Behind the Scenes, Book #2 Edition

Last updated April 1, 2008

I realized recently that while I had a pretty extensive "behind the scenes" look at our first book, Mating Call of the North American Computer Geek, we didn't really have anything about the second and third books. Well, that just wouldn't do. So here I go, taking you on a quick tour of the process of putting the book together. Here it is: the behind the scenes look at our second book, Gone With the Windows!

From one standpoint, this book was considerably easier than the first. The first was a totally new experience, filled with kinks and pitfalls as I tried to get the process down pat. This time, it should be old hat, right? Well, maybe not, but it definitely caused less headaches. Since I had already begun the process of working my strips at 600dpi, I didn't have the painful rescanning and reworking process I had on the first book. It also meant much fewer errors crept into this book, since all the original strips were fixed promptly whenever loyal Faulties first saw them on the Web.

The title was also much easier. Gone With the Windows was actually a rejected title for the first book, but since the second book dealt heavily with Nick and Ki's budding relationship, the dramatic cover seemed far more appropriate for this book. Many friends and fans still say the cover is the best piece of GPF art ever published, and frankly, I'd probably agree.

To produce the cover, I scoured the Web for images of the Gone With the Wind movie poster. I knew exactly which one I wanted to use, if only I could find it. After several missteps and a few poor-quality images, I finally found one poster image that was practically perfect. I blew the image up in Paint Shop Pro to approximately the size I needed for the cover. I then used a very old art trick: I took a piece of clear cellophane plastic and drew ruled lines on it to form a grid, then wrapped the plastic around the printed image. I then drew a similar grid on the target paper, increasing the grid size a little to blow up the image. From there, I carefully drew each section of the original image, block by block, modifying it slightly to change the characters into Nick and Ki. I made other subtle changes, such as changing the mansions and war scenes from the original poster into burning Microsoft buildings, Web browser windows, and such. I inked the sketch, erased the pencil lines, and scanned it like always. Then the real fun began....

Now, I should note that GPF has been a learning experience for me in a lot of different ways, especially in the area of digital image editing. My skills have improved tremendously since I first started, yet I use pretty much the same process I always have to produce the daily strips. Because the computer I use to produce the daily strips is much less powerful than the ones at home, I keep my techniques very simple. I rarely use layers (a common technique) on daily strips, unless I'm doing special effects; when I do use them, it's often for quick, small, and subtle things that I can flatten and go on with quickly. While it's not the best system of doing things, it's worked well for four years, and I've gotten good enough with it that mistakes are rare but easily recoverable.

All that changed with the Book #2 cover.

I decided to go all out. I can't paint like the original artist did, but I knew a little about PSP and was willing to break new ground. So I ended up with layers upon layers upon layers (did I mention I had layers?), adding special effects upon special effects. I learned a new coloring technique to produce the shading on the characters (a technique I now use on all the Sunday strips). I especially liked the fire effects, which were a lucky guess with the settings on the airbrush tool.

The corporate logos were a nice touch, I thought. I was a little worried I would get into trouble for using them (and I still am). The Netscape logo was taken from the actual browser's About page, Tux the Linux Penguin from various locations across the Web. The Apple and Microsoft logos were taken from each companies respective sites, the carefully traced in PSP to make vector objects I could resize and scale easily. (This was especially important for the Microsoft name, which had to be warped slightly to match the granite sign it was to appear on.) For the Web page at the bottom, I used a screen shot of Microsoft Internet Explorer looking at the GPF main page. You can tell what day I was working on the file by which strip was on the site... and since you probably can't tell, it just happens to be this one.

The special story was also an interesting challenge. When I counted the strips to be included, I ended up with a nice twelve pages left for the special story. Thus, I had plenty of room to tell a longer, more action-packed story than I did in the first book. Following from a friend's suggestion, I decided to follow up the "Secret Agent Geek" story with a sequel, where we get to see Fooker, a.k.a. "James Baud," in action. The story marks the first appearance of Doctor Not, who would later resurface in "Rude, CRUDE, and Socially Unacceptable."

There isn't much interesting to point out about the special story, technically speaking. I used the same shading techniques I used on the cover, as well as some nifty shadow and "out of focus" backgrounds. Since I wasn't constrained to the usual strip format, the blocking was much more free-form than the daily strips, but still more rigid than the comic-bookish random panels of Book #1's special story. The first page was interesting to color; I chose my colors for the darkened room by picking the colors I usually use, then pasting them under a layer to produce a blue overtone. I then sampled the filtered color and shaded normally. A similar effect is used for Fooker and Fred hiding in the shadows on page 149.

Much of the book-specific images were again created on Minerva, our Pentium II 450MHz with 256MB RAM. The extra memory helped significantly on this book (see the Book #1 Behind the Scenes). For all her hard work, Minerva has now retired from active service to become my "toy" Linux box. Most of Book #3's images were completed on Zeus, our Pentium III 800MHz IBM ThinkPad laptop. (This is an interesting surprise, since I originally intended to use the Pentium III 800MHz IBM Aptiva named Demeter for this purpose. Go figure.)

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