The Rose Mob


So yesterday I did something I’d been needing to do for a long, long time: I finalized the designs for Lexy’s droogs in Five Glasses of Absinthe. I can now start drawing panels they appear in.

This is, in fact, a drawing from the comic; they were drawn small, and then blurred, but I liked these drawings too much to leave them at that. So I tweaked them a tiny bit, scaled them up, and did some quick text.

Their names are (currently, L-R) Pulchello, Mouse, and Alea. Pulchello’s gender is “bishi”. If you were wondering. We briefly imagined a spin-off in which they, along with their leader Lexy, roam around the Skylands in a van, solving mysteries. Sort of a queer, diverse reboot of Scooby Doo for the Millenials. But I’m pretty sure the guy animating Mystery Skulls videos is a lot further along the road of that show pitch.

I kinda want this on a t-shirt.

a shading experiment


I was thinking about other people’s processes that involve shading on a separate layer that’s been constrained by a mask of the shapes it’s shading, and knocked this out in about an hour.

It looks nice, but I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that it resulted in about three times as many layers as I’d normally use.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 12.44.26 PM

(All the ‘light’ and ‘shadow’ layers have an opacity mask of a duplicate of the layer they’re modifying; light layers are 100% screen, shadow layers are 100% multiply. Most paths in them are heavily gaussian blurred; all the shadow paths are a blue-purple gradient.)

And just to show how much some simple effects can add, here’s the same image with most of the blurs removed:


I may try experimenting with this on a few panels of Absinthe. Making myself separate “shading” from “drawing” is weird; I’m really used to considering them at the same time. I may also want to experiment with using this method for broader strokes of shading, and doing some of the subtler shading within the base layers the way I normally do. Dunno. My methods are a constant work in progress, and ultimately what matters most is a mix of working speed and how fast they feel – I’d rather do something that’s empirically a bit slower, but feels faster to my brain, because that’s more likely to keep me happily working for a longer stretch. Making sure everything works in silhouette and basic colors before going to shades probably won’t hurt, though.


Design process: Lexy Franklin

This one’s taken a while. I think I finally nailed it.

This morning, I went through eight years of sketchbooks, looking for drawings of Lexy Franklin, who’s slated to appear in the middle of chapter 2 of Absinthe. Originally she was going to be a white lady, but during development she changed to a black lady, and that’s always kind of a dangerous ground for a white chick to design. Especially as a character who is largely hostile to the main character.

This was the best I had. I knew it wasn’t right.

But yesterday I started putting together my loose roughs together with the revised dialogue Nick had written in the time since the breakup. And the new dialogue spawned something interesting:


Those thorny vines started showing up when she was angry. She’s now prone to very fussy speech patterns; on the previous and next pages she has dialogue like “Damn you, Absinthe! What in perdition are you doing here?” and “It was your sacrilege, Absinthe. Not mine.” (She has a pretty serious beef with Absinthe. She also usually uses the royal We.) And those thorny vines just came out of nowhere, with no real conscious thought – one minute I was drawing the word balloon, the next minute there were these vines coming out of it.

So I had this association with roses. And I thought, what if I carried the rose theme into her? Just a little bit. Not a lot. I showed this to Nick and ran that idea by him, and he loved it.

Evernote Camera Roll 20151103 134307

I’d been going around Bloodborne as a tall black lady with magenta hair, glasses, and a propensity for a rapier. That felt like a good idea to inform Lexy a couple months back, and it still felt like one when I found this sketch again this morning.

All of this was hanging in my head when I went to lunch today, along with all the various adjectives written on those sketches I knew weren’t quite there. I was thinking: fencing, courtly bearing, rose theme… kinda like Utena, really. But dressed for much hotter climates than the European vibe of that show’s costumes. And a bit more obviously butch. I had a sketchbook with me; I was expecting to start on the first of maybe a half dozen attempts to find her body shape and her dress sense while I waited for my sandwich to get made.


And then this fell out of my pencil. And I was all, “oh, hi, Lexy, there you are.”

(The cut-off text on the right says “asymmetrical sculpted goku/sonic fro (white)” and “layer tails for rose theme hint”.


I came home and had a go at her in Illustrator. Yep. Looking good. I still need to find the way to give just the right amount of frizziness to her hair, but that’s a minor detail. Plus a few other things like really nailing down her little rose pin and ring, so I can reuse that important detail in other drawings. Fussy stuff like that.

She is going to give Absinthe so much shit. Don’t worry, Abby deserves it.

Initial fontening: success!

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 8.14.12 PM

Yeah, I think this is gonna work. There’s a lot of stuff about making fonts that still feels pretty mysterious but I’ll figure it out.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 6.49.12 PM

There’s only one copy of each letter in the font right now. The first order of business is to write a few sentences that include enough of the letters missing from the image above. I definitely need an uppercase Q; it looks like I never used it in Absinthe chapter 1 at all. I may never use it. But it’ll be nice to have it. And several lowercase q’s, and z’s, and a bunch of copies of some uppercase letters and all those digraphs I’ve saved a few copies of. And numbers. And probably some other punctuation like +/*()%$#@^&;:. I need six of each of them, so I can make the font cycle between all these different instances of each letter to make it look more organic. That’ll be a few more hours of mindless tracing in Illustrator, plus somewhat-less-mindless cutting-and-pasting into Glyphs.
Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 8.26.29 PM

My test words are, um, interesting.

(Glyphs has this cool feature where you can type a bunch of letters, then stay in one window to quickly edit the horizontal metrics of the letters, and to tweak the paths that make them up. I dunno if this is a standard feature of font editors these days; the last time I tried making one was around 2001.)

Right now the font’s called ‘Five Glasses’ but I’m probably going to change it to something like ‘Thieving Raccoon’ or ‘Procyonid’ or somesuch. I’m kinda tempted to use it as the human dialogue for Drowning City, too – I need to see how it looks against the ornate calligraphy I’ll be using for the elves.

Edit. Here’s the acid test – I took page 1 and turned off the layer with the hand-written dialogue, and typed in this font. Barring the lack of an apostrophe and italics, it looks pretty much the same as the hand-lettered page, albiet a little more regular (and a little bit smaller and weirdly leaded, I need to figure that out.). This is definitely working.



An important part of a comic is the lettering. Your choice of font will set the tone for the whole story, in some ways.

Most people are happy to just grab a “comic book” font and do it like it’s always been done in the superhero comics: all caps, in a font that probably looks like it was drawn in a brush. Not me. I don’t come from that world; my stories don’t feel right with that tone of voice. I like upper and lower case, for starters.

Rita used Myriad Pro for the vast majority of the dialogue. It’s got bold and italics and multiple weights, and it’s a nice crisp serif font that fit the tone of the comic.

But Absinthe? Absinthe was done in a different era of my craft. Absinthe was done back when I was still nailing things down on paper before taking them into Illustrator. And Absinthe was lettered in the real world, with dialogue that sometimes became a part of the overall design of the page.

I want the new pages to stylistically match the first chapter. But I really don’t want to hassle with getting a paper-based workflow going again. So…


Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 3.50.24 PM

I’m gonna make my own font. I’ll still have to do some things by hand, or by doing a bit of paper lettering and bringing it into the computer. But I figure that tracing a bunch of these letters will give me a good start on a unique font that can have italics and bold. I’ll have to figure out how to have multiple versions of each character that change randomly; I hope that’s doable.

Right now I’m thinking of trying to make it with the lite version of Glyphs, which is a mere $50. If it does what I need then I’ll be delighted to not have to spend the $5-600 that serious font software costs.

(I may end up making the font available as a Patreon perk, as well. Dunno.)


edit. Here are some useful-looking links I found on making different character images cycle.

Engaging Contextuality

Contextual feature code samples – I like the idea of having a set number of variants for every letter that cycles with every character, rather than a lengthy hand-tuned set of variants. Seems like there isn’t an actual random number generator available; writing rules for selecting from multiple glyphs is what you have to do. (And what I ended up doing.)

also Common Techniques – I love the idea of making the glyphs move a bit by themselves, in the very last example. Might be a royal pain in the ass though.