What's changing, and why: a style comparison
Old-style strip: "Is it worth a buck-fifty?"
Check out the upper third of the last three panels. I did that scratchy shading a lot in an attempt to bring the voice balloons forward. Nowadays they're just bolder and cleaner, and that seems to work a bit better. Saves ink and time, too.
When I drew these old ones, I used one pen nib for the whole thing, so there wasn't much variation in the line work. I never gave anything a heavier line for weight or let something fade into the background for distance. The same pen inked the characters and handled the lettering, so there wasn't anything but scratchies to differentiate between characters, backgrounds and voice balloons. It gets really confusing to look at.
When I switched to brush and ink, it was a disaster at first. I kept plugging away at it, because I like the variation in line weight. The looser line made the art look a little more organic. Nowadays, I use the brush to ink the figures and organics (like house plants and such) and I use different sized pens to ink the inanimates (the Fridge, the backgrounds and props). That seems to work well enough.
The characters' hair has all finally settled into a consistent design, instead of a bunch of zig zags. I'm still doing that old-school, Robotech stuff, but it doesn't seem so random now.
I guess the only thing I really have to say about the old stuff is that if I was drawing it today, I'd get rid of all the hatching and shading and concentrate on solid blacks (the shelves in the second panel would be black). I'd also use cleaner action lines, like a solid starburst around Jackie in the last panel instead of that angry stuff, or maybe some simple action lines.
And of course, I'd ink the characters with a brush, even though my brushwork still sucks.
New-style strip: Speaking Japanese
First of all, the art isn't as busy, and my line work is a little more confident. At this point, I prefer solid black and white to hatching or greytoning. For the ultimate black & white comic art, check out the Hernandez brothers' Love and Rockets series. They're way ahead of the game.
My "plan" with the blacks is to have something on each character be solid black. With Melissa, it's her hair. Jackie's hair has the line tone in it, so I usually put her in black jeans so her "colour" scheme, top to bottom, is grey-white-black. Ada has blonde hair and 40% grey skin tone, but she's usually with Jackie (black jeans). I can't give them both black slacks, so I usually give Ada a black shirt of some kind. That also allows me to be a little more sloppy with my use of Zipatone, and her colour scheme turns out white-grey-black-white.
I try to vary the way the tones work, because if everybody had a black shirt on, there would be a solid band of black running through the middle of the comic, and that wouldn't be very dynamic. Ummm....example....
Okay, look at Melissa in the first panel. She's got the black hair, but she's dressed in white, with black shoes. If I had been thinking, I would have Zipatoned her skirt 20% grey or something. As it is, it's hard to tell her blouse from her skirt, and her figure from the couch. Now look at Jackie. Her grey hair frames her white face and most of her sweatshirt, then you've hit her black jeans. The differences in shade, along with the sloppier brush line, set her apart from the couch. Not only that, but you can tell where her head, torso and legs all start and end.
Sometimes, if I'm desparate, I'll put in that diagonal black shadow along the bottom half of the panel, but in this one I had enough variation. I don't count Melissa in this strip, really, since she's mostly in the background as the spark for Jackie's comment.
Apart from my getting away from background clutter, my lettering has improved and my figure drawing has gotten a little better. The characters seem a bit taller now; don't know how that happened. I've also settled on some stock poses and formulas that I can draw comfortably. I like formula (JoBeth! is almost completely formula), since I don't consider myself an artist; I'm a writer who likes to draw.
The biggest difference between the two styles, I think, is in the face. I've got a slightly different eye design for each character (Jackie has the single thick eyelash, Ada's got two, Melissa's eyes are pale blue, Gin's are wider and rounder, etc.), and I've gotten rid of that annoying lower lid that made them look clueless or demonic, take your pick. I've also added eyebrows, made the eyes a bit larger and pinched the top arch more severely. The reason they didn't have eyebrows before was because I had attempted to simplify the face as much as I could (that's why they don't have noses), but I kept throwing in little eyebrows during extreme expressions, so I figured enough of that.
Oh, and Ada's hair. She gets it cut once a year, and lets it just grow on its own and shag out, which is the state she's had since the beginning. When she first appeared with this new haircut, it was actually more yuppi-ish that it is now--at this point, she's already started to develop a little bed-head in back. I don't know. I kind of like drawing Ada's hair this way, so maybe I'll keep it.