Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tablet PCs for artists

Someone asked about tablet PCs for art yesterday and I tried to write a decent answer. With the surfeit of net slates, iPads and the like coming down the pipe, it's easy to forget that the tablet PC, Bill Gates' baby, still exists. These aren't mainstream items and there is next to nothing out there written about using them for art. Which is daft, because many models use the same Wacom technology as an Intuos or Cintiq tablet.

Because they're mostly used in business contexts and are purchased in bulk by organisations, they tend to filter back onto eBay after a couple of years and you can often find the most popular models in some number. So long as it's not a beater or ancient, put in some more RAM, a new hard drive, maybe get a nice Photodon screen protector and you will have a wholly serviceable computer for drawing and making comics on.

You need to make sure you get a model with an active, not a passive digitiser (passive digitisers just respond to physical pressure, ie your elbow, a stick etc) here's a master list of all the models that are decent for doing art on. Most tablet PCs have 12.1 or 12" screens and while there are still some models floating around with SXGA+ (1440 x 1050) screens, don't buy one if you value a. your eyes and b. the time you will spend fruitlessly recalibrating the screen to try and hit your mark. I never could. To get pressure sensitivity in Photoshop, you need a Wacom Digitiser (not N-Trig, which a few models employed).


I AM POOR (Most of these won't run Windows 7 satisfactorily due to missing drivers for video cards etc):


Toshiba Portege M200
Hundreds of these out there. They all look a bit worn out. Nice to draw on. Horrible screen viewing angles. Hi-res screen might hurt your eyes.

Lenovo X60t (make sure it's a "T", the standard X60 was a regular laptop)
Tremendously robust glass screen and IBM build quality. Screen bezel a bit annoying.

Fujitsu ST5022, ST5032
Crappy specs, annoying PATA (hard to replace now) hard drives, really really nice to draw on. A compromise candidate for £200. Abundant.


Toshiba Portege M400

Fujitsu T4210/4215/4220
Good all round drawing feel and nice screens, esp. in the 4220. All the Fujitsus come with two button pens (many tablet PCs just have one button pens that feel like they are made out of a drinking straw). Again, nice to draw on.

Lenovo X61t
A revision of the X60 above

Fujitsu ST5112
As above but SATA hard drives, maybe a Core Duo processor, you can put Win 7 on it

Fujitsu T5010/T900 (core i version of T5010)
This is the only 13.3 inch widescreen tablet left, I think. It's heavier to lug around but the extra screen real estate is very nice.

Lenovo X201
12 inch widescreen (like a Cintiq 12WX screen)

HP 2730/2740
Widescreen HP business machines with good build quality

There are newer models from the main manufacturers that I have not had a chance to have a go on. Of course manufacturers should feel free to send me complimentary devices.

Toshiba Tecra M4
Video card burns out eventually, hinge is fragile.

Toshiba Tecra M7
Oversensitive pen feel problematic in some applications (Manga Studio particularly), a lovely computer but this was a flaw I couldn't get past. In Photoshop it seemed fine though and I managed to make about 40 comics on mine while on the road - it took a bit of tweaking. The 14" screen was mega though.

Asus R1E/R1F
Great to draw on, big screen, but there was a recall of many of these because the cursor would stick in the corner of the screen.

Axiotron Modbook (kind of a cannibalised MacBook slate)
Text input via pen on a slate is important and it's excellent under Vista and Win7. The Modbook's text entry is not great. Not great at all.

I would advise that you avoid machines with pen and touch or "multitouch" options. If you want to touch something, TOUCH SOMETHING ELSE. The Wacom enhanced drivers barely work on most tablet PCs, the dual touch drivers are prone to explode. These aren't mass market consumer machines and issues in this area, when addressed, have seldom been addressed well. Hopefully my list will help.

Every make of tablet PC I've used has had a slightly different feel to draw on. The Fujitsus are closest to the Cintiq but a combination of anti-glare screen coatings etc fogs the water even there. I've no idea about Motion Computing's slate offerings but they are supposedly very well made. I've never seen an "Electrovaya Scribbler" or an "Armor X1" so who knows.

When you buy a tablet PC, buy it as a drawing machine, not a laptop. This part of the market never really took off and the best machines are not always the newest. There are crazy people out there still using HP TC1100s from 2002 because they love the form factor so much, and it was never replaced. They are completely insane but I hope it illustrates my point.

I hope this helps a few people! If I've raised any questions, stick 'em in the comments.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My favourite poem of all time

My younger brother just sent me a text from Morocco with the following poem. Quite how he remembers it, I don't know. I must have taught it to him. It was written by Dominic Hardman, aged 11, in 1987, at Addingham Middle School.

Going up in a plane, gulp
Thinking about crashing, being knocked into pulp.
Try not to be worried with all my might,
I hope we land safely in Paris tonight.
Aargh, woosh, wow! We're in the sky!
Bleuurgh I just regurgitated my meat pie.

When this poem was affixed to the wall by the teacher, the last line was expurgated, rather like the meat pie. It was however accompanied by a rather nice picture of a plane.

Dominic eventually went on to a career in the financial services industry and I wish him well. But I believe that his talents were utterly wasted. This is my favourite poem of all time. It is as perfectly funny today as it was 23 years ago.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Battlemouth interview

There's a new interview with me up at Battlemouth. It doesn't really cover anything I've not talked about before, but there was one question that I didn't reply to in time to have in included, which touches on something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

"For the first four or five years I was making comics, I was working in print and web design (1998-2003). I wasn't a particularly talented designer and I didn't enjoy most of the work I did, it was doing my own stuff that kept me going. But as I was doing it in the evenings and at weekends, I wasn't exactly making amazing art. I had to make five comics a week! That's part of the reason that I took so long to develop artistically. I would backslide a lot, develop bad habits, and take years to work them out and lose them.

Fortunately, like a lot of people starting out, I didn't really have the developed design sense to know how rough my work was. I can't believe that I was paid for some of the things I did! I did loads of spots and even big two page spreads for magazines like Computer and Video Games. I did the cover for a big anniversary issue of Nintendo Official Magazine. If I was asked to do those things now, I'd have a lot more doubt about my ability to do them than I did when I was 24 and really really raw!"


As the years have gone by, as I've improved as an artist, my sense of what is "correct" or not has grown in parallel. You really want it to be a little behind, otherwise you'd never publish anything. To blunder through a "career", you have to be insulated from your own inadequacies or the sound of your own voice would drive you mad.

Friday, June 18, 2010

England's goalkeeper question

The answer is Emmanuel Clegg! LET HIM PLAY

Half man, half arachnid, ALL PATRIOT, why pick Cleggy and not play him?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Another Poison Ivy Monday

Here's a fancy-lookin' commission, Shelley and Poison Ivy together, at last, one time only, until the next time. I'm sure they'd get along.

RSS writer recommendations

My main machine is a Mac but I have a PC laptop, for one reason and one reason only - the Royal Mail's postal software doesn't work on the Mac, and printing hundreds of pounds of postage through an emulator was frequently unpleasant. As time has gone on, I've got used to Windows again and, if I may be so bold, I am now such a slick operator that I don't need to think about whether to press CTRL or the Apple key when I cut and paste. I love me, I'm great.

A little while ago I was looking for a piece of software to write RSS feeds on the PC that was as good as Feeder on the Mac (a very easy-to-use piece of software if you handle RSS feeds manually). No one could help. But for people asking the question on Google, here is the answer: Mirabyte Feed Writer 2.

They both have WYSIWYG editors and HTML -> XML converters, will download and upload your feed via FTP or let you write it locally, and have a some nice project-orientated features. Feeder is $40, Mirabyte is $60.

I hope this helps a few people, maybe you will get a promotion. If so, I want a cut.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sketch Fiesta 8

Good news, friends! I uploaded a new Sketch Fiesta yesterday. More drawings from the raw, primeval soup of my sketchbook (and a couple that I bothered to colour in).

Young artists! If you aren't in the sketchbook habit, get into it. Having not come from an art school background, it took me a long time to get into the habit of constantly sketching and letting my mistakes sit on the page next to minor triumphs. My art began to take huge strides thereafter, and what's more, I can pin down the times when my art went backwards to the months where I got lazy - forensic style.

The best thing is, when you have to work something up for a proper piece or inspiration is slack, you can probably find something in your sketchbook that offers a starting point if nothing else.

Of course, they can't all be gems.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Teeshirt treatise, a treatise on tees

Over the five years of writing this blog, I don't think I've moaned more than when designing tshirts.

The moaning (and the designing) were necessary because t-shirts formed (and still form) a vital part of the webcomic moneymaking ecosystem. The combination of low order requirements/reasonable profit margin/quick turnaround/potential quasi-viral popularity outside the comic sphere made printed tees the foundation stone of making a living out of your comic on the internet.

Like all bubbles, it had to burst. And this was a bubble - in the early to mid-oughts, printed tees enjoyed a popularity that they hadn't since the seventies heyday of "I'm With Stupid". Around 2007, it got a lot harder to sell designs. And because almost everyone I know in comics had been strip mining memes for five years, there was almost nothing left to say on them! When I stopped seeing people at rock shows wearing webcomics tees or Threadless tees it was obvious that the jig was up. Ubiqity bore obselescence. The hip nation didn't want tshirts any more. They had bought big into checked shirts.

You can still sell a shirt or two if you want. Stick something a nerd recognises on it (an Ewok, the Higgs Boson particle, Omega Supreme flanked by Cindy Birdsong and Diana Ross) and there you are. But where's the pleasure in printing endless variations on "here's something you recognise"?

Now, I've got nothing against nerds, my dad worked with a nerd once and there was one in the year below me at school. And I have seen every episode of Babylon Five - twice! But I can't hoe that row. People can tell I'm not into it.

Those years of the super hit t-shirts I made - Bears Will Eat You, Books Rule etc sold and sold for years on the back of a couple of hours effort - really spoiled me. But it was a great run.

I can't tell if I quit or if I've been fired. But I've made one last shirt. Buy it if you like it.

Monday, June 07, 2010


That's quite enough Poison Ivy for one day. I found it a bit strange to discover that the most modern comic book iteration of Poison Ivy is, to all intents and purposes, naked. Such poverty of design aspiration, more sad than "sexy".


I'm trying to work out how to draw Poison Ivy for a commission. I never read many Batman comics so I can't work out which is the "legit" Poison Ivy costume - sometimes she's got green skin, sometimes she's kind of a 1940s vamp, and it's hard to even work out if she's tall or short. What is the answer?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Here is a comic I made on the train. The dialogue was provided by a nearby baby. It's "slice of life" I think - a bit like Harvey Pekar!

(A quick note - I'm getting so much Chinese comment spam now that I'm going to have to turn on comment moderation until Blogger work out how to do something about it. It has nothing to do with anyone who posts proper blog comments on here)