Written by Khaled Abou Alfa.
I posted this image on the Moon Racket! twitter account (you should follow the account, I talk all things comics there, not just Moon Racket!) yesterday, but I thought it was important to elaborate a little further here.
Basically what you have there is two panels. The first is actually the last panel found in Season One, while the second panel is the first panel for Season Two which I am currently in the process of drawing.
To me the difference couldn’t be more stark - it honestly feels like two different people drew these. The difference of course is confidence in the characters, but I’ve also changed my tools and the way I’m approaching the art in general.
While tools are not the reason for art to be rubbish, the wrong tools can’t help the process either. The first thing that’s changed is the paper. I’ve gone from a reasonable rough yellowy paper in a perfect bound art book to individual cut “bristol board”-thick A3 sheets. The difference is liberating in that the final panel is hanging off a thick stack of paper underneath it (as it’s not part of a book).
The second thing that I’ve done is move away from my trusted Copic markers and have moved on to the much cheaper and much better Uni Pin black pigment pens for the thicker pen sizes. I still use my trusted Muji Gel ink pens for all the inking of the standard lines.
The last part, that as far as I’m concerned has transformed the artwork for me and allowed me to move up a level, is increasing the size of the individual panels. Suddenly I have soo much room to breathe and stretch my artistic muscle.
Although Season One was never rushed, I didn’t give the pencils enough time to mature. Like a fine wine, pencil work should sit there for a little while to develop in your eyes and allow you to see and correct all the little mistakes. Don’t be afraid to redraw entire panels if they’re not right. While moving to ink is exciting, leave it for a day, come back to it. Do some more penciling instead.
Although many will claim that there is still a great deal of work to be done to bring the level of typography in the graphic design and online world forward (and in many respects I agree), I honestly do believe that we live in the start of a golden era for type and the fonts that enable it.
Over the weekend I bought the sublime new font Sanelma from Finnish designer Mika Melvas. The font itself inspired me to start actual work on a little project I’ve had brewing for a while - which is all you can ask from a font before you’ve begun using it really.
This led me down a rabbit hole on all things typography. I realised that a lot of what I enjoy doing and creating relates back to typography in one way or another. My website work is mainly typography, my comic work hangs on the frames created by typography, my day job is revolved around drawings and design which also is very closely related to typography.
Although I was extensively using Source Sans Pro on all of my three websites, I’ve since transitioned things over to Libertad, as I felt it gave my sites enough of a unique feel to warrent this transition. The main problem has been in how these fonts are delivered to my Tumblr powered websites (as Myfonts doesn’t provide a hosting service like Typekit or Typography do).
That’s the one gripe I have with Myfonts. If you’re going to make me pay you for a license to use an online font, then provide a service with the cost/overhead of that font. Typekit I believe has the right model, with the basic paid version coming in at a very reasonable $25/year. The main font that I would consider using is Proxima Nova. Without fail, every time I see a site using the font, I always instantly go, wait, what’s that font? Of course it’s Proxima Nova. Just because I don’t use it right now, doesn’t mean I won’t in the future. It is ubiquitous for a reason, it’s that good onscreen.
The thing with Typekit however, is that you don’t get any of the Hoefler (& Frere-Jones) fonts, which I would love. Their fonts are much more expensive to license at $100/year. If I was making $100/year off my websites I would consider it, but alas that’s an additional cost I’m not that comfortable paying. However I would love to use Ideal Sans.
Take heart, there is now a growing collection of fonts that are amazing to use and either at great prices or for the great price of Free. On my windows machine, Clear Sans from Intel has honestly been an eye opening experience. With no retina-type displays at work, typography is more painful to appreciate. I’ve found that Clear Sans helps in a lot of ways.
When I released Moon Racket! I was never happy with the website, as I felt it wasn’t a particularly good showcase of the work. While the general presentation of the same exact strips on both Facebook and Tapastic was marginally better, I’ve wanted to make sure that I addressed this issue before starting to release Season Two.
After many months of the final mockup gathering dust in the project folder, I was able to buckle down over the weekend and put the site together.
The main aim for this design was to make sure that the focus of the site was on the strips themselves. This explains the gradual grade from the top and bottom bars to white and focusing on the strip. Not everything is perfect (It’s not a fully responsive site or at least not in a meaningful way), however improvements will be ongoing now that the base is established.
In addition to the new window dressing, you can finally read all the Moon Racket! strips in high definition - I re-uploaded high resolution versions of all the images to look good on a retina display.
A few months after publishing the last episode of Moon Racket Season One, I’ve now finished writing the second season. If the first season was all about seeing a project through to completion, the second season is taking the idea and adding some polish.
One of the things I’ve always enjoy watching is the natural maturing process a body of work sometimes goes through while the creative minds behind the work hone their skills. Although I can only dream of reaching the lofty heights reached by a series like The Simpsons, an apt comparison in one regard would be how the first season looked compared to what we recognise as the characters now. There was a maturing process and this is something that I aim to achieve for Season Two, both for the writing and the art.
I’ve already spoken about the proposed increase in paper size (and therefore Panel Size) of the coming season. One thing I realised very quickly was just how important the initial scripts were. The first season had a bit of looseness in the scripts. I would often times rewrite the thing as I was drawing it - sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
For this season I decided to really pour into the details of every script. I would not go on to the next one until I actually had completed the one I was working on. If I got stuck on any one strip, I would remove it from the document I was working on and paste it into a second document that acted as my ‘graveyard’. This allowed me to focus on one strip at a time. What I realised was that some ideas took days, weeks to mature or develop in my head and other ideas effectively wrote themselves. What I also realised was the last 5 episodes were extremely difficult to complete, which might have been a mental block on my side, or the fact that I had a lot going on in my life at the time.
Moon Racket started out life on my iPhone 4. It was a method for me to actually use my latest ‘computer’ to create content, rather than just consume on it.
The obvious limitation was the size of the screen, so I decided to use this as the panel size (or at least the same aspect ratio 3:2) with the idea that eventually when I release the series digitally, it will already be formatted for this screen size.
I realised pretty quickly that although I was getting the benefit of colour and I was using my iPhone, the creation process was stifling and the end result wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked. I decided to take the strip back to the physical world and made the investment in an A4 hardcover art book with thick paper - no idea what the grade is, but it was reasonably smooth (not bristol board smooth). It was one of the best decisions I’ve made. All of Moon Racket lives in this A4 book.
Traditionally the newspaper industry and therefore the artform itself, comic strips are typically 4 panels, 4 inches by 3 inches. In an attempt to grow, Season Two will be framed with the typical 3:4 ratio panels. I’ve had to get some American sized paper, 11x14 inches, which frustratingly is slightly larger than A4 but smaller than A3 - and means I can no longer use my A4 book.
Hopefully this change will mean that the art will breathe more and therefore should allow the strip to better shine.
Season One Report Card
Today marks 20 consecutive weeks that I’ve published a new episode for my online comic Moon Racket, so I thought it would be nice to take stock and review the experience.
All 20 strips in a nice overview image.
Rather than being completely harsh (which would come easily for me when reviewing my own work), I think I’ll first highlight some of the things that I thought went well.
Firstly, the strip never missed a ship date. All 20 episodes were released every Sunday for 20 weeks. Secondly, the general reaction on both Facebook and Tumblr have been really great and I’m grateful to everyone who has liked, shared or read the strip. I’m still debating whether or not Tapastic is worth it, but I do it for the 3 that have subscribed and hopefully enjoying the strip.
Overall, I give the strips an overall 5/10. There are some stories that I think worked out better than others but the truth is I could have written better stories and could have developed the characters better.
One aspect that I am genuinely happy with is the evolution of the artwork. I still think it’s ok and only the errors jump out at me, but at least I can see a proper improvement over the life of the strip.
With that in mind the series is going to take a break for a few months while I write better stories (currently I have 10 in the bag) and come back stronger with Season Two.
In early 2012 I started work on my first iOS app with my cousin. The trip was long and meandering (one which unfortunately we never completed).
One of the things that I made sure I did was keep all my notes and scribbles in a single notebook. This was a bit of a departure for me, but one that I have maintained for all my future projects. Each project has it’s own notebook where most things can be found.
One sketch that I attribute the inking of Moon Racket to, is the original icon sketch for the app.
The importance of this sketch was in making me appreciate the Muji 0.38mm black gel ink pen as a tool for clean inking and providing the correct thickness of line that I was originally looking for - but couldn’t really achieve with my Copic pens.
While this pen isn’t completely suitable for the clean lined artwork of Chroma, it still has it’s uses for all the cross-hatching required. Sometimes you stumble on a tool that elevates your art, for me it was my Muji gel ink pen.