I never intended for Universe Gun to be a printed comic.
I’ve never intended for it to be a commercial enterprise. I write and draw the story because I want to, I upload it to my website for free, and anyone who wants to can read it. One thing has lead to another though. #1 is already printed and lying around in my studio, and I’m currently assembling #2 for the printers. Obviously, designing for the web and for print have different parameters, and the consequences of making this decision can be pretty dire.
I had enough foresight to do all my art at very high res. I started off working at 3500 x 4750 pixels, and have upped that by 50% to 5250 x 7125. These shrink down to a tiny 943 x 1280 that looks great on the web, but would be inadequate for print. I have heard of other webcomic artist having to redraw everything when they decided to print, so I’ve got off light there. At the resolution I’m working at, the fact that my lettering is baked into the final bitmap doesn’t matter because there are so many pixels.
There were two things that gave me a bit of trouble.
I was a little bit pissed off to discover that my page shape is slightly shorter and fatter than standard American comics. Luckily, its not a problem to print it out slightly shorter, and Universe Gun printed is the same size as the Empowered specials that have come out recently, so I’m in good company.
The other problem was my page count. I started the series off as a 6 page short story that grew into 7 pages, and somewhere along decided to turn that into 21 page issues each made of three chapters of seven pages. Unfortunately, I need multiples of 4 for print. My choices were to have the last page print on the inside cover, or to come up with three filler pages per issue. I’ve gone for the second option, so the inside cover consists of an intro/recap page in the front and an editorial in the back.
The intro page was cribbed a little from Joe Casey’s Sex, which always features a front page with a cast list, that acts as a great memory-jogger, or teaser for characters you haven’t encountered yet. I’d done this when I launched Universe Gun with the long vertical character portraits. I’ll be introducing the characters one by one as the strip goes, and its much more effective for the reader to already be anticipating them, rather than just having “here’s Moon Girl” dropped on you. This page required one new piece of art – Moon Girl’s picture, since everyone else has appeared in the strip that I’ve drawn by now.
So what do you stick in the back pages of a comic? I don’t have any material for a letters page. I could write an editorial, but that’s sort of what I do in this blog. I decided to produce infographic material to support the world-building done in the main strip.
A history of the solar system seemed like a good idea, especially after seeing the impressive star map and timeline that Matt Fraction and Christian Ward packed into Ody-C. Once again, I had a lot of the art resources for this lying around in the form of the horizontal settings strips I’d made earlier. (Jupiter comes from an as-yet unpublished strip from last year)
This left me with two more pages to fill in #1. The end of #2 is a great place to stick the two page strip Amazing Garbage, as it leads into #3 and the introduction of Venus Green in the main storyline. I had the idea for a QMAC organisational chart, which also fits #2, because that’s where we introduce Liaison Officer Myer and see much more of its internal workings.
I came up with the idea of producing two fake newspaper pages – one from earth, one from Mars. There’s a big tradition of doing fake ads in comic books, from Alan Moore’s awesome efforts on 1963 to the more recent and equally awesome ads in Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick. If Universe Gun #1 has a theme, its the differences between Earth and Mars, as it introduces the hardworking Martian and the Earth slacker. Here’s what I came up with.
The Martian Chronicles (I know, groan!) is full of ads for products to make you work harder. Its aimed at a planet full of workaholics, and allowed me to slip in a few more facts that haven’t made it into the strip yet. Martians only sleep 4 hours per day thanks to red orgone. I snuck in an advert for Pazuzu! my published strip, which is set in 33rd Century Mars. I added an ad for “The Rays”, a Martian band who I have notes about in a book somewhere, as I grappled with the idea one night of how music would be packaged for a super-intelligent work-obsessed culture. I ended up doing quite a bit of custom art, mostly drawn and scanned and then touched up and coloured digitally, and this page took me the same amount of effort as a real comic page.
For Earth, a planet of slackers, I wanted to capture that egg-and-chips British tourist lout vibe. What better way than to produce a 37th C page of The Sun?
For those of you unfamiliar with British culture, The Sun is a populist lowbrow right-wing rag run by Aussie ex-pat media mogul Rupert Murdoch. It’s coarse, tends to support governments that support the big end of town in a shockingly biased manner, and is infamous for Page 3, which shows a bare-breasted young woman in amidst the news. I’ve nothing against nudity, and will be discussing this later in Universe Gun when Moon Girl appears, but a public newspaper is a decidedly dodgy place for it. At the time I was making this page, there were rumours that the Sun was finally going to get rid of this feature in response to pressure from protestors, but that didn’t come to pass.
So, I decided that somehow Murdoch’s shrivelled old head had survived the Cyberius wars and everything after, and was still dispensing his “Cor! Gotcha! Wotta pair of knockers!” crap to the population of Earth.
I’m pretty pleased with the result. Its cheaper looking, and covers games, drugs, sex and crappy xenophobic stereotypes (via the “Millie the Naughty Martian” cartoon).
The “Are Topless Q-Cops sexy?” line is shamelessly cribbed from Spitting Image annual I had as a kid, which featured “Are Black Stockings Sexy: A pictorial investigation” on one of its newspaper parodies. “NobEndz” is a bit of filler, just a cartoon where nothing happens like Fred Bassett, designed only so I can push Millie and her obvious punchline off the page. Cartoons in the Sun often featured nudity too, such as sci-fi strips Axa and Garth. Expect to see my take on that much later in Universe Gun too, by the way. Once again, this page took a whole week to produce.
Overall, I’m really pleased with these three pages, and what they can say to a new reader in terms of world-building.
For #2, I’ve got nothing to show yet. The Amazing Garbage strip is already linked via Fundament Zero, and the QMAC infographic is taking time – I’m actually taking a break from it now to write this.
For #3, I’ve got a Star Girl 3000 image I did a while back, and I’m thinking of adding some Ms. Amazing Trading Cards, to detail historical characters like Cyberius, Venus Blue, Eve Santana: Exotic Bankrobber, Mr. Rang-ma-tang and I, the Boltzmann Brain! I’ve got another 2 page strip in the works that could end up in the back of a printed issue. And I’ve just increased my workload for the project by an extra 14%! Great!
See you in 21, Sun-readers from another century! Dr Mike 2000, 15 Feb 2015