Today’s Art (11th January 2017)

Well, it’s a new year and it’s time for a new webcomic mini series! As such, I’m very proud to present the eleventh (and penultimate) comic in “Damania Resolute” 🙂 If you want to see more comics featuring these characters, lots of them can be found on this page.

This comic was inspired by both a short-lived fascination with fountain pens that I had last year (here’s an article explaining why it didn’t last that long) and the fact that the pen I was using to make this comic had started to run out (hopefully, it isn’t noticeable, but I had to switch pens whilst making this comic).

But, yeah, as pen types go, rollerballs (that have a more free-floating ball and slightly runnier ink than “normal” ballpoint pens) are the best – although, if you get waterproof ink ones, some types of them have a habit of guzzling ink at a ridiculous rate when used for drawing/comics (good ones last about a month or so at most! ). Ironically, the non-waterproof ink rollerball I use for note taking and/or comic planning has lasted for at least a few months.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Resolute - Pen Nerds" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resolute – Pen Nerds” By C. A. Brown

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One Subtle Way To Give Your Characters More Depth

2016 Artwork Subtle characterisation through item choice article sketch

Although I’m still in the middle of a geeky fascination with the history and designs of pens at the time of writing, I thought that I’d see if my fascination could tell me anything about storytelling – in both comics and prose fiction.

However, I should warn you that I’ll probably spend at least the next few paragraphs talking about pens (and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) in a fairly geeky way. There is a point to all of this that I hope becomes obvious later. But, if you’re not interested in reading about any of this, then just skip to the last three or four paragraphs of this article.

Anyway, one of the interesting things about researching pens is the sheer array of different mechanisms and types of pens in existence. I’ll only be talking about three of them here though.

First of all, there are fountain pens. There are fountain pens that use ink cartridges (eg: every fountain pen I’ve ever used), there are fountain pens that are filled with ink using a plunger mechanism, there are fountain pens that use a rubber sac and a lever for filling and there are fountain pens that you actually have to drip the ink into using a small dropper. These are pens that may have been common decades ago, but are now mostly only used by collectors, enthusiasts and reluctant schoolchildren.

Then there are rollerball pens, my favourite type of pen. Although they look similar to ballpoint pens and function in a similar way, they use a slightly different type of ink (which is much less viscous). Rollerball pens have all of the advantages that ballpoint pens have over fountain pens, but they write a lot more smoothly and are also more well-suited to making art too. Albeit with the disadvantages of causing ink blots to form on the page if the pen is pressed against one part of the page for too long, and of using inks that dry slightly more slowly (and are more prone to smudging).

Then there’s the humble ballpoint pen – the most widely-used type of pen in existence. It doesn’t do all of the cool things that fancier pens do and it’s less well-suited to making art and writing long things than rollerball pens are but, for general everyday use, it’s the best choice. You can leave it unused for years and it’ll still work. You can leave it uncapped for months and you can get it to work again fairly quickly. You can use it for years and it probably still won’t run out of ink. Even if the casing gets damaged, the central parts of the pen will probably still work. It’s a ridiculously cheap type of pen that is entirely designed for practicality and reliability.

For some reason, this reminded me of a scene from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” when one of the Starfleet characters is describing the phaser weapons used by their enemies (the Cardassians).

In a scene that echoes historical accounts of American troops talking about Soviet-designed rifles during the Vietnam war, this character talks enthusiastically about how the Cardassian phaser weapons are significantly more reliable and resistant to damage, when compared to the fancier weapons that the Starfleet characters use.

This simple difference tells us a lot about both groups of characters. It emphasises the ruthless militarism of the Cardassian government, and it also emphasises the fact that the Starfleet characters are more interested in advanced technology (with weapon design being something of an afterthought, or a secondary byproduct of this interest). This one small design choice sums up the attitudes of both groups of characters perfectly.

So, if you’re making a comic or writing a novel, then you can show a lot about your characters purely from the items that they use, or the items that they create.

For example, if you want a character in your comic to seem practical, focused and ordinary – then just show them writing with an ordinary ballpoint pen. If you want to give your character a bit more prestige, class and/or eccentricity, then show them writing with a fountain pen. This is a tiny thing that most of your audience won’t notice but, when combined with other types of characterisation – it can really bring a character to life.

Likewise, if you show a group of characters building or designing something – then that thing should reflect who these characters are. In a subtle way, it should reflect their priorities and attitudes towards life. Like with the different weapons in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, things that your characters use and/or make should be a subtle reflection of who they are.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Perils Of Fountain Pen Nostalgia – A Ramble

In case my handwriting is illegible, this little picture was drawn using a fountain pen.

In case my handwriting at the bottom of this picture is illegible, this picture was drawn using a fountain pen.

For the first time in about five or six years, I found myself fascinated with fountain pens again.

This was mainly because some of the drawing pens that I got for Christmas (medium “Uni-Ball eye” waterproof ink rollerball pens – the king of drawing pens) came with a free pink pen, which looked a lot like the gel pens that used to be really popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Naturally, I went online to read up on the history of gel pens and – after a while – found myself on a few familiar fountain pen collecting sites instead. I was fascinated! I loved the fact that something as mundane as a pen could have both a long history and serious collectors.

I loved reading about the technical intricacy of all of the old fountain pen mechanisms, from stylographs to plunger mechanisms. I also loved reading scans of old newspaper articles where people bemoaned how no-one knew how to cut a quill any more, or decried the fact that people were referring to pens as “pens” or “nibs” rather than referring to them as a “pen and a pen-holder” etc…

Not to mention that reading earnest online comments from collectors about how and why even mediocre old fountain pens are better than high-end modern fountain pens appealed to the grumpy old person within me. There were also discussions about the merits of ballpoint vs. fountain pens and about how the different types of pens affect the ways that we write.

I was fascinated by pens and, especially, by fountain pens.

Then I tried actually using a fountain pen, for the first time in over half a decade.

It might be because I was still “breaking in” one of the cheap cartridge-baded fountain pens that I’d bought during my last fountain pen phase in 2010, it might be because I was out of practice with using one, or it might have been because I’m left-handed, but I actually found the pen slightly less ergonomic to write with than my usual rollerball pens (eg: a cheap one for writing, and the Uni-Ball pens for drawing).

However, the fountain pen proved acceptable to draw with – although the fact that it uses non-waterproof ink is a huge disadvantage (since I can’t use it with watercolours).

[Edit: I left the fountain pen to settle for a few hours and now it actually works significantly better than it did a while before I wrote this article. I’m probably still not going to switch over from the rollerball pens that I usually use though.]

Then I remembered why I haven’t geeked out about fountain pens that much. Even though I went to secondary school in the early-mid ’00s, the school that I went to had a rather traditionalist attitude towards pens. In other words, for at least the first few years of my time there, we were all required to use fountain pens. They were a mundane, and occasionally annoying, thing that I used regularly for 3-5 years of my life.

Then I read some more articles about pens and writing in general and I was shocked to read that most people don’t handwrite that much these days.

These days, I type and write by hand in roughly equal measure (probably about 60/40, typing/writing) but, even until my early 20s, I wrote by hand far more than I typed. But the idea of going a whole day without writing even at least one sentence by hand just seems alien to me.

There were also online articles decrying the decline in cursive/joined-up handwriting, and many online comments from people who only print words on the rare occasions that they write by hand.

Although I tend to use block capitals when adding lettering to comics (and the title graphics of these articles) for the sake of legibility, it isn’t really my “normal” writing style. It’s slow and cumbersome compared to good, practical handwriting.

Yes, my “normal” handwriting tends to be fairly quick, fairly tiny and almost completely illegible but – when I write slowly, it’s actually just about legible. The idea that people don’t write things by hand any more just seems bizarre.

I mean, how would you spontaneously jot down notes and ideas? How would you doodle in the margins? How would you cram a few extra small notes into an oddly-shaped corner of the page? Yes, keyboards are very useful, but there are a lot of things that handwriting can do that keyboards (and probably touchscreens too) just can’t do. The idea of a life without handwriting is almost as strange as the idea of a life without writing itself.

But, going back to the subject of fountain pens and vintage pens, I was relieved to switch back to using rollerball pens. I may sound like a heretic or a philistine, but the most superior type of pen in the world isn’t a fountain pen of any kind – it’s a black ink rollerball pen (whether cheap or expensive, or whether it uses ordinary or waterproof ink) – with a line width of about 0.5mm -1mm .

They may not be prestigious and they may not have a fancy history, but rollerball pens (not to be confused with ordinary ballpoint pens) are just perfect to use for both writing and drawing.

They produce striking bold lines, you can keep them uncapped for as long as you like (without worrying about damaging the pen too much), they don’t need to be “broken in”, you can use the nib at any angle (as long as you don’t turn the whole pen upside-down) you don’t need to apply a lot of pressure and they glide across the page with only slightly more resistance than a well-used fountain pen does.

So, yes, fountain pens are fascinating in theory, but inferior in practice.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂