Paper: The App


The Hot New App of the moment is "Paper by FiftyThree." It's a sketchbook app, basically, but it's done by members of the team that created the much-hyped Courier tablet that Microsoft failed to produce a couple years back. The end result is a sketchbook app that closely mimics moleskins. It's used with a minimum number of tools that react similarly to the ways you'd expect them to in the real world. It's not just another drawing tool. It's one that's predicated on the experience of reality. The watercolors really do seem to flow out onto the paper. The pencil leaves behind its graphite shavings as you go. The pen nib has varying ink weights. For a comic book artist type on the go, this is a handy app to have hanging around.

It is limited, though. You get nine colors and up to five tools. (The app, itself, is free, but you'll want to buy a tool or two or three, which come as in-app purchases for $1.99 apiece.) There is an undo feature ("rewind") though there aren't layers or smart erasers to erase just one specific tool's lines. So if you want to erase the pencil lines you used to built up your drawing, you're stuck.

"Paper" comes stock with an eraser and an ink nib tool. The nib does do varying line weights, but the iPad doesn't have the capability to sense pressure sensitivity. Instead, the line gets thicker as you move your brush faster. The pencil took works in much the same way. Instead of assigning pen pressure to line weight, the app goes with the speed of your line. The watercolors brush is the exception to this. As in the real world, the slower you move the tool, the more it spreads color onto the page. But the other tools feel a little backwards for this, especially the pen nib.

I'm not an inker, so forgive me for this over simplification, but the easiest way to add weight to a plain line drawing is by having thicker brushstrokes at the end, and a lighter line in the middle. It helps to mimic the thickness or weight of the curved item you're drawing. Think about the lines running up a superhero's legs. Where the muscle bulges out, you use a thinner line. Go grab a comic and take a look. Pick out something Mark Farmer inked over Alan Davis for a good example.

To simulate that look in "Paper," however, you'd have to draw from the inside out, to built up the speed to make the thicker lines at the ends. And then, drawing with my finger, it's tough to meet up the two lines perfectly in the middle.

That's why, after spending $3.98 adding tools to this app, I now officially want to buy a stylus for my iPad for artistic purposes. There goes another $20 or $25, right? (Any recommendations out there? The Cosmonaut, maybe?) I didn't care enough about getting one to play "Draw Something" with, but this sketchbook app scratches one serious itch I've always had: watercolors.

I've never used them besides a high school art class, where I learned I stink at them. But I love the look. I love the washed out colors they provide, and the way they hint at a color and add so much to an otherwise simple sketch without overpowering it. I love the work, in particular, of Enrico Casarosa, a PIXAR animator and founder of Sketchcrawl. (I've reviewed his books, "The Venice Chronicles" and "The Adventures of Mia") I couldn't imagine sitting in the park with a notepook and a brush and trying to paint a picture. But with this app? I suddenly want to find a park bench and badly draw images of ducks floating in a pale blue lake, with a stand of green trees standing just behind them. "Paper" is the first time I've wanted to take a sketchbook out and watercolor something.

I stink at it. I'm exploring with it right now. I'm finding what I like and what's too much and how the tool, itself, works. But I love the results, as crude and unprofessional as they are.

The images accompanying this article are ones I've done inside of Paper, but please keep two things in mind: The app is still new to me and I'm just getting used to it, and I had to use my big fingers instead of a pen/stylus. I'm much better with these lines on pencil and paper.

One other shortcoming of the app: The rewind tool is not easy to get a hang of. It's supposed to work like you're dialing back a knob, but I can't pretend to twist a knob effectively enough to get the tool to come up. Instead, I use a two finger swipe upwards motion to bring up the knob, then spin my finger clockwise to go back in artistic time. I always understood the concept -- and they show it off in the demo video -- but the reality of getting it to work is tricky. Either you'll get it immediately, or you'll be playing with the screen forever trying to figure it out. I circumvented the whole process and found something similar that works for me.

Also, there is no adjustable tool size. You can't make the pen tip/brush tip bigger and smaller. It's one size fits all. The screen size is also the page size. You can't zoom in. You can't make a bigger image. The size is fixed. The iPad screen size is the page size. Some see that as limitations; others view it as a constraint that will bring out your creativity.

The app works very hard at being simple. I'd love to have layers, or at least the ability to erase only a specific tool. I tend to draw with a pencil first and then finish it off with inks on top. But I can't go back and erase the pencils afterwards. And if I've added the watercolors already, I'd be erasing the pencils AND the colors. The ink line is somewhat easy to recreate, but good luck with the watercolor stuff.

And that's the other controversy with the app: Its design. A few years back, people liked complaining about the age of Delicious apps. Named after Delicious Monster, it referred to apps which were popular as much for their prettiness as their functionality. Some might even say form won over function. But I like their main program, "Delicious Library," in all its skeuomorphic greatness, and even used it to see off a lot of DVDs back in the day to pay for my first SLR. Today's app economy puts the "Delicious Apps" age to shame, really. Prettiness is assumed to be part of a good app now, and not just a feature to be checked off the developer's To Do list. Form and function are almost inseparable in an app like this. That's taking some getting used to.

The other problem with "Paper" is the fact that the thing is so gesture-driven that you'll get unwanted art on the paper with a blown gesture. Absent-mindedly swipe to the left to go to the next page, and instead you'll just get a thick line across the middle of your drawing. (For the record, you need to pinch the screen to zoom out, then swipe to change to the next or previous page.) After some time, those mistakes went away, but I still have to think about it when I use the app.

"Paper by FiftyThree" is available for the iPad today. Again, the app is free because they know you'll wind up paying for the tools that go with it. Depending on what you might use the app for, you might be able to get away for cheap. Or spend $10. It's up to you.

If you spot any comic book artists using it in the wild or posting shots from their screens on their blog, let me know. I'd be interested in seeing how artists who are best known for their pencil or pen-and-ink skills might use this app with its watercolors and other something-more-limiting tools. In the meantime, I'm sorry to say you're stuck with me.


Takashi Murakami's "Stargazing Dog" will break your heart. I can't emphasize that enough. And the skill of it all is that it opens with the main character's body being found. The rest of the book tells the tale of how he got there, and it's a slow spiral of a man too proud to ask for help as he gets lost from society. You know he's going to die -- along with his dog -- but you can't help but get sucked into his story. He's not the greatest husband or father, but he's far from abusive or mean. He just got caught up in life, lost his way, then lost his family. His cute daughter who brought a puppy home as a kid is now a teenager punk who hates her family. The wife feels neglected and unloved, and files for divorce. And so the man travels away from home.

But he has a faithful dog as his companion; it's the family pet he didn't want, but with whom he's completely bonded. They've become best friends. The dog talks in caption boxes throughout the book the way you'd expect a two year old child to. The narration is heartbreaking. The dog is a little uppity, very much naive, and cuter than cute.

Did I mention the book will break your heart, yet? So it's really up to you if you want to spend a half hour of your life reading a book like that. I'm glad I did, because it's a memorable book that doesn't harp on politics or society as a whole. Those messages are there, particularly if you're better versed in Japanese society, I'd bet, but the author sticks with just telling the tale of this one guy who loses his family, goes off on his own with his dog, and slowly reaches his end.

"Stargazing Dog" is published by NBM. It's a $11.99 paperback, black and white, and slightly undersized. The book reads left to right, though it's originally from Japan, so I assume they did some serious panel flipping here. I'm sure if I paid closer attention, I'd have noticed, but I never did. The story sucked me in that hard. I'm a softie for this book, completely.


With the Emerald City Comicon growing in prominence, we get more and more publishing announcements from there every year. This year is no exception.

  • I love it when a reprint is announced and it makes me revisit an older review. It's an interesting experiment to see if you liked the book as much as you remembered liking it, or if something else is coloring your opinion. Such is the case with the weekend's news that Image is reprinting the Joe Casey/Charlie Adlard OGN, "Rock Bottom." I thought I liked the book when it debuted, as a bit of a surreal character analysis. When I dug out my review in Pipeline from January 27, 2007, I discovered that I remembered that one correctly, at least. So I'm still recommending it, five years later. Give it a shot if you passed on it the first time, when AiT/PlanetLar published it. Also, do click through to that column for other reviews, like Darwyn Cooke's "Spirit" #2, C.B. Cebulski's "Wonderlost" and "Fantastic Four" #542, the start of Dwayne McDuffie's unfortunately short run.
  • "Scott Pilgrim" is getting a new color edition over the course of the next three years or so. It seems that the series is so popular now that they're following Jeff Smith's publishing program. I'll be interested to see if they do a singular collection of all six volumes (in color) through Scholastic in 2015. It would sell out at San Diego that year.

    Nathan Fairbairn's colors are perfect for the book, and honestly makes the book look easier to read. Bryan Lee O'Malley's stark black and white visuals benefit from the color. With just the slightest hint of shading, Fairbairn's colors give the book a more dimensional look, not in the sense of being sculpted, but by helping to separate out the important elements of a panel.

  • Penny Arcade is following the "Groo" publishing plan in jumping publishers as often as possible. In their defense, though, they're not leaving the publishers bankrupt and going out of business. "Groo's" streak of chaos and despair remains unchallenged.
  • In sad news, Weird Al is suing Sony over the alleged lack of proper digital royalty payments. This has nothing to do with comics, I admit, but it's sad. I'm with Team Weird Al. Ironically, this lawsuit has merit because of a previous lawsuit won by Eminem. That's right; Weird Al is following in Eminem's footsteps, legally. Crazy world, eh?

    OK, I can bring this back around to comics: I wonder what comic book royalty contracts dating back to the pre-digital era will need to be rethought now that digital comics are no longer inevitable, but are here and selling?


We'll have something a little different next week: a review of a Broadway musical and what the parallels to the comic book industry are. And I'm not talking about the Spider-Man musical, either.

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