S. J. Dann, J. S. Loomis, J. Ciurla and D. Wendl
In our last post we talked about the Star-Fall project, an original Science Fiction/Fantasy Webcomic written by S. J. Dann and illustrated by J. S. Loomis and based on the figures and background crafted by the former.
In today’s post, the Star-Fall crew will discuss with us about their experiences while creating this webcomic and about crafting and writing the novels.
H.J.: Hi Star-Fall team!
SJ Dann: Hi, thanks so much for having us.
JS Loomis: Good to be here.
H.J.: In our last post about your work, we learned many interesting things about the birth of Star-Fall. Can you tell us when did you realize that it was becoming real, becoming a project that would see the light?
Lt. Nef’Fenya Naa, created by S. J. Dann
SJ Dann: After creating the first few custom figures, the simple backstories I had designed for each character began to expand and grow into what will be a three part novel series. One day I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook and I happened to see a post by a very talented artist offering to do hand-drawn commissions for people. The images of his work that I saw depicted a lot of female superheroes and different established comic book characters from the major labels.
I was very much drawn to his treatment of these characters, especially his eye for capturing female characters. The artist was JS Loomis and I decided to send him a message asking about some commissions of some of the early Star-Fall characters I had created as custom action figures. JS agreed to do a series of simple pencil sketches from the figures. I was immediately blown away how he was able to bring Nef’Fenya Naa and Aves and the others to life on the page. JS told me he enjoyed drawing the Star-Fall characters, so after about 10 sketches I proposed the idea of doing a full-scale webcomic. JS agreed, and the rest is now history.
JS Loomis: I was really getting into the character sketches SJ was having me do, but I was pretty sure he was going to be pursuing this as a prose book project. So when he pitched the idea of taking a Star-Fall Universe story to sequentials, I was already sold on the idea. I could already see the characters walking, talking and interacting as I was doing the sketches based on his custom figure designs. The characters have a lot of life in them.
H.J.: Are there any legal restrictions on using spare parts from figures of patented seals in order to create a totally new figure?
SJ Dann: The creation of custom action figures is primarily a hobby activity. While there are those that sell their unique work to collectors and other customizers, there have been no legal cases of copyright infringement as of yet. Custom action figures are art, and as long as the artists that create them do not claim the original copyrighted characters and concepts as their own, they do not violate the laws. However I am not a lawyer and I would be interested to hear what someone with copyright law experience would say about this issue.
The custom action figures created for Star-Fall were made using parts of existing action figures of established copyrighted characters, from there, the original Star-Fall characters which are unlike any preexisting copyrighted characters have been redesigned in formats and mediums that are then copyrighted. This practice is often seen throughout pop culture. Many of the devices, costumes, and props in Star Wars, for example, were preexisting products that artists working on the film made slight modifications to. One prime example of this is are the blaster rifles and lightsabers. Many of the rifles are based on patented preexisting earth rifles used in American and British armed services that were modified with extra parts. The lightsabers were handles from camera flash bulbs. It is a long standing method for creating the look and feel of a universe and Star-Fall takes this method to a unique place as the only webcomic with illustrations based on custom action figures.
H.J.: The number of people participating in the Star-Fall project seems to be increasing. Do you considering to add more members to it? Why?
SJ Dann: The Star-Fall team currently has 7 members in addition to myself, JS, Jennifer, and David, including our webmaster, web designer/graphic artist and a composer. Star-Fall is a collaborative effort and right now we are a small group, each of us devoting as much time as we can afford to the project.
For what we are doing and the speed we are moving at right now, I would say that we have the perfect amount of team members. It is our hope that we will continue to grow and take on new team members as we need them and when we can afford them. In addition to creating the Star-Fall universe I am also building an independent exclusively web-based comic book label called VAST!Comics, of which Star-Fall is the flagship title. VAST! seeks to eventually host a wide variety of webcomics from a diverse group of creators.
H.J.: Tell us briefly how Dann and Loomis work together to put on the paper what is in Dann’s imagination. Does the final result differ a lot from starting concept?
JS Loomis’ drawing process. Everything is hand-drawn and hand-inked.
SJ Dann: Each page is broken down by panel. I draft a basic outline of the story that we are currently working on and then distill each sequence into individual panels. Each panel is broken into two sections: setting/stage directions and dialogue. From there, JS is able to develop a visual representation of the scene and the narrative taking place.
Because the majority of the characters depicted in the series are based on the figures I make, very little is lost in translation when JS draws them into the comic. JS has a fantastic intuition and we are almost always 100% on the same page with how we imagine things. I try to give him as many suggestions and thorough descriptions of each character and scene as possible.
I cannot speak for JS but I imagine it helps a lot to have full-color 3D versions of the characters to work from, rather than relying solely on text-based descriptions. It would be a lot more challenging to try and convey the complex characters of Star-Fall using only words. However there will be some that I am unable to build as action figures. The settings and scenery are all based on the written descriptions I provide for JS, so there is a bit more back and forth and tweaking in those areas as we work to get the look and feel of the Star-Fall universe just right.
JS Loomis: The final product always looks different from how I envision it in my mind. The finished page is the compromise I make between what my brain dreams up and what I can actually pull off on paper. I see full blown animation in a 360 degree rotation in my head when I’m reading through SJ’s scripts and narrow the focus from there to what will work on paper with the lettering. Sometimes I can smell, taste and touch the scene inside my head, too. I don’t know if non artists have the same reading experience that I get, but it is a lot of fun when you can really let yourself fall into that world.
H.J.: How are you planning the production of the Star-Fall figures if you reach the patreon goal?
The recently added character Hazard Girl
SJ Dann: It would so great if we reach that point! I plan on having JS do some character workups, and I will take some photographs of the custom figures to provide them for the sculptor we would work with. From there, the sculptor will create the mockups of the figures that will go to the production company. I am a stickler for details and want to produce the highest quality figures we can while staying within our budget. I will try to secure the original sculptor for Hasbro’s GI-Joe to do our figures if possible. He was a friend of my father’s.
H.J.: How does the work of Ciurla as cosplayer help to create Star-Fall? Does she help Loomis to find the best way of drawing characters?
SJ Dann: Jenn Ciurla is a professional marketing and PR consultant who just happens to be a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan, model, actress, and cosplayer. I first met her while working on a charity toy drive I organized. She used her Youtube channel to help the charity go viral and was a huge part of our success. For Star-Fall she has been helping us with some social media marketing and will be starring as Lt. Nef’Fenya Naa in some of our promotional videos. She is currently our official Star-Fall spokesmodel. Her work has not yet involved modeling for any drawings, but we will be doing some photographic cover art with her in costume to promote the series and I am working on an exclusive custom figure based on her likeness as Lt. Nef’Fenya.
JS Loomis: As we get the ball rolling I am sure she will have an influence on my approach going forward, but we just have not gotten to that phase with her yet.
H.J.: Wendl is currently a guest artist of the project, in what way does he ad his part to the webcomic? How do he and Loomis coordinate?
SJ Dann: Many years ago, David Wendl and I met in grade school and we became good friends, bonding over science and science fiction and fantasy. David has a beautiful and unique artistic style that he occasionally lends to the characters of Star-Fall for use on merchandise and promotional items.
Sad Robot, by David Wendl
He and I have talked about putting together some mini-comics featuring his art that we may do at some time further down the road. Wendl also does some stunning 3D graphics and animation work as well so we may do a digital animated collaboration at some point. His “Sad Robot” short film is fantastic and I highly recommend watching it. JS and Wendl haven’t yet needed to coordinate.
JS Loomis: I have not coordinated with David at this point, but if he ever gets to the point where he needs lettering or computer coloring tips, I will be here as a resource for him to tap into. If he has the opportunity to look over the action figures in person to problem solve character details… well, I am a little jealous, heh.
D Wendl: Mostly what I do is extra art, for promotional or inspirational purposes. This allows me to be pretty loose. I work with reference photos of Dann’s figurines. Sometimes he gives me a prompt such as “how about this character in this situation”, but there is usually a lot of blanks for me to fill in on my own. Ultimately, it kind of depends.
H.J.: Did you ever consider to contact one of the big franchises out there to see if Star-Fall could get a rocket launch into fame?
SJ Dann: That is something I ultimately want for Star-Fall. Once we have enough material, I do want to shop it around to major comic labels and publishers as well as film companies and videogame developers because I think the story is rich and deep enough to be adaptable across a wide degree of formats. On the other hand I want to keep Star-Fall independent for as long as possible. As a small, free, independent webcomic we are our own bosses making comics exactly the way we want them to be and that’s really important to the work.
I never set out to make money with Star-Fall. I set out to make the kind of story and characters that had shaped my life as I was growing up and in doing so, pay homage to the myriad of creators and artists that I have looked up to since I was very young.
JS Loomis: I am trying to keep everything at print level quality, if we ever do make that deal. Having a particular publisher’s name on the cover means a lot less to me than the quality of the work at this point. With the advent of digital publishing and the instant contact with your fan base made possible by the internet, selling your soul to the big guys in exchange for a wider reach is less appealing than it used to be.
H.J.: What would you tell to a fan of sci-fi to convince him/her to read Star-Fall? What is it that he/she will not find in other sci-fi works?
SJ Dann: I would say that Star-Fall is unique in that it features hand-drawn and hand-inked full-size comic book pages even though it is a webcomic. Next I would want them to know is that Star-Fall is the only webcomic with art based on hand-built and hand-painted custom action figures. Star-Fall has a diverse cast of fully developed characters, a rich lore-driven story, ripe with its own culture and history, snappy dialogue, and a heaping helping of action-packed adventures. It is a comic created by fans, for fans. And it’s always free to read.
JS Loomis: We care deeply about the world building under the surface of the comic. This is not just make it all up as you go along, and I hope that shines through.
H.J.: To Loomis and Wendl: can you explain briefly about your drawing process? What are your tools? How does the process work from Dann describing a situation/character until it is finished on paper? How much time does it take to create a single page?
Loomis inking a page of Star-Fall
JS Loomis: I’m still old school in the digital age. I start with pencil (Ticonderoga HB is my favorite) and paper (Strathmore Bristol smooth lined for pages is what I use for the comic pages). For inking I use nib pens (Hunts 512 ex-fine bowl point and Speedball B-6 are my favorite tips) and Windsor and Newton Series 7 round point brushes, sizes 0, 2 and 4. The ink itself is Higgins Black India Waterproof drawing ink, which I put in a small metal cup for better dipping results. I use a metal yardstick ruler with pennies taped to the bottom, and a flexible curve to get clean lines when I feel they will be too long to pull off freehand. I also employ whatever round, circular things I can find around the house to help me out. I used a can of beans to help me ink one of the early Star-Fall pages, which SJ got a kick out of. Once inked, I do everything else on the computer, with the aid of my large format scanner, Adobe Photoshop, and a Wacom digital tablet.
I read SJ’s description of the page and watch it play out in my head. From there I make a mental note of the amount of dialogue required per panel and what moments I think are the most visually important for the page, and build the design around those considerations. From there, I scan the roughs and work up the digital lettering, to see if I need to change anything in the layout stage to make it all work together. Once I’ve done any digital tweaking and have it looking nice with the roughs, I make any changes needed to the physical artwork and take it to inks.
Time-wise, things will vary per page depending on if I get stuck on the details, but clocking for the most recent page I have been working, it took close to two hours (split over 2 sessions) to do the initial pencils, about an hour to do the lettering and digital editing, and 5 minutes of physical edits. On the previous page, it took me 2 hours to ink, and another 1 1/2 hours to computer color. So I will hazard a guess that it takes about 6-7 hours of work time to complete a page, but I need to take breaks to recharge my mental batteries.
Star Gazin, by David Wendl
D Wendl: My process varies from piece to piece, but it usually begins with a pencil sketch in my sketchbook. I scan it and do all coloring and inking (if I am doing inking) in Photoshop. In most of my works, the end result is all digital, but I always work better when starting on paper. Photoshop gives me a lot of flexibility with the final product. Do not like this color? I can swap it. Does that hand look wonky? I can fix it. Is it mostly good, but the colors do not pop? Time for some color overlays!
H.J.: What would be your advice to someone who wants to become webcomic artist?
SJ Dann: Go for it! There are thousands—probably hundreds of thousands of webcomics out there. Don’t feel like you have to be able to do everything yourself. If you can write, or draw, or build websites, or are good at organizing people—whatever your talent(s) may be, there are other awesome people out there looking for people like you to work with, you just have to find them.
Never be afraid to promote yourself and show people the cool things that you are making. Do not be afraid to fail and if you do, keep trying and never give up. Learn from your mistakes and move on. I am not a professional writer and I have never worked in the comic book industry. I did not know anything more about making comics than simply being a fan. Never be afraid to succeed.
JS Loomis: Stop just thinking about doing it and start doing it. The more you do the physical act of it, the easier that part will be. It will be a struggle. Your ideas will not translate to paper as they were in your head. But with practice you will start to close that gap and the work will improve. I have literally thousands and thousands of comic book pages under my belt before taking on this project, so you do not get to suffer through my formative years here on Star-Fall. Not all of them are pretty, but they got me here.
H.J.: According to you, what are the main qualities that a project like Star-Fall requires to keep going on?
SJ Dann: Any creative project needs dedicated participants to sustain itself. Without the creators and the readers there can be no creative work. Both roles are integral and depend on each other. While money helps, it is certainly not the most important factor in sustaining a project when the people working on it are invested and dedicated to the ideas they are trying to communicate.
The power of people is truly one of the greatest powers in the world. Being able to listen to your collaborators and heed their advice and see the genius in their ideas and contributions is invaluable. To quote Peter Dinklage, “Everyone you need is right here.” That is the truth. People all around you have the talents and skills and the drive to help you succeed and in return you can help them succeed as well, all you have to do is be bold enough to ask them.
JS Loomis: Passion and funding. Without the passion, you have no reason to keep pushing when you hit the inevitable creative lows, and you will give up. That driving passion can either come solely from within, or it can be fostered by others, which is what makes fans and collaboration so important to keeping that full head of steam going. Without the funding, you will not have the time to devote to that passion, because you are too busy doing what you need to do to pay the bills.
H.J.: Where do you see Star-Fall in three years from now?
SJ Dann: In three years I hope to see Star-Fall deep into new stories with new characters and fresh adventures. I would like to see some spin off titles based on the series featuring other writers and artists. I would love for JS and the rest of us to still be collaborating on the project together, but time may change these things and Star-Fall may take on new directions and maybe the cast of the Star-Fall team may change as well.
We do hope that the brand has taken off and is earning the success it deserves by then. Who knows, maybe it will be a major motion picture or a brand new toy line stocked on all the shelves. We are all dreaming big!
JS Loomis: I would like to be able to look over at my bookshelf and see a physical, collected edition of what we have accomplished with the project to that point, smile for a moment as I remember all the behind the scenes stories and sacrifices and roads that were taken to make that happen, then turn back to my drawing board and look at that moment of new creation, where we are dreaming up fresh material for the web.
H.J.: Name an actress that you would choose to be Lt. Nef’Fenya Naa on a movie.
SJ Dann: This is definitely a difficult choice. I don’t think the star that will play Nef has yet been discovered. If we were to cast the movie now my first choice would be Gal Gadot. I would also consider Chloe Grace Moretz, Ellen Page, or Daisy Ridley. Really any strong young female actor could play the role.
JS Loomis: I would probably lean towards Emily Blunt.
H.J: Thank you so much for your time!
SJ Dann: Absolutely. It was our pleasure! Stay tuned for new pages nearly every week!
JS Loomis: It was fun! Now back to inking for me.
We encourage our readers to check out the Star-Fall project! You can check their homepage, facebook, twitter and tumblr to find out more about this amazing webcomic!
Finally we want to announce that Sandra Garriga is the lucky winner of an original character sketch from Star-Fall! We will put her and the Star-Fall crew in contact very soon.
H.J.: Bonus question. When asked to name just a bunch of their favorite sci-fi books and movies, this was the answer we got from SJ Dann and JS Loomis. You can judge by yourself how broad the inspiration they use is!
SJ Dann: My father got me into science fiction, comic books, action figures, and movies. My mom got me into literature, poetry, and politics…
Books: Timothy Zahn (The Conqueror’s Trilogy, Warhorse, The Blackcollar series, The Icarus Hunt, The Cobra series, The Thrawn Trilogy/Thrawn’s Hand series, Cascade Point and other Stories, The Giftie Gie Us, Time Bomb and Zhandry Others, Spinneret), Dave Wolverton (The Courtship of Princess Leia), Philip K. Dick: (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, A Scanner Darkly) Ray Bradbury: (Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, The October Country, Driving Blind, The Small Assassin) Aldous Huxley: (A Brave New World) C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) Lewis Carol (Alice In Wonderland, Alice Through The Looking Glass), JRR Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings Trilogy), Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising Sequence), Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind In The Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet), Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince), Roald Dahl (Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator, The Witches), Robert A. Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land), Cormac McCarthy (The Road), Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5), Lois Lowry (The Giver), Trevanian (The Eiger Sanction, Shibumi, The Loo Sanction, The Summer of Katya) Comics: The Amazing Spider-Man, The Invicible Iron Man, The Avengers/Avengers West Coast, The Fantastic 4, The Uncanny X-Men, X-Men The End, House of M, Wolverine, Weapon-X, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men 2099, Doom 2099, Spider-Man 2099, Squadron Supreme, Earth X/Universe X, The Runaways, The Young Avengers, New Universal, Dark Horse’s Star Wars, Mr. Miracle, Fables, Astro City, V For Vendetta, Transmetropolitan, Y The Last Man, DMZ, Ex Machina, The Maxx, Goldfish, Fire, Jinx Movies: Star Wars, Metropolis, War of The Worlds, Forbidden Planet, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Omega Man, Journey To The Center of The Earth, Children of The Damned, Empire of The Ants, Fantastic Voyage, Brazil, Rosemary’s Baby, THX1138, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Spaceballs, Blade Runner, Outland, The Abyss, Damnation Alley, Dark City, The Matrix, Equilibrium, V For Vendetta, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Robocop 1-3, Predator 1&2, Alien 1-4, Species 1-4, Mad Max 1-4, The Fifth Element, Logan’s Run Tank Girl, Waterworld, 12 Monkeys, Starship Troopers, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Willow, Mac and Me, Indiana Jones 1-4, Scanners, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Screamers, The Thing, The Fly, Howard The Duck, The Wraith, Big Trouble In Little China, Ninja Turtles 1-3, Super Mario Brothers, The Rocketeer, Gremlins, The Langoliers, The Sphere, Solarbabies, Critters, Captain EO, The Lord of The Rings, X-Men 1-5, Guardians of The Galaxy, Blade 1-3, Star Trek 1-5, Batteries Not Included, The Navigator, Short Circuit, Weird Science, Real Genius, Total Recall, Escape From New York/LA, Dune, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Never Ending Story, The Ice Pirates, Time Bandits, Godzilla (Classic Japanese), The Arrival, Millennium, Planet of The Apes, Super 8, ET, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Serenity, The Guyver, Heavy Metal, Death Machine, Re-animator, Hardware, Demolition Man, Nightbreed, Hellraiser 1-5, Dreamscape, Altered States, Jacob’s Ladder, Videodrome, Naked Lunch, Phantasm 1-4, John Dies At The End, Deathrace 2000, The Running Man, The Man With Two Brains, Steel Dawn
JS Loomis: Oh, that list is way too long! Haha. I’ll try to give a general snapshot. Books: Authors will be easier, starting off with some of my dad’s favorites, as I’m a second generation sci fi fan and creator; Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, CJ Cherryh, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, Anne McCaffrey; my dad’s book, the Heart of the Two Mile Game, which I devoured at 5 years old; Piers Anthony, David Brin, Robert Asprin, Peter David, Alan Dean Foster, Mike Resnick. Movies: the Frankenstein films, the Invisible Man, the Incredible Shrinking Man, the Star Wars films, Swamp Thing, Flight of the Navigator, E.T., the Last Starfighter, Starman, the Terminator, T2, the Running Man, Logan’s Run, the Star Trek movies (VI is my favorite), RoboCop, I will grudgingly include Flash Gordon on its own merits even though it’s far different from the source material which I love, the 6th Day, Total Recall, Alien Nation, District 9, Pacific Rim, the Time Machine, 12:01, the Incredibles, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man, Tim Burton Batman films, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, the Prestige, Limitless, Akira, Cherry 2000, TurboKid, the Companion, Galaxy Quest, the Incredible Hulk, Edge of Tomorrow, John Carter, Gattica, Daybreakers, Captain Harlock, Ghost in the Shell, the Butterfly Effect, Bladerunner, Aliens, Predator, Frequency, Tron, Looper, the 5th Element, Unbreakable.