2014
10.12

It’s time to stop worrying and editing, and publish and be damned, so Chapter 6 is up and available here.

I’m afraid this isn’t a very eventful chapter, but there’s a bit of backstory to explain where things started off in Chapter 1 and some more time spent out of uniform.

Any feedback or corrections are welcomed as always. Heaven knows I’ve probably missed a bunch more grammatical errors in such a long chapter. As mentioned, I’m planning to cut the next chapter in half so that it doesn’t take so long between releases. The main plot will resume shortly!

Poster-Chapter-06

-Mark

2014
09.20

The first draft of Chapter 6 was finished last weekend. Chapter 6 will be the longest yet at 18 pages and Chapter 7 would be even longer, so I think it’s time to start sacrificing some elegant cliffhangers and start splitting up these longer chapters into more manageable lengths.

Alongside the second pass on Chapter 6 I’m slowly working my way back through the pilot chapters and correcting some anomalies. Joshua kindly provided a detailed list of textual errors that needed attention. Joshua, I don’t know if my return mail got through since I’ve got an unreliable relay system setup with that account and my gmail, but I wanted to say thanks again.

I was dreading a return to the early pages but, although parts of them are as bad as I feared, touching up the art has been kinda fun. It’s interesting to see where my process has tightened up and the stylistic improvements that have been made over the last year.

It’s baffling how many terrible bits of character art got released after so many edits and, like those dialogue errors, it’s always humbling to see just how poor we are at proof-reading our own material and how badly it can age. :) There have been relatively few edits required on Chapter 6 though, so I hope to have it out in a couple of weeks.

Post-Chapter-06
2014
08.03

Work on Chapter 6 is going well. It’s a long one, and I’m currently on page 11 of 18.

In answer to a query from abhifx last week, here’s a brief run-through of my process for producing new pages:

1-Script:

All of the story has been laid out in advance in script form. I wouldn’t do this any other way, as I don’t think making the story up as you go along leads to good results. I’m not a natural writer and I find writing to be a difficult mental puzzle, albeit rewarding when the parts all click into place. I hope this deficiency can be overcome with a brute-force approach of repeated edits over a long period of time. The script gets another one every time I read part of it.

Process-Script

2- 3D renders of locations:

All of the locations are built in Blender. I’m not greatly skilled with 3D modelling, but I decided to use it for all the backgrounds for two main reasons:

  • Practically all the locations are non-organic in nature, and therefore well suited to artificial construction instead of free-hand drawing.
  • Hand drawing backgrounds is *very* time-consuming. With 3D, once the initial overhead of building a location is complete you can render any number of shots very quickly. Locations also remain consistent over time.
  • The challenge when initially exploring this approach was visually matching the renders with the hand-drawn art, but a few set photoshop filters now takes care of this. I have to avoid making the 3D models too detailed or they don’t match the more simplistic line-art!

    Process-3D

    3 – Storyboarding a page:

    I start a page by making really crude sketches of panel and dialogue layout on a sheet of A3. I find good old-fashioned pencil and paper can’t be beat for ease of translating thought into form. This only takes about 15 minutes – it is very badly drawn. :)

    4 – Drawing a page:

    Here’s the big bit. I’ll run through it in 6 distinct stages. The tools used are an ancient copy of Photoshop and my beloved Wacom Cintiq:

    Process-Draw

    4-1 Panel and dialogue layout:
    The storyboard is translated into a framework to draw onto. Initially I tried doing the same clever things with panels that I’d admired in other comics – non-rectangular panels, breaking panel boundaries, unusual flow between panels. This was exhausting and I quickly gave it up in favour of a very rigid 3-2-1 panel arrangement and fixed rules for the positioning of dialogue boxes. I think this was the right decision, as it turns this stage into a fairly efficient, mechanical process, and this is not always a bad thing in art.
    Incidentally, I know the addition of the mini-dialogue heads will be contentious. I’ve toyed with various alternatives and can only say that I find this to be the least worst option. They add some much-needed colour and visual pop to the page, and are useful in identifying which character is speaking in situations, as will occur frequently, where they are not present in the associated panel.

    4-2 Adding reference:

    I find that for good results, reference is essential. I used to chafe against this fact, and saw it as ‘cheating’, but I’ve now come to embrace it. So at this point I go searching a variety of image sites for pictures of people in poses that match the storyboard. Often these references will need to be collaged together, and tweaked to better match the build of the characters they are representing.
    A note here – finding good references in microgravity is very hard! This is the reason I decided to downplay the visual effects of microgravity from those originally planned, and characters spend little time free-floating.

    4-3 Adding background renders:
    For each panel, the background is rendered from the appropriate location. The image gets run through a few photoshop filters to add outlines and help it match the hand-drawn art better. Matching the references to the background is tricky, especially when they are physically interacting with it, such as sitting down.

    4-4 Line art:
    My favourite part of the process! Although the line art is drawn over the references, only the outline of the form gets used. I keep a separate file of references for characters and clothing.

    4-5 Colouring:
    This part is rather mechanical – colouring in! I usually work without strong object source lighting, using a reference palette for skin and clothes. Too much attention to shading, especially on faces, can really trap you. I do find it necessary to have some video or music playing nearby to help keep this stage from becoming too tedious.

    4-6 Applying filters, background details
    Filters are added to all the new layers. These add a colour overlay to reduce contrast and saturation, a soft light gradient and inner light shadow to help them sit more naturally on the backgrounds. Shadows, light glow, data displays and other extra background details also get added at this stage.

    5 – Final edits

    Like the script, the page will require several more edits, usually made months later when all the other pages in the chapter are complete. Distance in time is important for re-assessing any work. Key priorities are clearing up any obvious visual errors, especially ‘derp-face’ which is common, and adding elements such as data displays or background crowds which I didn’t have the energy to add in the first pass.
    For example, the shadow behind Jaime’s head in the example above looks instinctively out of place and I’ve already fixed it by moving it off the the left.

    I hope this was of some interest. A wonderful and sometimes frustrating aspect of any creative endeavour is that there are so many right (and wrong) ways to get to your destination. This is the one I’ve settled on after some trial and error and I want to stick with it, hopefully avoiding much of the stylistic drift that can occur over time. Let me know if there are any additional questions, I’ve spared you from plenty of tedious details. :)

    Cheers,

    Mark

    2014
    05.10

    Chapter 5 is now up!

    Poster-Chapter-05

    The recent series of spring bank holidays here in the UK have provided a great opportunity to get some real work done. The editing process has also gotten a lot easier since the pilot chapters, which needed many more passes and still didn’t end up in a state I was particularly happy with. Hopefully that’s practise paying off.

    This chapter has had some of it’s own unique challenges. I’ve steered away from displaying any explicit nudity so far and whilst I’ve continued that approach here, there is one scene that manages to hit several taboos at once. After consideration I decided not to omit it as it’s relevant backstory, but I hope it doesn’t cause any offense.

    There’s also a character roster on page zero, to help match names to recurring characters.

    I know that the readership of this comic is in single figures, but I’m not too concerned yet as a) I hate self-promotion b) I’m scared of exposure and c) I’m enjoying the creative process plenty as it is. :) I am however grateful to anyone who is sufficiently interested to come back and read a new chapter after these long periods of silence.

    On to Chapter 6!

    2014
    03.10

    I’m currently working my way through chapter 5, page 10 of 14, which is not bad progress over a two and a half month period. Work and my private life are both quiet, which is freeing up more time and energy for drawing.

    In terms of content, it’s nice to be getting now into some serious character background and to start explaining some of the situation present at the start of the story. Plus I get to work with a wider palette and some alternative wardrobes whilst the crew are in civvies, which is fun.

    I know that the pace of updates here is slow and that I’ve made no effort to build an audience for this endeavour. I’m blindly focused on doing what I enjoy most, which is drawing, and ignoring everything else. I’ll keep going like this for a while, until I’m forced to change my ways (as usual!) For now the RSS feed is probably the best way to keep alerted of any updates. Please rest assured that even if things are quiet here, I certainly have no plans to quit.

    Thanks for reading!

    Mark

    2013
    12.22

    Chapter 4 is up here. It’s a fairly quiet and functional chapter that acts as bridge to the next couple, which will be more character-focused.

    I spent an extra week tidying up bad panels and tricky dialogue. It’s not easy letting go when there’s still more that could be done, but I’ve got to try and stay on schedule!

    Over the Christmas break I’m hoping to find time to finish the 3D sets for Chapter 5 and maybe apply some tweaks to the pilot chapters.

    I hope everyone has a happy new year. Here’s looking forward to 2014.

    -Mark

    2013
    11.21

    I’ve just finished the first pass over Chapter 4 and it’s been going well, despite a 2 week break while I was moving home. The second and third passes will help to tidy up the art, dialogue and flow, and the next chapter will be ready for release by mid-December.

    I hope the chapter release schedule is going to work out. I gather it’s not such a common practise for online comics but the cost of a weekly release schedule would be lower quality, more stress and some annoying hiatuses while real life intervenes.

    My thanks to everyone who’s visited so far. I hope you’ll stick around! The site has had some recent trouble with spam bots and there may be some disruption to the comments system whilst I try out some alternate settings and plugins to keep the damn things out.

    – Mark

    2013
    09.12

    Hello and welcome to the pilot release of The Space Between! You can start reading here.

    This release contains the first 3 chapters of a longer story. The Space Between is an ongoing, online, free graphic novel, set in a distant future where mankind has colonised an empty galaxy and human affairs are regulated from above by the authoritarian Mission. The story follows the officers of a Fleet Service asset, tasked with protecting the stated aims of the Mission as they struggle to reconcile their orders and beliefs with the reality of the world closing in around them.

    The aim is to deliver a hefty dose of science fiction and character drama, seasoned with a dash of political intrigue, conflict, disaster, betrayal and commentary on the good old human condition.

    I realise this project will be an acquired taste. It’s a niche genre and the art and the writing sometimes fall short of what they need to be. But every so often I think it manages to hit the mark and I’m excited about the prospect of delivering more. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen and read so far, please drop a comment and let me know your thoughts. Constructive feedback and advice is also most welcome, as this is the first webcomic I’ve worked on. If there’s an audience, there’s a lot more of this waiting to be drawn, with a new chapter to be released every 5-6 months.

    Thanks!

    – Mark