Three Things To Do With Failed Webcomic Update Ideas/Plans

Well, since I’m still busy preparing a webcomic mini series for later this month, I thought that I’d write another webcomic-related article. In particular, I’ll be talking about what to do with the comic ideas that you don’t end up using. I’m sure I’ve talked about this topic before, but it seemed like it was worth repeating.

Needless to say, it’s incredibly useful to actually note these ideas down (or, even better, sketch them). And, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you’ve done this.

1) Make them (when you’re uninspired): A while before writing this article, I had to prepare a comic update for later this month. However, since this mini series seems to be one of my less-inspired ones, I was having trouble coming up with an idea.

Fortunately, since I ended up planning more comics than I actually made during my previous mini series, I was able to directly re-use an idea that I’d rejected whilst planning that webcomic. Although it certainly isn’t the best comic update in the world, it at least allowed me to make a comic update. And, if you’re making a webcomic, then actually making the updates is the most important part.

Here’s a preview of the comic update in question:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 25th May.

Another cool thing about recycling old ideas is that, if you point out that you’re doing this, then you can kind of turn it into a “deleted scenes” kind of thing. After all, it’s always interesting to see things that could have appeared earlier. So, as well as being a quick way to actually make a comic update when you’re uninspired, it can also be a way to give your audience a glimpse “behind the scenes”.

2) Use the basic idea: Whilst writing this article, I took another look at my preparatory notes and plans for my previous mini series and, to my surprise, I noticed an abandoned plan that was very mildly similar (in terms of structure, set up etc..) to one of the comics in my upcoming mini series.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This mostly-planned comic update was going to be part of “Damania Regression”, but I ended up abandoning it in favour of another gaming-related comic idea.

Yet, the comic in my upcoming mini series has absolutely nothing to do with old computer games. Yet, by remembering the basic idea behind this comic (albeit subconsciously), I was able to rework it into something a bit more sophisticated and amusing. Not only that, I could also take inspiration from other sources too.

So, if a planned comic update doesn’t work out, then you can always return to the basic idea behind it and find a new way to use it.

3) Work out where they went wrong: One other useful thing about failed comic update plans is that they can help you to improve your webcomic. Normally, if an idea fails, then there’s usually a reason for it. If you can work out what that reason is, then this will help you to make better comics.

For example, when planning the next update in the upcoming mini series, I was determined to make an update about the band Cradle Of Filth (since I’ve been geeking out about them a bit recently). Yet, every time I tried to plan a comic update about this, it seemed like I was either re-hashing tired old tropes about heavy metal music or making something that looked more like an advert for the band.

I was only able to think of a decent comic idea after I realised that this idea was too narrowly-focused. Instead, I took a step back and, after remembering something that happened earlier that day, I was able to come up with a more generalised comic idea about musical nostalgia and technology.

So, yes, asking yourself why an abandoned webcomic update plan failed can be a good way to come up with better comic ideas.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Ways To Know Which Comic Update Ideas To Use

Well, I originally wrote this article a while after I’d finished preparing the final comic update in a webcomic mini series that I’ll be posting here in mid-late January. I’m mentioning this because it’s relevant to the topic of this article, namely knowing which comic ideas to use.

Although it’s common to feel uninspired when making a webcomic, sometimes you can find yourself having the opposite problem – you’ve got too many ideas. Normally, this isn’t a problem (in fact, it’s a good thing). But, it can cause problems if you limit yourself to a certain number of comic updates and/or if the many ideas you’ve got aren’t that good.

I mostly had the latter problem with the final update of this mini series. Although I’d vaguely planned the whole thing, when it came to making the final update, I realised that my original plan for it wasn’t very good. It was more of a placeholder plan, a plan that was there if I couldn’t come up with a better idea by the time that I’d made the first five comic updates. And on the night before I made the final comic, I realised that I couldn’t come up with a better idea.

So, what did I do? Well, here are two of the things I considered when making my decision about the comic:

1) Themes: One of the best ways to come up with comic ideas is to have a common theme that you can use for a group of comics. If your comics revolve around a particular theme, then at least you’ve got something to start with when it comes to thinking of comic ideas.

Although I don’t always remember to come up with a theme, this upcoming mini series had the theme of “introspection and philosophy”. As soon as I remembered this, I realised why both my placeholder idea and another idea I’d come up with wouldn’t work.

They were basically political cartoons. The rest of the mini series had been fairly apolitical, so the ideas weren’t a good fit. Yes, it was easy to make cynical comics about politics and, yes, I had two pre-made ideas. But, this wasn’t what this mini series was about. So, even though I was still feeling uninspired, I realised that I had to find a new idea. And it had to be about “introspection and philosophy”.

Yes, it took me a while to find a good enough comic idea, but remembering the theme of the comic that I was making helped me to focus on making a better comic that actually fit in with the rest of the comics that I was making.

So, if you’re unsure of which comic idea to use, then look at the general themes etc.. of your webcomic and go with the idea that fits into those things the most.

2) Fun: This one is fairly self-explanatory. Go with the comic idea that seems like it will be the most fun to make. Generally, this will make you feel more motivated and will probably result in a better comic update.

For example, one of the things that I’d focused on with this upcoming mini series was paying more attention to the artwork. Since I had a bit more time to make comics, I wanted them to look good. I wanted to be able to do something a bit more creative with the art.

So, I knew that whatever idea I used had to be one that allowed me to show off artistically- because it’s fun to do this. And, as you can see from this preview, the art is a little bit more sophisticated than usual:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 25th January.

So, ask yourself “which part of my webcomic do I enjoy the most? Art? Writing? Humour? Characterisation?”. When you’ve got your answer, go with the idea that allows you to do that the most.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Last-Minute Inspiration Sources If You Don’t Have A Clue What Your Next Webcomic Update Will Be About

2017-artwork-three-quick-comic-ideas

Well, at the time of writing, I’m in the later stages of preparing a webcomic mini series (which will be posted here in late November/early December). One problem with this mini series was that I ended up feeling uninspired a lot more than I had expected.

Although this was mostly because I hadn’t planned the mini series in advance enough, regretting rushing into a comic mini series wasn’t going to help me finish the mini series. So, I thought that I’d go over some of the last-minute things to do if you don’t have a clue what your next webcomic update will be about. Of course, some of these will work best in some webcomics and some will work best in others. So, use your own judgement!

1) Culture: If you need an idea for a webcomic update in a hurry, then have your characters discuss films, games, books etc… These don’t have to be the latest up-to-date examples of these things. In fact, if you like something slightly more obscure and can write at length about it (without doing too much time-consuming research), then your comic update will be more distinctive as a result.

This is a good source of inspiration if you’re in a hurry for the simple reason that you probably have a favourite film, game, TV show etc.. or because you’ve probably encountered some kind of entertainment media within the past few days. Even if the only entertainment media you’ve seen recently is absolutely terrible or boring, then this is perfect source material for a cynical comic update.

Likewise, parodies (of films, games, TV shows etc..) are always a great last-minute idea if you aren’t feeling that inspired.

2) Art and an excuse: If you’re in the mood for making interesting art, but don’t have a good idea for what your next webcomic will be about, then one way to get around this is just to draw an interesting or unusual picture of your characters and then see if you can work backwards and extrapolate a comic idea from it.

At the very least, you can always use the old “it was a dream!” thing (this can work in very short webcomics, but it’s an abysmal plot twist to use in longer comics!). Or, even if that fails, then you’ve still got an interesting-looking picture of your characters that you can use as filler material to show the members of your audience who are expecting you to post something at the appointed time.

3) Opinions: Chances are, you probably have opinions that are either amusing in and of themselves and/or you have more serious opinions which can be expressed in an amusing way.

But, unless you specialise in making political cartoons, then having too many opinion cartoons in your webcomic series might annoy your audience. So, this is is best done occasionally at most. Likewise, make sure that the opinion actually makes sense in the context of your comic (and you don’t lecture the audience either).

The great thing about using opinions for inspiration is that, since you’ve already formed your opinions, the only thing you have to worry about is how to express them in comic form (eg: you don’t have to think of a totally new comic idea, just a way to use a pre-existing idea).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Random Sources Of Inspiration For (Self-Contained) Webcomic Updates

2017-artwork-random-webcomic-inspirations

Well, since I was busy making the final update for a webcomic mini series (that will appear here in October) at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about some of the ways that you can find ideas for self-contained webcomic updates.

Apologies in advance if I’ve mentioned any of this stuff before in previous articles. I was kind of in a rush when I wrote this one, so there’s a chance that I might end up repeating myself.

So, how can you find ideas for self-contained webcomic updates?

1) Procrastination: When you’re looking for webcomic ideas, random internet surfing, DVD watching etc… is more than just procrastination. It’s also research! No, I’m serious. You’d be surprised at how many interesting ideas you can find when supposedly “wasting time”.

For example, one morning, I made the otherwise foolish decision to read a few pages on TV Tropes. This is a fascinating website that can literally gobble hours of your time if you aren’t careful. Anyway, an article on that site led me to learn about something called the “Loudness War“. This is something that was a lot more prominent in the ’00s and it’s where record companies use all sorts of clever audio editing techniques to make CDs sound louder, even when played at low volumes.

It’s the reason why, for example, Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” album sounds about twice as furious and energetic than you might expect. It’s one possible reason why Iron Maiden’s albums from the early – late ’00s have a suitably epic sound to them that is instantly recognisable as “modern Iron Maiden”. It’s one reason why the Distillers’ “Coral Fang” album is so wonderfully, breathlessly intense. Plus, as a bonus, it also annoys pretentious people who care more about barely noticeable audio quality differences than about how good the actual music is too.

So, after forming my own opinion about it (namely that anyone who complains about audio quality in metal or punk music is missing the whole point of these two genres), it gave me the idea for the next webcomic update that I made. Here’s a preview of two panels from it:

 The full comic update will be posted here on the 8th October.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 8th October.

So, yes, one easy way to find webcomic ideas is simply to do a random internet search on somewhere like Wikipedia or TV Tropes and see if you can find an interesting subject that makes you think “I want to make a webcomic update about this!“.

2) Random situations: Another easy way to come up with webcomic ideas is just to show two or more of your characters doing something “ordinary”. Yes, this requires you to know your characters fairly well, but it can be a very easy way to find an idea for a comic. This is because you can show your characters’ reactions or interactions during everyday life.

For example, I had writer’s block whilst making the comic update that I was making at the time of writing this article. So, in the end, I just thought “what would happen if Harvey and Rox went into town on market day?“. Needless to say, the comic update pretty much planned itself after that.

Making these types of “everyday life” comic updates can also help you to learn more about your characters too. For example, although Harvey and Rox get along really well normally – lots of hilarious bickering and sarcasm occurs whenever they go shopping together.

3) An image: Another way to come up with an idea for a webcomic update is just to think of a suitably interesting image of one of your characters and work backwards from there. Yes, this technique doesn’t always work (so, do it during the planning stage rather than when actually making your comic!) but it can add some interesting artistic variety to your webcomic when it does work.

For example, I’d been going through a dystopian sci-fi phase before planning one of the updates in my upcoming mini series. So, I wanted to include some kind of dystopian sci-fi scene in one of my comics. I wanted to draw Derek as some kind of futuristic hyper-authoritarian “Judge Dredd”/”Robocop”-style character. The image was surprisingly vivid in my mind and I quickly sketched it.

So, from that, I had to work backwards and ask myself “how, in a mini series that is set in the present day, would Derek be in that situation?“. The answer was, of course, virtual reality. Once I’d found that idea, I was then able to come up with lots of other ideas for the comic too (eg: controversies about violent videogames etc…).

So, find a cool idea for a picture of one of your characters and then work backwards from that.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Easy Sources Of Artistic Inspiration

2017 Artwork Easy Sources Of Artistic inspiration

As anyone who makes art regularly will tell you, finding inspiration can sometimes be a challenge. So, for today, I thought that I’d give you a few examples of easy sources of inspiration that can sometimes come in handy if you make art regularly.

Using these sources of inspiration will obviously still require some imagination and artistic skill. If you don’t have many artistic skills yet, then try these things out anyway when you’re feeling uninspired (since artistic skill comes from keeping up your art practice even when you aren’t feeling inspired).

Likewise, as I’ll explain during the article, there’s a big difference between taking inspiration and just copying something (and hopefully, the specific techniques I’ll describe [for how to use the sources of inspiration described in the article] will help you to avoid direct or accidental copying).

So, let’s get started:

1) Television and film: This one is pretty obvious, but it can be an absolute goldmine if used correctly. In other words, DON’T directly copy what you see on the screen but, instead, immerse yourself in a TV show or a film until you have a rather good mental image of the “atmosphere” of the thing that you’re watching (eg: is it bright or gloomy? Is it modern or retro? etc..). Once you’ve got that, then use it as a springboard for your own original ideas.

But, what are original ideas? Although I’m not a copyright lawyer, it is a basic point of most copyright laws that copyright only protects highly- specific expressions of an idea, rather than general ideas. What this means is that, for example, Captain Picard standing on the bridge of the USS Enterprise is an example of a copyrighted character and a copyrighted location design.

But, the general idea of a spaceship captain commanding a spaceship from a ship-like bridge and/or command room is NOT copyrightable. After all, other TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Stargate SG-1 etc.. show captains commanding spaceships and they don’t have to ask Gene Roddenberry’s estate for permission. But, of course, the characters look different and so do the spaceship bridges – yet, “Star Trek” was probably an inspiration for almost every space-based sci-fi show.

So, using general ideas/generic elements (Eg: colour schemes, general types of settings, general character types etc..) in new and different ways should usually be ok.

Likewise, you can also learn new artistic techniques (which you can use in new and different ways) by carefully observing things that you see on TV or in films.

For example, I learnt how to draw mountains covered with a shallow layer of snow by watching a nature documentary on TV the night before I wrote this article. The trick is, of course, to cover the side of the mountain with lots of short, irregular black, blue or brown horizontal lines (and irregular shaded areas) in order to make it look like some of the snow has melted and/or hasn’t covered the stone underneath:

Here's an example of the technique from one of my upcoming digitally-edited paintings.

Here’s an example of the technique from one of my upcoming digitally-edited paintings.

Of course, the idea trying out a new artistic technique that you’ve just learnt can be something that might help you to feel a bit more inspired.

2) Image searches: Using the “image search” feature on a search engine in a very specific way can work wonders if you have a vague idea of the type of painting that you want to make (eg: a rainy city, an old castle etc..), but can’t work out how to make it.

The trick here is not to look at any one specific picture for too long (and certainly not to directly copy any of them in your art!) but to look at as many images of the thing you want to draw or paint as possible, until you feel more in the mood for creating something. Then, close your internet browser, wait a few minutes and then start drawing or painting. The waiting part is important, for reasons that I’ll explain later.

First of all, by seeing lots of different images of similar things within a short amount of time, you help to ensure that your painting or drawing will be fairly original. After all, although you will end up taking some inspiration from the pictures that you saw, you won’t be taking too much inspiration from just one of them for the simple reason that you haven’t had time to study any one picture in a huge amount of detail (since looking at lots of pictures quickly helps you to spot general features, trends, similarities etc..).

Secondly, by waiting a few minutes after doing your image search, you’ll be working from memory alone. Since memory is a slightly unreliable thing, this also reduces the risk of accidental copying. Not only that, because you’ve looked at so many images within such a short amount of time, your memory will probably start to blend them together and conflate them in interesting (and original) ways too.

3) Your long-standing inspirations: Chances are, you probably have a few long-standing inspirations. These are things that often inspire you when you’re feeling mildly uninspired. They’re your favourite types of art, your favourite genres of films, your favourite music etc…. They are the things that you daydream about sometimes. These are the things that have already turned up in your art more times than you can remember.

The trick, of course, is to have as many of these inspirations as possible. Since, when you’re feeling uninspired, it’s possible that some of them might not “work” at that particular moment in time. So, the more long-standing inspirations you have, the more likely you are to find one of them that will actually work for you at that particular moment.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Fine Tuning A Comic Idea

2017 Artwork fine tuning webcomic ideas

Although this is an article about how to improve your own ideas for webcomics, narrative comics etc… I’m going to start by talking about my own webcomics for a couple of paragraphs. Feel free to skip these paragraphs if you aren’t interested.

Even though it won’t appear here for a little over a month, I’m currently making yet another webcomic mini series. The interesting thing was that this upcoming mini series was originally planned to be part of the connected groups of time travel-themed webcomic updates that will finish appearing here in early-mid March. But, I just couldn’t quite get the idea to work back then.

It was only after some careful thought, a few changes and a bit of time that I was finally able to turn this old idea into it’s own distinctive, stand-alone mini series. And, thanks to the changes I made, it will be significantly sillier (and hopefully funnier) than it would have been if I’d gone with my original idea. So, yes, taking the time to fine-tune your comic ideas can pay dividends.

But, how do you do this? Here are a few basic tips:

1) Get to know what works and what doesn’t: It takes a bit of experience to be able to instantly tell whether a comic idea really has potential, or whether it needs major changes. But, it’s totally worth going through several successful and failed comics projects, just so that you have an instinct for what will and won’t work.

If you don’t have the time or energy to gain this experience, then ignore the feeling of “oh wow! I’m going to start a new comic!” and ask yourself honestly about how you might feel about working on this comic project several days or weeks later.

If you start to get the feeling that it may become more difficult or that the novelty value/excitement might wear off, then this is usually a good sign that you need to make changes.

Just remember that fine-tuning is something that is best done before you start actually making your comic.

2) Find the broken parts: Generally, when a comic idea needs fine-tuning, it’s because part of the premise isn’t working properly. Usually, there’s something that really inspires you – but also something else that is holding your comic back. The trick is learning how to separate the two things.

So, strip your comic idea down to the basic thing that inspired you. If you don’t know what this is, just ask yourself “If I had to sum up what excites me about this idea in one or two words, what would those words be?

Once you’ve found the parts that work, then throw away the parts that don’t and see if you can find a replacement that makes you feel even more inspired. Yes, your comic will end up being slightly different as a result – but it’ll still be true to the thing that originally inspired you.

3) Give it time. Good ideas will always come back to you: Sometimes, finding replacements for the malfunctioning parts of your comic idea doesn’t happen instantly. I mean, with the comic that I’ll be posting in mid-late March, I actually abandoned the original idea at the time. I hadn’t planned on returning to it.

But, then, a few days later, I suddenly discovered a better idea for this project that I thought I wouldn’t make. It happened suddenly and I’m genuinely surprised that I didn’t think of this idea earlier. But, more importantly, it happened on it’s own without any real conscious effort on my part.

Generally, if a comic idea has a lot of potential, but you can’t get it to work. Then leave it. Let your subconscious mind work on it in the background, until an improved version of the idea suddenly appears to you. Good comic ideas are like boomerangs – you can throw one away, but it will always find it’s way back to you.

So, if you’re getting really frustrated by a comic idea that almost works, then abandon it. If it’s really that good, an improved version of it will find it’s way back to you after a while.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Deal With The Creative Project Ideas That Refuse To Be Made (Yet Continue To Haunt You)

2017 Artwork Project Ideas That Refuse To Be Made

[Note: This article was originally prepared quite a while ago. And, as anyone who has read the comics index page will know, there will be a cyberpunk comic posted here in February. It will run from the 5th-14th, if anyone is curious.]

For at least a few days before I wrote this article, I found myself visited by the ghost of a creative project idea that has been haunting me for at least the past few months.

This is something similar to the abandoned project that I mentioned in this article except, this time round, the idea involved making a series of short four-page full-colur cyberpunk comics.

This idea lingered in my mind and refused to budge. It seemed cool, it seemed interesting. In fact, I was even able to come up with basic plot outlines for some of the comics – so, I didn’t think that writer’s block would be an issue. Suddenly, my long-running occasional “Damania” webcomic series seemed dull and boring in comparison to this exciting new project that I was totally going to make….

Then I started to sketch a very rough plan one of the comics. I gave up after just one page of my rough plan. This is that page….

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is my failed rough plan for a comic project idea I had.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is my failed rough plan for a comic project idea I had.

The project fizzed out before I’d even finished the first page of my plan. The dialogue felt like the kind of stodgy over-earnest thing that I would have included in a (thankfully unpublished online) narrative comic series called “Paradox” that I tried to make in 2010 and had blissfully forgotten about until this failed comic plan reminded me of it.

My unfinished project plan even seemed worse than a series of seven or eight very badly-drawn (and slightly badly-written) cyberpunk comics I made in 2012/ 2013. And, yet, this project wanted to be made – even though I couldn’t, in all good conscience, make it.

So, what should you do if you’re troubled by a project idea that keeps appealing to you (and returning to you every now and then), yet stubbornly refuses to be made?

1) Wait: Generally speaking, if a project idea keeps returning to haunt you repeatedly, then there’s a good chance that it’s eventually going to get made. Good project ideas usually tend to keep coming back until the time is right for them to be turned into proper comics, novels, interactive novels etc…

However, the key phrase here is “when the time is right”. When it is, you’ll know. If you aren’t sure, then try planning your project. If it feels like you’re “out of your depth” or if it feels like it isn’t nearly as fun as you imagined it would be, then leave the project now. Only bitterness and disappointment await you if you don’t. So wait until the time is right, even if that time is weeks, months or years away.

When the time is right, the actual projects (like my first finished attempt at writing interactive fiction) will almost appear spontaneously. By the time that you realise that they’re vaguely similar to a “cool” abandoned project idea you had a few weeks/months/years ago, you’ll have probably already made the first few pages….

2) Look under the surface: If a cool project idea stubbornly refuses to be made, then there are probably a lot of hidden reasons why. So, ask yourself three questions:

1) “Why do I want to make this project?”
2) “Is this similar to any of my past failures?”
3) “Do I have any emotional connection to this project?”

If you want to make your cool project idea purely because it will impress other people, or because it will make you look like [insert your favourite author, cartoonist etc.. here] or even because it will make you think of yourself as a “serious writer” or “serious artist”. Then, you’re probably doomed to failure.

Yes, these awesome ideas often do end up impressing other people but that’s only because they impressed the artist/writer first. If you try to be an exact copy of another writer, you’ll just end up being a second-rate imitation (if you have to be a copy, be a copy of several different writers, artists etc.. at the same time). If you want your work to be seen as “serious”, then you’re basing your ideas on what other people think is “serious” rather than on what kinds of things you actually thrive when you are making.

If your project idea is similar to some of your past failures, then this either means that you need to change a lot of things about it (to avoid failing again). Or you’re subconsciously revisiting your past failure, in the hope of not failing again this time. Although this may sound like a good thing, it can often end in disaster.

Going back to my comic planning example at the beginning of the article, another unpublished and unfinished epic fail of a full-colour narrative comic that I tried to make in 2014 (which put me off making comics altogether for at least a year) just happened to also be a “serious” cyberpunk comic….

Alas, it was never meant to be...

Alas, it was never meant to be…

Finally, when an awesome project idea is ready to be made, you’ll feel a strong emotional connection to it.

For want of a better description, the project idea will seem extremely “relevant” to you. Even if it’s just a “silly” comedy project, it’ll feel like the sort of thing that you are meant to make right now. If this feeling isn’t there, then you should leave the project idea alone until it is.

3) Let it change, or do something similar:
In case you haven’t noticed already, whenever these project ideas return to you, they’re usually slightly different from the last time you encountered them. Whilst “perfect” ideas can appear very rarely, a project idea often needs time to grow and to fine-tune itself into something so good that you can’t refuse to make it.

In the meantime, try to make things that are vaguely similar to your project idea, but which don’t fill you with an unexplained feeling of impending failure. For example, the idea of making a cyberpunk comic seems like a total non-starter to me at the moment. But, making dialogue-free cyberpunk art doesn’t.

So, no prizes for guessing which genre of art will appear here quite often late this month/ early next month. In fact, here’s a detail from one of my upcoming cyberpunk paintings.

 Here's a detail from one of my upcoming paintings. Yes, it would make a good comic panel, but that idea is a total non-starter. Still, at least I made a painting :)

Here’s a detail from one of my upcoming paintings. Yes, it would make a good comic panel, but that idea is a total non-starter. Still, at least I made a painting 🙂