If you've added Manga Studio to your toolkit within the last couple of years, you've no doubt come across the fine educational materials created by Doug Hills (@DNHills), author of Manga Studio for Dummies and the Manga Studio Field Guide series.
Doug's easy to follow video tutorials were the principal reason I became interested in learning Manga Studio when I first bought my Surface Pro. (You can find those videos here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLynyD-7entJ2Im0iFLlN3cLkA2eoq4oEb)
I'd like to believe that my constant Twitter badgering had something to do with his recent decision to purchase a Surface Pro 2. And I'm delighted that Doug consented to do this interview. Enjoy!
Surface Pro Artist: Where are you based? Tell us a little about your personal life.
Doug Hills: I currently live in Upstate NY. I was born and raised in this area, but only recently came back. I had spent about ten years in Utah, (where my wife got a job teaching at Utah State University). It was a great experience to live someplace new, but we decided it was time to come back to the Capital Region.
I used to be a computer programmer (it’s what I went to college for), but was pretty much miserable there. The company I worked for was great, but the insane hours were getting to me. My wife (Stacey) suggested that I quit, and just focus on making comics. So, I took a chance and did just that. I’m not nearly making the money I was making in programming, but my psyche has been thanking me ever since.
Stacey and I have been married for almost 14 years now, and we have a soon-to-be 10 year old daughter.
How long have you been drawing comics and manga? How did you get your start?
I've been drawing since high school (waaaay back in 1993), but that was mostly sketches of superheroes or my own creations. I didn’t start creating sequential art on a regular basis until 2001, when I created my first webcomic, PLACE NAME HERE. This was followed by CHIBI CHEERLEADERS FROM OUTER SPACE (created by Stacey and me), which we worked on for about six years.
I got my start by just starting my own comic. Once I found out that people were making their own comics and putting them on the web, I knew that was what I wanted to do. So, I did.
What are some of your past credits? What projects are you working on at the moment?
Aside from Place Name Here and Chibi Cheerleaders, I've done a few guest pages on some of my friends’ webcomics over the years. More renectly, I’ve been working on some comics with my friend Josh Flanagan. We did a short story for Top Shelf Comics called King Pete. We then started working on a story called Dixon’s Notch, and we were recently asked to do a short story for the soon-to-be-released book, SCAMThology. I have a few additional projects that are still in the development stage, but will hopefully be released soon.
Currently, I’m best known for my tutorial videos and guide books for Manga Studio. I had written Manga Studio For Dummies in 2008, and am in the process of writing a series of new guide books that cover Manga Studio 5, as well as new tutorial videos.
When did you begin using Manga Studio? What attracted you to it vs. other digital art tools?
I started using Manga Studio around 2006. I had heard about Comic Studio (as it is known in Japan) around 2004-2005, but I wasn’t able to check it out until eFrontier (now Smith Micro) got the rights to distribute the program outside of Japan.
I was attracted to Manga Studio when I saw how natural the pencils and inks felt and looked compared to Photoshop. And, I was blown away when I saw the virtual rulers. That gave me the ability to do with my digital work what I was doing with pen and paper.
I had used many different art programs over the years, and while they were all very good, I could not get comfortable working with them. Manga Studio was the first one I really felt the closest to working with pencil and paper (with a few time-saving features that I couldn’t reproduce in the analog world :) ).
How many completed pages do you create per year? How does your digital output rate compare to traditional methods?
Hmm. I don’t have a consistent gig (the joys of working freelance), it’s hard to say how many pages I get done in a year. I guess the cop-out answer is “as many as I needed to get done for a project.”
What matters to me is, “can I hit the deadline I’ve been asked to make?” And for the most part, I’ve hit my deadlines.
Since I’m almost exclusively digital, it’s hard to say what my digital-to-analog output rate is. Again, what matters is if I hit my deadlines. With that in mind, it won’t really matter what medium I use to accomplish that. So I guess the answer is: “they’re the same.” :)
What hardware and software do you use?
Aside from the (recently purchased) Surface Pro 2, I use a 2011 MacBook Air, and an Wacom Intuos 4 Medium Tablet. I used to own a 1st Generation Cintiq, but eventually sold it.
Software-wise, I use Manga Studio 5 and Sketchbook Pro. I like SBP for thoe times when I need to make a quick sketch that I can then port over to Manga Studio to finish up.
What attracted you to the Surface Pro?
Portability, first and foremost. I love my MBA and Intuos, but if I wanted to just pick up and go, it could get a little clumsy with cords and all that. The Surface Pro is great because it’s pretty much the tablet and a power cord. So, I can just put it in a small bag, head over to a coffee shop, and get right to work.
How does the Surface Pro compare to any of the other Wacom solutions you’ve tried?
I’ve played with various Tablet PCs over the year. The Surface Pro is pretty much like those, with two major exceptions:
1) It’s much lighter than the other Tablet PCs, with much better battery life, and
2) The Surface Pro has a higher level of pressure sensitvity (1,024) versus the other tablets I’ve used (256). This is important to me because the increased sensitivity means I don’t instinctively press harder on the screen to register the pen strokes. This results in less hand strain than what I experienced when working with the older TPCs.
Regarding other Wacom products, I’d say they’re about the same. I’ve worked with Intuos-style tablets for 14 years, so I’m very comfortable with that kind of setup. Sometimes I even prefer sketching with the Intuos, as it keeps my lines (and therefore my gesture drawings) loose. That said, it’s nice to be able to draw directly on the screen, especially when I’m inking.
How are you using the Surface Pro? Has it altered your approach to digital comics?
I’m primarily using it as an art machine. I purchased the 128 GB version, so there’s not a lot of space to put too many programs on it. That’s actually a good thing, as it reduces virtual clutter, and keeps the distractions low.
It hasn’t really altered my approach to making comics, outside of the ability to move, rotate, and zoom the page with my fingers (a nice feature in Manga Studio 5). That’s been very nice.
How difficult was the transition to Windows 8?
Not difficult at all. I’ve been generally a Windows user (heck, my MBA was dual-booting Mac and Windows for a while). Aside from Metro (which didn’t take too long to adapt to), I was able to transition to 8 pretty easily.
What else are you doing with your Surface Pro?
Answering interviews like this one. :)
Actually, I’m going to start experimenting with things like Livestreaming. That way I can do live Manga Studio Q&As while drawing. Beyond that, I’ve used it to check email and social media.
Any top tips for potential Surface Pro artists?
I guess I would say try the Surface Pro for a few days before passing judgement on whether it will work for you or not, especially if you’re transitioning from a different type of hardware. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was liking it; it took about three or four days before I warmed up to it, and adjusted to how it worked.
It’s very easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to things like computer hardware. Sometimes it takes more than an hour to see whether it right for you and your workflow.
What would you change about the Surface Pro and/or Windows?
Honestly, I don’t really think there’s much to change on either front. Hardware-wise, the Surface Pro about as minimalist as one can make it, and I personally like that. If I need a keyboard or joystick for additional keys, I can attach them. But, so far I’ve only needed the Surface itself.
As far as Windows, it does exactly what I need it to do: run Manga Studio and Sketchbook Pro. So long as it continues to do that, I’m happy.
Have you hit any walls with the hardware or software?
I can (usually) adapt to whatever a computer and/or software provides me. Generally, if anything trips me up, it will be me. Then, it becomes real easy to blame the tools I’m using. It’s not the tools, it’s usually the person using them that’s creating the wall. :)
Are you eyeing any new hardware and/or software to add to your toolkit?
I may check out the Cintiq Companion at some point, as I’d like to compare it to the Surface Pro.
Hope you enjoyed this conversation with Doug Hills. If you'd like to be featured in a future post, please drop me a line via the Contact Us page.