Post-Oyster War Project: In The Weeds

What’s Next?

I’ve still got a small handful of Oyster War promo appearances to do (DINK, TCAF, probably HeroesCon), but with that book now squarely behind me production-wise, I’ve been ruminating a bit on what to do next. Like most comics-drawing folks, there’s always a voice in the back of my head making me feel bad that my comics aren’t generating a more substantial share of my day to day income–and a few months back I wound up chatting with a fairly well-known comics agent about precisely this. In so many words, what this agent basically said to me was: “You make great comics, but if you want to make an actual living at this, do all ages/YA books. Look at what wins Eisners in the kids/YA comics categories and do stuff like that.” This is about as solid a bit of advice as you’re going to get about making a living in comics and I began putting together the bare bones story for an young adult GN that I’d been thinking about for a while.

Typical of me, however, the more I tried to dig into this YA story, the more I wound up thinking about an old script that I wrote well before I began drawing Oyster War: In the Weeds.

In the Weeds is a story about cooking and playing rock music that takes place in the mid 1990s. I’ve posted bits and pieces about it here before as far back as 2010. Unlike this (possible) all ages book, In the Weeds isn’t something that any big trade publisher is be likely to give me an advance for–in fact, I suspect that if I move forward with In the Weeds, I’ll wind up doing it the same way I did with Oyster War: just doing the book on my own time, at my own pace, putting it  online, and seeing if anyone wants to publish it when it’s done.

So, why In the Weeds, not the YA book? Because of what cartoonist Ron Wimberly says:

“It’s either HELL yeah. Or NO.”

— Ron Wimberly

In a nutshell: Life’s too short–and the wages of comics too minimal–to spend time making any comic other than exactly the one you want to be making right now. I’ll continue to work on my YA story as time allows (and I’ve got a bit of a story and some in-progress character designs), but for right now what’s interesting to me is In the Weeds, so that’s what I’ve been working on.

In the Weeds:

I started by re-reading my original script. Not surprisingly, I’ve begun by doing a pretty substantial overhaul of it. I’m rewriting a few of the male characters as females to get a more natural gender balance and I’m rewriting the main character a bit as well to make him more empathetic and less of an overt smart-ass. But generally, I’m happy with the overall story and structure–which for me is the hard part of the writing process.

The character designs, though, had been really frustrating me. I didn’t like the few I’d done back in 2010, but even after a fair amount of sketchbook noodling over the last month or so, I still had a bunch of stuff that I didn’t like much. Here’re a few examples:

These aren’t terrible, but they weren’t really grabbing me–other than maybe a few of the ones in that fourth image grid. In the midst of all this I’d been reading the amazing French BD, District 14–an absolutely wonderful alternate history 1940’s noir comic featuring humans, aliens, and anthropomorphic animals. It occurred to me late one night that In the Weeds might work really well with…

Animal Characters!

Before digging into some animal character designs, I did a bit of visual research. On a lark, I decided to resurrect my old Pinterest account for this purpose, which has actually worked out really well. The bulletin board layout of Pinterest is great for taking in a ton of visual information at a glance and the handy “pin it” widgets make it easy and quick to add any image you happen across to a reference board. I can also display a board on my Surface while I work from it in my sketchbook out in the living room, away from my studio in the evenings. So as to not flood my followers (not that I probably have many after a few years of inactivity) with a bunch of personal photo reference, I set up my In the Weeds boards as private boards. I created one board for period 90s clothes reference, one for examples of anthro character designs (mostly from children’s books), and several for particular animals.

Here’re screen caps of the first two I mention:



I’ve also been watching and sketching from then-contemporary movies from the mid 90s. Here’s a sketchbook page of stuff from Singles:


To get warmed up for some animal designs, I did a bunch of sketchbook drawing–some original designs and some drawn from examples on my Pinterest page:

I was still wanting a bit more practice with animal designs and I also wanted to work out a look and feel for the inking and coloring (or gray-toning as the case is here) so I decided to draw some of my favorite existing animal characters in period garb. I stated with some Richard Scarry characters:

Then I did a few from District 14:

Finally, I started working on some original designs:


Of these, I think the poodle and rhino are keepers, and the badger and bear could be as well with a bit of further work.

One thing I’ve really been struggling with is line weight. I started seriously working on comics in the late 90s/early 2000s when folks like Charles Burns and Dan Clowes were the big influences in the indie scene. They in turn were largely drawing influence from North American comic book artists from the 50s and 60s–most of whom inked with a brush and consequently featured a heavy, variable-width inking line. This sort of inking, though, seems to have fallen out of vogue recently and I’ve even found myself using less and less line weight. Oyster War, for example, was pretty much all dip pen. I’ve been experimenting a bit with a nearly “dead” line weight–which you see all over the place these days–but I seem to find myself gravitating back to tools with at least a bit of variation to them.

Here’s an experiment with a rhino character. The top is nearly dead line weight. The middle is a inker with a bit of variation used throughout. The bottom features heavier variable ink lines for the contours of the image but nearly dead line weight for the hatching.


I’m not sure where all this will wind up, but hopefully I’ll have a good batch of character designs wrapped up by about the time I finish my script revisions and then I can get rolling on.. my next comic!

In the Weeds! Coming who knows when! Hopefully published by someone! Woo-hoo!


  1. Cindy Orch says:

    I like the second where the lines are not so rigid! It seems more natural, more real if you will! Looking forward to the new graphic novel. I’m on board!! What about a ‘kickstarter’ or ‘go fund me’ or ‘Patreon’ kind of thing? You could get lucky!! Keep up the good work….I love it!!

  2. Ben says:

    @Cindy – Thanks so much both for the kind words and the future support! I’ve been pretty lucky (knock on wood) and have gotten all my previous books picked up by publishers, so I’m hoping the streak will continue with this one. A Kickstarter is always a possibility, though, if push comes to shove. They seem like a *ton* of work though!

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