptop and things got better; I could easily go out to a cafe and work. But I still needed a lot of room. I could barely do it on a plane or bus if I had two seats to spread out on, and it was a big hassle to set up and tear down – enough to make me miss my stop if I wasn’t careful.

But it still stuck with me. Reduce your process to something you can do in a single airplane seat. It started to feel like an tantalizing goal that was always just out of reach for me, even as more and more of my process lived in Illustrator.

Today, I got on an airplane.

This is what page 12 of Absinthe chapter 2 looked like when I got on in Seattle.

This is what it looked like when I stopped after an hour or so and read until I landed in San Jose.

At long last, I have achieved the holy grail. I can draw comics on the plane. The Mobile Studio is still a little too heavy to be as casual as a clipboard or sketchbook, it’s a little bigger and pricier than I’d like, and I really wish it had a kickstand. But sitting there with the Twiddler strapped to one hand and the stylus in the other, I finally felt that freedom. Any journey of twenty minutes or more can be converted into time doing what I love: drawing. And that’s well worth the ~$2k I sunk into this setup for me.

Hopefully in a year or three I’ll have something as light as a Surface that works this way. It will be bliss.

    • I’ve been feeling like it’s time for a computer upgrade for a year or so, and ended up getting this instead of the new Mac laptop. So it’s kinda mostly money I would have spent anyway – I think maybe $600-900 more than a new Air would have been, if Apple had upgraded those and kept the price point I tend to end up at. (Hmm, the Air I’m typing this on right now was $1700, and the Wacom plus Twiddler was like $13-1400. So yeah, $6-700 more.)

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