Tag Archives: Comics Biz

Tools of my Trade

I illustrate everything by hand, using pencil and ink on paper. In the last three years my choice of tools for making comics has shifted a bit. Here’s the current suite¹:


Since about 2016 I’ve been penciling in blue or red (or sometimes both). I use mechanical pencils exclusively.

  • Kaweco AL Sport 0.7mm pencil
  • Paper Mate Clear Point 0.7mm pencil
  • Pilot 0.7mm Eno Soft Blue
  • Pilot 0.7mm Eno  Red

I sometimes use 2mm “clutch” pencils for construction lines, especially in backgrounds and on large pieces.

  • E+M Workman Lead Holder (2mm)
  • IC Comic Draft Blue 2mm leads

When I erase, I’m either doing broad cleanup, or removing specific clutter.

  • Prismacolor kneaded eraser
  • Tombow Mono Zero eraser

I also use some stencils and templates for construction lines. I have circle templates, ellipse templates, straight-edges, french curves, and flexible straight-edges. Those last three are critical for backgrounds involving any sort of perspective, or architecture.


I ink in three stages. In the first I’m taking care of the outlines, and committing to a few of the many possible lines apparent in my blue line work.

  • Staedtler Mars Pigment Liners, .01, .03, .05, and .07mm black

Those pigment liners have been my go-to since the very beginning of Schlock Mercenary in 2000. I’ve killed at least a thousand of them in the last 17 years. I’ve tried several other brands², but always came back to the Staedtlers.

The second stage is where the picture really comes together. I use brush pens to add weight to some of the lines, and to shade or fill. (I used to do this with the pigment liners, but  in 2015 I started brushing³. I still have a lot to learn!)

  • Tombow Fudonosuke hard
  • Tombow Fudonosuke soft
  • Pilot Futayaku double-sided brush
  • Pentel Pocket Brush

The third stage is backgrounds and cleanup. For this I’m using the pigment liners to put lines down, and white gel to make bad lines and smudges go away.

  • Uni-ball Signo Broad UM-153

If you ever want to peer behind the curtain and see how non-magical things are, hold one of my originals up to the light and look for the places where white gel is covering up my slop.  Every piece I do has at least some of this. EVERY LAST ONE.


At the outset I said that I work in pencil and ink on paper. When you see my work in color, that’s because somebody else colored it. For Schlock Mercenary, that’s Travis Walton. I scan my work at 600dpi, in black-and-white, with the threshold set low enough to ensure that even the scritchiest blue scores in the paper vanish. Travis colors in Photoshop, and passes the files back to me in glorious CMYK.


I might get around to reviewing some of the products above, but in terms of recommendation, I’ll lead with this: if you’re learning to make art, always have at least one tool lying around that you do not know how to use yet. Let that tool tempt you into picking it up and making a mess, because after the mess you may discover beauty, or exhilaration, or this-goes-faster, and that’s how we level up.

¹Everything I use is available from JetPens, with the exception of the Paper Mate mechanical pencils⁴, which I think I got at Wal-Mart. I do this because it means I don’t need to go shopping. I can just click some buttons and supplies will arrive at my house.
² Sakura Pigma Micron is a favorite for a lot of cartoonists. I used them for a while, but they flowed just a teency bit too fast for me, making some of my lines fuzzy.
³Lar DeSouza introduced me to the Tombow Fudonosuke pens in a classic “when the student is ready the master shall appear” moment. I still haven’t bought him enough drinks to pay him back.
⁴ I bought these because colored leads are messy, and tend to gum up even the very best pencils. My favorite three mechanical pencils failed on the same day, so I executed some warranties, and then bought some cheap replacements so I could keep working. The cheap pencils work just fine, though they lack the hefty joy of the fancier tools.



Force Multiplication almost ready to go to print…

Sandra and I have been grinding hard for the last week in order to get Force Multiplication out the door to the printer.

Cover Rough 0409-5-FRONT-thumbnailSaturday we¹ arrived at a final cover. Monday we got test prints, in color, for the whole book. Today? Well, today is spent fixing things².

Our goal is to send this to the printer on Friday. Pre-orders won’t open for at least 45 days, though. Be patient!

¹Me, Sandra, and K.B. Spangler, who drew some amazing circuitry for the cover texture.
²Including the cover.


Sunset Is a Pretty Word, But…

SunsetSansAppWhen I worked in the software industry a decade ago there was this lovely term we used when a particular product or code-base was being terminated. We called it “sunset,” and that lovely, red-orange noun with its purple shading would get verbed, and we’d say we were “sunsetting” something, because that’s so much nicer than “terminating.”

On to the point, then. The Schlock App for iOS and Android is being sunsetted, put out to pasture, end-of-lifed—pick your favorite word, there’s no truly nice way to describe this. Let’s talk about what it means, and why it’s happening.


rssHere’s the short version of the rest of this post: we can’t afford to continue supporting the app. If you’re using the app, we recommend that you switch to an RSS app, and use that to consume the Schlock Mercenary RSS feed.

Why Sunset?

Ultimately it comes down to time and money.

In the early days the Schlock App was a labor of love, and Gary Henson’s passion for a clean interface gave thousands of Schlock fans an unparalleled reading experience. We were never able to successfully port that experience to Android, and as mobile devices matured, we became increasingly unable to comprehensively test the app on the wide range of devices where it might be run. Bugs proliferated.

And then, two weeks ago, I crashed the app by putting a frame in a blog post. Gary discovered that in order to identify the problem he would first need to update the entire app for iOS 9, which is only a very small step away from rewriting it, since it was originally coded for iOS 3. As last straws go, this was a hay bale, or perhaps a cord of firewood.

Gross revenue from the Schlock App has been about $2,000 per year, which is less than 10% of the total ad revenue generated by the comic. The time spent managing the Schlock App is twice, or three times the amount of time spent managing ads on the main site.

By that math alone, the Schlock App is a time sink that does not pay for itself. Consider, however, that the gross revenue is split between us and Gary. $1,000 per year comes out to far less than minimum wage for Gary.

I asked Gary what it would cost to re-code the app, assuming a fair hourly rate for his engineering services. Without divulging his rate, let’s just say that the app is nowhere near justifying that level of investment, and that’s not even taking into account the drudgery involved in rewriting 5-year-old code.

I can divulge that after shopping around other app studios we learned that an app coded natively for iOS and Android, portable across and tested against the most recent 3 years of devices and OS releases, and designed to read via a hybrid onboard/online cache of comics would cost between $80,000 and $250,000.

But, The App Is AMAZING!

It sure is.

Unfortunately we could not get people to support “amazing.” Less than 1% of Schlock Mercenary readers use the app, and less than half of the app users bought subscriptions. Ultimately we have to come to grips with the fact that in demographic terms, the app isn’t actually something the fanbase wants.

That’s kind of harsh, I know, and it will sound the harshest to that tiny¹ group of devotees who appreciate the Schlock app for what it is: the best way to consume a comic strip on your phone. No other app comes close.

Beyond the Schlock App

If you’ve been using the app, you may have noticed that we’ve turned off the subscriptions. We obviously won’t be taking money for something we’re not going to continue supporting.

We haven’t decided when we’ll be turning the Schlock App server off, but we’re 100% confident that the app server will not be running in 2017. It’s likely we’ll pull the plug this summer. Once the server is off, the app will no longer be able to pull down new comics, and it will instantly go from “unsupported” to “unusable.

There is a Schlock Mercenary RSS feed that you can consume on your mobile, and both iOS and Android users have a wide range of RSS reader apps available to them. Here’s a short list²:


  • Free RSS Reader
  • Feedly
  • Newsify
  • Byline
  • Feeddler


  • Feedly
  • Flipboard
  • Newstand
  • Press
  • Digg

The new Schlock Mercenary website is much better than the old site for mobile users. It’s not as lovely as the app, but frankly, nothing is.

At the end of all this, the one bright piece is that Schlock Mercenary itself is here to stay. Apps, browsers, and operating systems come and go, but with each sunrise³ there will be another Schlock Mercenary strip.



¹Tiny is relative. At its most popular, the app had 500 paying subscribers. Today there are half that many. A group of 279 is an impressively large number at a wedding banquet, but is tiny when compared to 100,000 monthly readers.

² I have not provided links to these because I would prefer to not to be the one who vets the software you’re putting on your handbrain. If you use a mobile device, you probably already have a standard by which you decide what to install.

³ If the sun stops coming up,⁴  our plans will change. 

⁴ Contrary to popular opinion, I cannot stop the sun from coming up by ceasing to update Schlock Mercenary. If I had that kind of power, rest assured, we’d still have a Schlock app, and I’d have a great many things besides.


A Week of Feeling Famous

On Monday my friend Rodney posted “Hiding from the Mariachi” to the web. I linked to it, but neglected to mention that it was the first of a five-part series of blog posts that were kind of sort of all about me (except for the one which was all about Sandra, and which says a thing which indisputably the most important thing said during the entire series.)

Here are the links to the full set:

Take care with the Photo Essay: It has spoilers. The new maxims aren’t spoilers, so you can dive right into that post, no worries. It probably can’t compete with The Force Awakens for folks’ attention, but at least you can tell your friends about the maxims without making anybody angry.

I like this series of interviews and essays because yeah, they’re about me, and my ego doesn’t really get tired of that, but also because Rodney’s essays are always insightful, and having that insight aimed my direction is cool. I encourage you to read the stuff he’s written that is NOT about me, because frankly, that’s where he really shines.RodneyMBliss.com has all of it.