Behind the Scenes, Book Edition

Last updated April 24, 2008

Creating the first GPF book was an exciting and challenging ordeal, to say the least. While I was planning to embark on a similar endeavor on my own somewhere down the road, I was fortunate enough that David Allen of Plan Nine Publishing came to me first. Since he had already established a successful format with the Sluggy Freelance and Kevin & Kell books, slipping GPF into that format would be relatively easy. I just gave David the files and he did the rest. :)

The most difficult part of the process was reworking almost all of the strips. I've complained about this before, but I definitely can't blame anyone but myself for the problem. Of the original gray scale strips appearing in the book, 94% of them had to be rescanned and reworked, mostly because the original copies were scanned at 300 dpi (dots per inch). While I thought this was a sufficiently high resolution for my needs, David required 600 dpi or higher for crisp printing. So, over the course of several months, I had to rescan and rework well over 260 strips so they would fit the resolution requirements, while still keeping up with my regular schedule. Since about half of each strip's development time is invested in online editing, that was a lot of extra work. (It also led to a number of errors creeping back in.)

Another tricky part was the cover and, more importantly, the title. I kicked around several ideas, most of which are being seen here for the first time. The sketches below are some of the original sketches; click on the thumbnails to see full copies of the original sketch. Use your browser's Back function to get back here.

[Kernal Panic! #1 (70kb)] [Kernal Panic! #2 (85kb)]

The first title I kicked around was "Kernal Panic!" (And yes, that is "kernel" misspelled, but not intentionally. Good thing it wasn't chosen for the title, huh?) Originally suggested by a reader very early on, I kind of liked that geek in-joke and thought it would be perfect for a book title. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a cover design that really stood out. These two were probably the best, but they obviously didn't have what it took to make the grade.

[The Bare Essentials (78kb)] [Comedy at the Speed of Light (78kb)]

I toyed around with several other titles, including "The Bare Essentials" and "Comedy at the Speed of Light." While I figured the first one would have been popular among certain fans (especially those who want to see Ki naked), I thought I'd better play it safe and not try this one. "Comedy at the Speed of Light" was absolutely hilarious to me when I first drew it (especially the little dialog box saying how fast things were really downloading), but nobody else seemed to like it. Now that I look back on it, I don't seem to like it either. :\

Some other titles that didn't make the cut: "Computer Geeks in the Mist" (too close to a Dilbert comic) and "My Friends Went to Nerdvana and All I Got was this Lousy Book" (and you thought the final title was long!). There's also another strong candidate, but after a lot of thought, I figured it would be much more appropriate for the title of the second book.

I tried to develop a nice common cover scheme like the Sluggy books, based partly on the then-current look of the website (with the blue ribbon coming down the side), but all the designs failed to work well on paper. Eventually, I scrapped that idea. My wife and I scrambled for more and more title ideas, until she suggested something that I modified and ran with: "Mating Call of the North American Computer Geek."

[Mating Call #1 (71kb)] [Mating Call #2 (74kb)] [Mating Call #1 (70kb)]

The original thought for the cover was to have Trudy hunting the other cast members, using a computer and the call "UNIX!" to draw them into her sights (see the first image above). Then, I thought I'd play up on the implied love triangle of Nick, Ki, and Trudy by having both Ki and Trudy hunting the guys (second image). Ki, of course, uses non-lethal means of trapping a mate; Trudy appears to be loaded for bear. Eventually, I moved Trudy to the back cover, and had just Ki giving the "UNIX!" call. The third image is very close to the final cover.

The last major part of the book that needed to be put together was the special story. This, however, I had an excellent idea from the very beginning. I thought I'd answer some of my critics that say I can't draw by giving them something I'm more familiar with: comic book super heroes! I've been drawing super heroes a lot longer than GPF, so I wanted to stretch my creative legs and tackle some fresh ground. So I set to work. In the end, I pushed my computer coloring knowledge (and my system's memory hardware!) to the limit. The end result, IMHO, is spectacular.

[Absolutely Incredibles Cast #1 (67kb)] [Absolutely Incredibles Cast #2 (29kb)]

To fit the super hero story in the context of GPF, we find Ki and Fooker discovering several pages to a comic book Nick has been drawing in his spare time. (Since Nick is based on me, I thought I'd make him an artist too, but to date this aspect of his character hasn't been explored in the comic strip itself.) The actual GPF sequences at the beginning and end of the special story are in gray scale, while the special story is in full color, giving it a "book end" effect that slips nicely into place. Nick's super heroes are based on himself and his coworkers, so each of the "Absolutely Incredibles" are based on a GPF character. Above, you will find the original concept sketches of each one; the "Eliminator" (Dwayne's character) is in a separate file because I ran out of room on the front of the page, and drew him on the back. The "Psychedelic Maelstrom's" costume is not colored, because I intended (and did) use a plasma fractal to give him that psychedelic look. :) I should also note that my wife told me flat out that Trudy's character could not be sexier than Ki's character.

The biggest hurdle to completing the special story was my system's hardware. Our main home computer (at the time), "Minerva," is a Pentium II 450MHz with (then) 128MB of RAM. Unfortunately, that 128MB RAM was a show-stopper, and large gradient fills brought the system to a halt. There were several times when I would click a mouse button, walk out of the room, watch some TV, come back and check, see it wasn't finished, and go back to the living room to finish watching the TV show. The coloring was done almost entirely in Paint Shop Pro, with a little help from Photoshop on two gradient fills (which PSP can now do by itself, BTW) and Fractint to do the plasma fractals. We later upgraded Minerva to 256MB RAM, which helped tremendously on the second book, Gone With the Windows, especially on the highly layer-intensive front cover.

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