First Anniversary

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This Tale was created entirely using Manga Maker ComiPo!, and I’m going to talk about that software a bit.

But first to answer the obvious question: the characters have rabbit and squirrel ears because 1) those are Jason’s and Jay’s “totems” (as explained in another story I haven’t finished yet), 2) ComiPo has options to give the characters ears like these. So I had to. :)

ComiPo is a great/horrible comics-creation program for people who can’t draw (or a shortcut for those who can). It gives the user a complete toolset of panels, sound effects, word balloons and – most importantly – semi-posable 3D-model characters that you can drag and drop into complete comics pages. It’s easy to use, and in many ways it’s really cool… but it’s also frustratingly limited.

I originally bought the program several years ago when it was new, but quickly came to the conclusion that it was of no use to me, even for occasional use: it was far too limited. I set it aside for a while, but out of curiosity fired it up and upgraded it to the latest version. Updates appear to be free, indefinitely; I’d bought version 1.something, and they let me upgrade it to 3.30, including the switch to Steam as a delivery/DRM system.

It’s obvious that the program is primarily for Japanese schoolkids. Its default characters are a Japanese girl in a school uniform, and a Japanese boy in a school uniform, and the only included background options with enough angles and variety to be useful as a story setting are a school building. You can give one of the kid models gray hair and a mustache (labeled “beard” in the software) and scale them larger if you want a teacher. It’s just barely what you need to make Yet Another Manga About Japanese Schoolkids.

This limited array of “assets” is largely intentional, of course: they sell expansion packs with more stuff to choose from, mostly alternate clothing. I was feeling extravagant and got the “casual wear” pack, which includes technically just four changes of clothing (two for boys, two for girls), with a dozen coloring options. The clothes are not otherwise customizable in terms of color.

You can customize these characters with different hairstyles (eurasian hair only), and a whole array of unnatural hair and eye colors. But you can’t select a custom skin color. In the early version I looked at, this was a hard limitation, and this was why I wrote the program off entirely, even for a one-off. Even with characters all the same “race”, skin color varies. That’s part of how you identify individuals… especially since ComiPo doesn’t allow you to vary the shape of the face or bodies.

Evidently they got enough complaints from Western customers that somewhere along the way they added the ability to change skin color on individual figures… but not in the customized characters you can create: only once you place the character in a scene. So if you have a brown character, you need to select that skin color every time they show up. Either that, or you change an obscure setting to make >every< character the same shade of brown. (Yes, Virginia, it is possible for non-White cultures to be racist.)

One area that the developers have paid almost no attention to is backgrounds. As far as the program is concerned, a background is a flat matte painting that you hang behind the characters. They include dozens of images for this, but… most of them are useless: individual random images in different styles by different artists. You can’t mix them, because they’d look absurd together. And except for the school settings, there are almost none that show it from multiple angles. Most appear to have been ganked from the internet, with no effort to make them even look like they belong together.

So I instead went looking for some backgrounds to use, and stumbled across the place where ComiPo got some of “theirs”: an artist who put a bunch of nice scene paintings and other materials online with permission for anyone to use them. Two wooded scenes looked enough alike that I figured I could make them work together, and you can see those in this Tale, cropped and such to disguise that it’s just two images. The artist’s handle is “Kimagure After” and even thought they don’t require credit, I’m giving it, because these are professional-quality images.

So, with all of this complaining, what’s “great” about ComiPo? For what it actually does, the functionality of the program is quite good. The character models can be placed and arranged and posed easily. Unlike most 3D-modeling programs, which allow you to fully manipulate the figures, ComiPo gives you maybe a hundred pre-defined poses: you simply select the one you want for each panel. Which is so much nicer than trying to bend and twist joints on a virtual figure using a mouse. It also allows you to move the heads, and replace the hands with different gestures, which is just enough control to make the characters expressive. It’s a little clunky in places, but it works.

Another thing that impressed me is how easily ComiPo slots into my production for JAQrabbit Tales. Ordinarily I use Clip Studio Paint for soup-to-nuts production, and I was able to replace every last bit of that with ComiPo, even down to adding my copyright watermarks and resizing the pages to post to the web site. Obviously there’s no pencils/inks/colors process, but it handles the lettering nicely… better than CSP in some respects, poorer in others.

ComiPo uses any of your computer’s installed fonts, but it doesn’t let you mix typefaces in a single word balloon, so you can’t bold or italicize individual words… you’d have to paste together blocks of text for that. (CSP was like that at first… this simply isn’t a priority for Japanese developers, apparently, because Japanese script doesn’t use bold/italics.) But one thing it does better than CSP is using alternate glyphs and ligatures. With any good lettering program and an appropriately designed font, if you type a double letter, it uses two different versions of that letter, to look less mechanical. Or certain letter combinations can be replaced by a special version of them for better visual effect (Google “orthographic ligature” for a better explanation.) ComiPo does that. CSP doesn’t. Its balloon- and tail-making tools are easier to use, too.

I don’t anticipate using ComiPo much beyond this one Tale. I might try to do a Lake Michigan beach scene, using a trick I found for simulating nude models using the “swim wear” pack. I think I might have to produce my own backgrounds for that, though, because what’s available just isn’t adequate. We’ll see. Maybe for another project.