First new video from EXPLONE: “Dead Set On Destruction”

Finally, we have a release date for Suicide Fences! August 9, on vinyl and digital. Links to come. Until then, here’s the first official music video from the new record, a cover of “Dead Set On Destruction” by Hüsker Dü, filmed and directed by Garrett Gibbons, who’s done a lot of excellent video work for Kirby Krackle, too.

We had to do multiple takes with the song playing a double speed and half speed. Both were EXHAUSTING. You’d think it’d be easy to rock out a half speed but consider that the song is almost seven minutes long at that speed. Nonstop jumping around with heavy instruments is a workout.

There are more videos and stuff headed your way.

Watch this new EXPLONE “Suicide Fences” promo video

This here blog is gonna mostly about EXPLONE as we roll through the summer and on to the release of our new full-length album “Suicide Fences” in late August. Our friend Thor Radford — who created our first music video back in 2010 for “St. Yesterday” — put together this cool promo video for us. Here’s our fearless leader Pat talking about the new album and the purpose of music:

Pat is one of the most genuine humans I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. It’s not hard to see why we’ve stuck together as a band all this time.

We have a lot more music and video headed your way in the next few weeks!

New single from EXPLONE: “Running Up That Hill”

This year marks my eight year as the bassist of EXPLONE. How is that even possible? I’ve been a member of of this band longer than I’ve been with any band.

Later this summer EXPLONE will finally release our new album “Suicide Fences” and we’re priming the promotion engine with a new single. Please enjoy and share our shoegaze-y rock version of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” Click the big image below to listen:

More to come as the Summer of EXPLONE rolls on…

Wheels

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The company I work for has a brand new office building downtown. I don’t work in the building yet, but I took an employee shuttle there to check it out. One of the fancy new lobbies uses conveyor belt wheels and axles as decoration.

These wheels and axles are nearly identical to the ones fabricated at the conveyor belt factory where I worked as a customer service rep nearly 20 years ago. We manufactured conveyors for shipping and fulfillment centers. I worked the phones mostly, taking orders and forwarding leads to our four sales reps scattered across the US.

That job sucked and I was a terrible employee, abusing my fax machine privileges to send out flyers and press releases for my band. But it got me out of debt, and it was also where I first encountered the “real” internet.

My office was among the first to replace its aging AS/400 terminals with actual PCs running Windows 95, and it was decided that my PC would have a modem installed so the company could get email for the first time. I never saw a single email arrive, but I did eventually click on the globe icon labeled “Internet” during a boring moment.

I spent a few weeks view-sourcing web pages at lunchtime and reading Dummies books (“The Internet For…”, “HTML 3.2 For…” and so on), before quitting and starting down a whole new career path, one that would over the course of two decades lead me here, to this city, to this building, to these very familiar wheels. I don’t believe in fate or luck, but every so often the Universe teases me with a bit of serendipity. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if they hadn’t installed that modem.

Making RED MOON

Hey, hi! It’s been really gratifying to see the reaction to RED MOON and I thought I’d write up some “making of” notes here.

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RED MOON was based on a short story that I wrote when I was 19, I think, about a stowaway vampire making its way to a human colony in space. I suddenly remembered this story earlier this summer, when I was thinking how I could follow last year’s Halloween comic, “Goodnight.” I dug up the original dot-matrix printed story from a box in my basement. I can’t bear to share any of the original text here because it’s just wincingly, painfully bad.

Good news! I am a better illustrator than I am a fiction writer! That might not be saying much. Anyway, pretty much everything in RED MOON plays out as described in the original story, except I moved the destination from Mars to Phobos, and there was hardly any dialogue.

I started rough-sketching out the scenes with pencil and paper first, resulting in eight pages. Then I took photos of the sketches with my iPhone and imported them into Manga Studio on my Surface Pro. These are pretty terrible, but their primary purpose was to set up each scene. Here are a few:

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Using the sketches as guides, I started doing more detailed digital pencils on top, and then a final linework pass on top of those.

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Now, a professional comic illustrator could probably bang out eight pages in just a few days. I, on the other hand, needed two months of on-again, off-again work to finish these pages. Sometimes I went a week or more without making progress on it. It’s not a great way to work, partly because it was easy to forget important details such as what brush sizes I was using and what elements lived on what layer. Ah, and I did this while also holding down a day job and posting weekly comics at Neat Hobby. Luckily I had set the story in the dark, claustrophobic confines of a small spacecraft, so I didn’t have to draw a ton of detailed environs because everything was in shadow or silhouette, saving me a ton of time.

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Eventually I had the linework done and could move on to inking. At first I was going to use a soft, airbrushed look but then stupidly changed my mind halfway through when I discovered this awesome Zombie Yeti rough brush, which I think gives everything a bit of a nightmare quality. In retrospect I probably put way too much detail into the linework since so much of it was swallowed up in shadow.

Finally I used some noise and fabric texture brushes to add some interest to the all-black areas.

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That’s pretty much it for the illustration, just a lot of trial and error and pushing my drawing skills as far as possible. I redrew a lot of stuff, mostly the faces and hands. I redrew the entire shuttle bridge scene (frame one of page five) because I chose a line weight that felt too thick. The great thing about digital illustration, though, is you don’t have to throw anything away. Just stuff the layers in a folder and hide them.

The “Enhanced Edition”

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Two weeks before the publish date I read Matthew Bogart’s “Why Cartoonists Might Want To Be William Castle” and Pablo Defendini’s “Standards, Semantics, & Sequential Art.” These immediately had me wondering if I could do anything with RED MOON to take it beyond static images. I’d seen animated/interactive comics before, and was particularly impressed by Electric Sheep Comix (NSFW) and Valve’s Team Fortress comics. So I set out to add some cool special effects to RED MOON.

This didn’t turn out to be as much work as you’d think. All of the effects are triggered by Skrollr, a JavaScript library that allows a web page to do special stuff when the page is scrolled. Check out the demo and you’ll essentially see all the effects I used in RED MOON.

The other fancy part is the use of CSS3 transitions and animations. With these you can achieve Flash-style but with plain ol’ CSS rules. These animations are usually managed by the host computer’s graphics processor instead of the JavaScript engine, so they’re less likely to bog down the page rendering.

Everything in RED MOON is done with Skrollr, CSS3 and a bit of native JavaScript. I didn’t use even one line of jQuery. Some concrete examples:

• The flashing foreground lighting in page three is a partly transparent, absolutely-positioned PNG image, with a looping CSS 3 animation that toggles the overlay’s CSS opacity value.

• The totally gross blood gusher is another partly transparent PNG image that starts off scaled down to almost nothing. As the page scrolls, the image is scaled up to where it appears to burst from the frame. This is done with the transform:scale CSS rule.

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• The floating, spinning eyeglasses are another PNG image which is both scaled up and rotated as the page scrolls. There’s also some positioning magic happening to keep the glasses somewhat centered in the window while you scroll. The fact that the glasses also disappear into shadow is a happy accident!

• All the star fields and blood particle backdrops are just CSS background images behind the page images, which have transparent knock-outs. I actually used a green screen layer so I could easily see where those knock-outs were.

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The backdrops scroll independently of the page images, creating a cool parallax effect.

Finally, the dialogue balloons are transparent PNGs absolutely positioned on top of everything else. They begin hidden at zero opacity, and begin to fade in once they’re within 100 pixels of the window centerline.

That is basically everything! To be honest, it took far longer to chop up all the images into floaty bits and position them on the page than it did to hook up the special effects. I ended up with lots and lots and lots of little image files to manage. A pain, but I think the result was totally worth it.

As a collection of web pages, RED MOON is neither responsive nor accessible, which kind of bothers me a bit. If I had more time before launch, I would’ve liked to at least come up with a better mobile solution. I think this is one of the bigger challenges facing comics today: how to take an art form that relies so much on layout to create mood, tension and cadence and translate it to mobile screens. Even the static image version isn’t all that optimal for small screens as the images themselves are enormous — and I didn’t even provide high resolution images for Retina and other dense-pixel displays.

Ideally there’d be only one version of RED MOON that would be initially static images, with the JS/CSS-powered bells and whistles added only for browsers that supported them. In hindsight I can see a few ways I could have managed this, but I was rushing at breakneck speed just to finish the art, so I’ll just try to do even better next time.

Thanks again for reading!

RED MOON: new Halloween special comic at Neat Hobby!

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Look, I made a Halloween thing! I spent most of September and October putting together RED MOON, a short horror story done in a graphic novel style, with some pretty cool animations and special effects for modern browsers. There’s an image-only “standard” edition for all devices, too. RED MOON is based on a short story I wrote when I was 19, and although the writing itself was pretty awful, I think it translated into a decent comic.

Much of the inspiration for the “enhanced” edition of RED MOON came from Matthew Bogart’s article “Why cartoonists might want to be William Castle.” Castle earned a reputation for shocking movie audiences (sometimes literally!) with staged effects and live stunts that made for a more immersive experience for moviegoers. With that in mind, I made a dubious 11th-hour choice to spend the last week experimenting with fancy-pants CSS 3 transitions and animations to enhance the comic. I’ll probably write a future post on the technical stuff (n.b.: there’s not a lot of technical wizardry and I cheated a lot).

Beyond that, it was a fun challenge to stretch my comic illustration chops and work outside that comfort zone. I have a new level of respect for the artists who can bang out multiple pages like these per day at a much higher quality.

Enough talk! Enjoy…RED MOON.

KK plays Bungie’s The Taken King party, doesn’t die

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Kirby Krackle had the unique honor of being the house band at Bungie’s Destiny: The Taken King release party last night at the MOHAI in Seattle. I got to meet a few devs and showered effusive praise on those who identified themselves as testers. I also got to dedicate our cover of AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” to anyone who had ever “worked through a crunch, now or ever.” LOL I’m awesome.

I had to admit to those same testers that I hadn’t played Destiny yet, but I think I gained some respect back by mentioning I was still plowing through Alien: Isolation and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel so I’m basically a year behind.

  
We did all of this with Kyle basically in an illness-driven fugue state, having contracted some serious con crud from Long Beach Comic Con. How he pulls these events off in such a state we’ll never figure out, but I spent part of the post-show evening following him around waiting to catch him if he collapsed. Nerd rock life is hard.

Oh, NOW a stylus is cool…

It figures that a week after I posted about how drawing on an iPad sucks, Apple would go and release a new iPad and stylus combo optimized for illustration.

Obviously I haven’t tried the iPad Pro with the new Apple Pencil myself, but Apple’s sizzle video sure does make the experience look luscious. Daaaammmn.

My primary complaint about using the iPad for illustration is the iPad touch screen is optimized for fat, smooshy fingertips. That’s why most of the pens you’ll find for earlier iPads have tips that look like erasers. You just can’t get that fine-line finesse on an iPad (unless you zoomed way, way in). More precision simply wasn’t necessary for the vast majority of tasks done on a tablet.

The iPad Pro retains the squishy-fingertip support, but allows for more precision when it senses the Apple Pencil. That’s pretty cool. Add in the freakishly high Retina pixel density and — wow.

If you’re interested, take a look at this post by Linda Dong comparing the iPad Pro to the Wacom Cintiq. Dong is a designer who worked at Apple on the Apple Pencil and drawing support. I’ve not used a Cintiq (and ruled it out mostly on price), but many of her criticisms of drawing tablets ring true, and many apply to the original Surface Pro, which uses Wacom technology. (Not sure if this is still the case for the Surface Pro 2 and 3.) The complaint about the parallax sensation one gets from using a pen on a glass surface is bang on. It feels like the pen target is always a few millimeters beneath the pen nib and precise tracking is always an issue.

It’ll be interesting to see Wacom’s response to the iPad Pro.

Still missing from the picture is software. iPad versions of popular drawing software are typically stripped down to a bare minimum of features, and others are toys, more or less. It’ll be interesting to see if the release of the Pro/Pencil results in an iPad-friendly version of Manga Studio.

The Surface Pro has been pretty great as my first drawing tablet, but pen support always felt like an afterthought, something cool to please marketing but always last to get bugfixes because who needs a pen to make pivot tables in Excel?