Category: The Happy Samurais

Here are the character designs for The Happy Samurai’s rival band, Pink Dragon Dirt Bike. The overall design theme was “sci-fi glam”. Darth Vader meets David Bowie. We’ve got Red Nozaki, the brilliant guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. Goken (literally translates to strong fist) on drums. Fastest guitar player in Tokyo, Uzi Suzuki plays lead. And Lady Blitzkrieg locks down the low end on bass.

Red Nozaki of Pink Dragon Dirt Bike

Goken of Pink Dragon Dirt Bike

Uzi Suzuki of Pink Dragon Dirt Bike

Lady Blitzkrieg of Pink Dragon Dirt Bike

Pink Dragon Dirt Bike


The reference madness that goes on in my studio while working. That’s all for one building!

Gabe Bridwell Desk Shot, what's on the drawing table 8.22.11

Ming's House of Metal Recording Studio W-I-P Sketches

I’ve talked about my comic, The Happy Samurais, quite a bit on here, but so far I’ve only shown a handful of promo images. Thought I’d start posting a lot more of both the developmental work — like character model sheets, production design for locations, logo & graphic design work etc. — as well as finished pieces like penciled or colored comic pages.

Here’s a couple pages of pencils to start things off.  First time any of the general public has seen pages from the book, though friends and former Kubert School students have seen a good chunk of issue #1.

The Happy Samurais page 32 pencils

The Happy Samurais page 1 pencils

Picking up where we left off last time then, my goals when planning out The Happy Samurais #1 were to try and do what the first issue of a good manga does:  introduce the world and characters, setup the status quo, introduce some story problems/conflitcts AND get across the series premise/hook.  On an even higher level, I wanted to craft a story so strong, that if someone picks up this new series from an unknown creator, they’d not only enjoy the first issue, but be compelled into picking up the ENTIRE series.

Now, that’s a damn tall order in your typical 22 page comic.

That’s why my plan was to do what I mentioned previously and go with a double-sized first issue.  Somewhere during the writing process though, that double-sized issue became a triple-sized issue and the final page count is pushing 60 pages. (Now whether a 60 page first issue is an idiotic idea or not is a discussion for another day, but I will say the whole point of making this comic is to make it exactly the way I want and fuck everything else.)

So The Happy Samurais #1 has ended up feeling somewhere in between a single issue and a trade paperback (most TPBs collect 5-6 issues, which would be 120-130 pages).  I’m used to working on 22 comics.  It’s familiar.  The finish line is always in sight and that’s a VERY comforting thing.

Doing a long form comic though presents it’s own unique set of challenges.  And I will admit that 60 pages BARELY qualify as long form –especially if compared to say, Craig Thompson’s 600+ page Habibi (which I had the privilege to read last fall).  But 60 pages is still half of a standard trade paperback and it feels radically different from a 22-pager to me.

And that brings me to the point of this post.

As I draw The Happy Samurais #1, I kinda feel like I’m only making progress on the project when I see the finished page count tally rise.  For whatever reason THAT and ONLY THAT seems to be how progress is measured (maybe because it’s the simplest quantifiable way?).  I might do six character designs, three location designs and five pages of layouts over a couple weeks, but because I didn’t add any pages to the tally, I feel like I didn’t accomplish a damn thing.

And feeling like you’re spinning you’re wheels (even though you know that’s not true) can depress the hell out of you.

One of the biggest factors in seeing things through to completion is handling the inevitable ups and downs that accompany a project that requires such a long period of work.  Day to day and hour to hour, you’ll go from believing you can slay dragons, to convinced you’re so awful that you need to find a new line of work.  For me, the surest way to feel good about myself again is to draw pages and add to that tally.

But making comics isn’t JUST drawing pages.  Well, at least for ME it’s not.  Even though finishing pages is the only way you feel like you’re getting closer to your goal, you can’t jump the gun and rush to start them.

You have to have something to say in your pages.

You have to build the pages on the foundation of your world and the story you want to tell in that world.

If you’re in too big a rush to draw the pages without laying the proper groundwork, they’ll ring empty and hollow.  You can’t just toss stuff out there.  If you want people to notice, if you want to them to give a shit, you have to world build.  And that means thinking how one character, one object, one prop, one location etc. is going to affect EVERY other thing in that world.

And to do that right takes time.

Don’t get distracted by things you WANT to draw (design that one character, setting or maybe that promo image that you’ve been dreaming about for years) and make sure they’re things you actually HAVE to draw in order to get the next page done.  That’s always a good test for me.  Do I HAVE to draw this model sheet super-tight to make the next page work?  Or can I just do it medium-tight and still have it work?  What’s the “endgame” for this piece?

The pages will come.

You’ll add to your tally.

Just keep plugging away.

Complete each step.  Move on to the next and stop worrying about how close you are to the finish line.

As discussed a few weeks ago, you’ve got to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.


Note: click here to read a couple of Craig Thompson’s thoughts on long form comics from my time at ACA with him.

Late night design work for a supporting character in The Happy Samurais.  For a lot of my character design work lately, I’ve been doing the preliminary idea sketching at my computer desk until I figure out the basic idea for the character (overall shape, silhouette, proportion etc).  Then I’ll compile all the specific reference I need to do the final design, print it out and head over to the drawing table to do the final model sheet.

I mentioned it on twitter last week, but I think the first time I REALLY start to understand a character’s personality is when I design their outfit — whether that’s jeans and a t-shirt type of design, or some latex and shoulder pad getup.  As I’m writing the script I’m creating the character’s back-story, their motivations, their goals etc. and I THINK I know them backwards and forwards.  But really, once I start to design their outfits, a lot of that changes pretty drastically.  “Would kind of person wears ‘that’ kind of outfit?”.  It takes takes some balls to wear some of the ridiculous outfits you see rock stars or hipsters wear.  Balls or stupidity I guess.  Take your pick.  So is that something my character would wear, or are they too self conscious?  Or is that not ostentatious enough for them?

This specific character is the manager of the series’ main rival and he’s just a colossal asshole.  Not physically intimidating in any way, but he’s so conniving that you have to be aware of him at all times.  And one thing I’m starting to learn is that I LOVE designing the asshole characters 10x more than the “good guys”.  A large part of that has to do with that “what kind of person would dare wear an outfit like this?” question.  And the answer is usually, “an asshole”!

So ridiculous outfit = asshole = fun to design.

In the future, I think I’ll probably work back and forth a little more when creating a character.  Always starting from the story point-of-view — what is their purpose in the story? — and then working on visuals at the same time as motivation, goals, etc.

Thought I’d give you a closer look at one of the production design sketches instead of another desk shot.  This is to figure out the street-view and adjacent buildings to The Happy Samurais loft.  I don’t worry about doing a super-tight drawing or making a “finished” piece.  It’s about planning things out ahead of time, so when the time comes to draw pages with this location, I’m not designing AND drawing.  I’m just drawing.  That keeps the page from bogging down in the middle of it while I design something.  Plus I’ll take these designs into account when doing my layouts for a given scene.  Knowing exactly what something looks like means I can chose the most interesting backdrop to set my scenes/shots against.


All finished with the production design (both interior & exterior) for the band’s loft.  Here’s a snapshot of all the designs.  I may show some of these bigger at some point in the future, but I’m still figuring out what to tease, what to show and what to save for the comic.  Now back to layouts and pages.


More production design work for The Happy Samurais.  Working on the exterior design of their apartment (building, rooftop, adjacent buildings etc).  Gave myself two weeks to do all the production design for this (both interior and exterior).  I’ll need today and possibly a little of tomorrow to finish it all off, but I’ll take it.  Part of me was always worried I’d get carried away and spend like six weeks on this.  Two weeks might sound self indulgent, but I feel it was absolutely warranted.  This location is the most important and prominent in the whole serious.  Gotta treat the design as such.

My good friend, Ben Dale, made me this badass piece for my birthday.  It’s Kyoko from my comic, The Happy Samurais. Awesome way to start the day. Thanks, Ben!

Up late at the studio doing production design for The Happy Samurais living/rehearsal space.  I’ve being dreaming about designing this place for close to two years now (I know, I’m sick in the head).  Testing out all the ideas I had for it, then all the variations on those ideas.  Went through all the books and reference folders I had saved up for it — production design folder alone had 1,500 images in it (remember the “sick in the head” thing?).  It’s definitely gonna be the craziest, most epic thing I’ve ever designed, and if you know all the things I’ve worked on over the years (including all the “secret” stuff), that’s saying something.


Thought I’d add in a couple notes I wrote to myself to kind of guide me and keep me from straying off track as I worked on these designs.

  • design with storytelling in mind
  • don’t just design a room that looks cool.
    • what will be behind the characters?
    • what will frame them?
    • which direction will they primarily be facing?
  • design props/furniture that are appropriate for THESE characters
    • don’t draw a couch I think is cool
    • draw a couch THAT character thinks is cool
  • how will that area look in an up/downshot?
    • add in vertical elements to help emphasize the scale/depth

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