Get a VACCINATED! T-shirt at Threadless – half of profits go to MedShare!

Please go buy yourself cool VACCINATED! T-shirts! Half the proceeds go to MedShare, an organization delivering medical supplies and equipment to communities in need.

A while back I designed a blue heart “Vaccinated!” symbol and made pins to raise money for mutual aid groups. Well, I fancied it up and put it on T-shirts at a merch website called Threadless! There are two designs – a fancier “electric” version that looks best on darker T-shirts and a regular version that’s fine on all colors. Threadless has a great “Causes” function that lets creators dedicate a portion of profits to a charitable organization, so I’m sharing half of the profits with MedShare.

Please do check out the Greg Pak Threadless store and grab your shirts today!

Drawing sheepshead minnows and what that has to do with writing

Sheepshead minnow, drawn by Greg Pak

Originally posted in Greg Pak’s Writing about Writing Comics Patreon.

I’ve been wallowing in nostalgia during the pandemic, which has manifested itself in trying to reproduce the kinds of aquariums I kept as a kid in Dallas. So here I am in New York City at the age of 52 with a tank of sheepshead minnows like the ones I used to catch on family road trips to the salt marshes of South Texas.

I love these little fish. They’re uncommon in the aquarium trade, but very common among scientists (they’re used in water quality/toxicity experiments) and incredibly common in the wild all up and down the East Coast and along the Gulf Coast. They’re called minnows, but they’re technically killifish in the pupfish family (Cyprinodontidae), closely related to the famous, endangered Devils Hole pupfish. They’ve got stocky, sturdy little bodies and they’re little scrappers with tons of personality. They like to chase each other — males in particular get territorial when breeding. But they seldom do any real damage to each other and they’re just fun to watch as they kind of helicopter/hover around, eyeballing me and each other in between bouts of sparring and feeding.

So why am I going on about them on this comics writing Patreon? Because last night I wound down by drawing some sheepshead minnows, and I realized that the act of drawing made me notice things I hadn’t fully figured out before.

Specifically, when it came time to draw the fins, I realized the sheepshead minnow’s pectoral fins (the main fins along the sides of the fish) are much lower on their bodies than those of a molly, for example. And I realized that that’s one of the reasons sheepshead minnows are so adorable to me — because those little pectoral fins look more like feet or paws when they’re situated that way. They woggle them around when they’re hovering in the water, and it’s super cute. 

I also found myself studying the fishes’ eyes and head more. I grew up drawing mollies all the time and feel pretty confident drawing their sleek, sharp, missile-like profiles. But sheepshead minnows have more of a snub-nosed, eye-bulge-y, underbite-y, bulldoggy kind of look. And they have vertical, smudge-like black markings that run over their eyes, with a kind of smeary mascara effect. It’s all incredibly endearing to me.

I often say writing is thinking. I sometimes don’t know quite what I’m thinking until I write it all out.

A corollary of that might be that drawing is seeing. I learned a lot more about what I was seeing in these fish when I sat down to draw them. 

And now I’m better equipped to write about them.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that any method of closely interacting with a subject can improve our writing. Not everyone draws; I’m not saying that’s the only way to go here. But I’d guess that photography or music or gardening or heck, sometimes just going for a walk can generate direct experience and observation that improves our writing immeasurably.

2021.06.23 – DARTH VADER #13 and FIREFLY #30 hit comic shops!

June 23 looks like a pretty big day for comics written by Greg Pak!

Darth Vader #13 cover by Aaron Kuder and Richard Isanove.
Darth Vader #13 cover by Aaron Kuder and Richard Isanove.

DARTH VADER #13 launches Vader into the thick of the War of the Bounty Hunters crossover – with the Dark Lord taking on IG-88, everyone’s favorite killer Phlutdroid! Written by yours truly with interior art by Raffaele Ienco, colors by Jason Keith, and letters by Joe Caramagna. Preorder it here!

Firefly #30 cover by Bengal.
Firefly #30 cover by Bengal.

FIREFLY #30 continues the epic story on Earth that Was as our heroes learn what exactly it means to be “Infernia.” Interior line art by Simona Di Gianfelice, colors by Francesco Segala, letters by Jim Campbell. Preorder it here!

STAR WARS: DARTH VADER Vol 2, INTO THE FIRE. Cover by InHyuk Lee.
STAR WARS: DARTH VADER Vol 2, INTO THE FIRE. Cover by InHyuk Lee.

But that’s not all! On June 23, you can also pick up the second volume of our hit DARTH VADER series! Interior art by Raffaele Ienco, colors by Neeraj Menon, letters by Joe Caramagna. Order it here!

Aaaaand… another website redesign update!

Yes, I stayed up past 3 am last night working on a website revamp. Yes, that was too late. No, I couldn’t stay away from it today.

But YES, I am very pleased with where I am now!

I thought I was just going to dive in for a few minutes to do a little more customization of the Twenty Twelve WordPress theme I installed yesterday. But instead, I got annoyed with the wasted white space at the top of the page and started poking around looking for a new theme. And after a bit of searching, I installed a theme called Twenty Fourteen — and I kind of love it!

Screenshot of the gregpak.com home page using the Twenty Fourteen WordPress theme.

As you can see from the screenshot above, Twenty Fourteen allows for a header image that’s flush with the top of the page. I understand the use of open space is a big part of giving websites a free, minimalist, airy feel. But it feels like too much if there’s so much open space above and below the header image that you have to scroll to read the first paragraph or two in the first post. So I dig this!

The title and nav bar then live on the same horizontal line, which again saves vertical space. And excitingly, the items in the navigation bar can be turned into nested, green drop down menus! I’m using those to provide handy links to some of my most current or prominent work. There’s a glitch that doesn’t let you keep scrolling those drop down menus if they’re longer than your screen, so I had to keep the number of items in them down. But that’s more manageable anyway.

The theme also provides columns on the left and the right, which gave me enough room to add a widget on the right with covers and links to some of my new work. And I was able to get my branding in by sticking my Pak Man Productions logo onto the top of the left column, where it feels just right.

Everything shifts dynamically to render nicely on any screen — on handheld devices, the line of menu items under the header image becomes a single button with a dropdown menu and full blog entries shrink into clickable headlines. The left column goes away and its contents get added to the bottom of the page when you narrow your screen past a certain point. And when you go even further, the right column goes away and gets added to the bottom as well. It requires a bit of thinking to make sure all the critical info is in a good place to be seen on all devices with these varying ways of displaying things, but it’s great that I’ve now got a site that people on all devices can enjoy without fuss.

The whole thing also inspired me to finally clean up and add some descriptions to the category pages for my most prominent work. So now when you click on “Wave” in the dropdown menu, for example, you get a little description of the character’s origins and where she appears and where you can buy the books.

Finally, I’m much happier with the way this theme displays the categories and date of each post. It’s just cleaner and better designed to differentiate posts from each other and clearly show when they were written. I think I’d still prefer if the date were at the top and the categories were beneath the headline, and I’m not sure I love that the headlines render in all-caps. But those are quibbles. It’s a big improvement over where we were just 24 hours ago.

I’m staying off Twitter as much as possible these days, but if you read this and have thoughts or notice any bugs or glitches, please do feel free to tell me on Twitter!

Website redesign update

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been up ’til 3 am goofing around with web design, so I guess I was due for it. Going to bed now, but wanted to keep track of what I did tonight.

  1. I switched my WordPress theme from a modified Codium Extended to a theme called Twenty Twelve. Actually pretty similar, but Twenty Twelve is a little more generous with spacing, which helps make the difference between posts and other elements clearer.
  2. I got rid of the custom header I’d added in HTML to the Codium header php page. It had the benefit of incorporating custom graphics for menu buttons and it incorporated my logo. But it wasn’t a native part of the theme and it broke some formatting on iPhones. I need to acknowledge that a huge percentage of people are viewing the internet on mobile, so it was time to let it go.
  3. I tweaked some of the layout of the standard Twelve Twelve theme — putting the menu beneath the header graphic instead of above it. Or did I put the title over the graphic instead of below it? Can’t remember exactly. But I like the current arrangement better.
  4. Futzed around with social media buttons that weren’t rendering on Safari. I think it was a problem with clear backgrounds on gifs. Redid them as jpegs with filled in white backgrounds and they rendered. Weird!
  5. Fooled around with various ways to get my logo in there. I’d like to find a place for it, just for branding. No success just yet. Ideally, I’d have it in place of the HOME link in the menu. But these WordPress themes don’t allow you to replace text menu links with images. And I don’t know CSS well enough to figure out how to tweak the pages to slot it in. I fooled around and tried to see if I could just toss in some of my old HTML to do it, but… nope. I could throw it into a widget in the right hand column, maybe with a little “About” text. But that feels inelegant and a waste of space. I also tried incorporating it into the main graphic on the page, which probably could work. I can also put in a variety of main graphics that I think will do a slide show thing, so it could be part of that, maybe.

So I think I like the results. It’s cleaner and works better on multiple devices. But is it… blander? Less organic? I dunno! Maybe! I think overall it’s a bit better than the last version. But here are a few things I’d like to work on more:

  1. Maybe the basic font size could be a little bigger?
  2. That logo thing.
  3. In the previous version, I had a space for a second line of menu links where I listed a few of my best known books and the link to the Bill Mantlo donation page. Don’t have that space here because I’m working with the basic templates instead of a custom header. Maybe I can work that into a widget on the right?
  4. There miiiight be a little too much white space between posts?
  5. I should make a few more banner images and see what they look like with the randomizer turned on. I don’t know if it does a moving slide show or if a different one shows up when you go to a different page.
  6. The really ambitious thing would be to learn how to build a custom header that works organically with the CSS instead of being an old school HTML hack. If I figured that out, I could have a nice header that included my logo and had a big more designed feel to it.
  7. A thing I need to wrap my head around is that this particular design is really an image delivery device. The visual punch of the site will come from the images I post, not from the overall design of the page. So it’s a touch hard to gauge it when most of the latest posts are mostly text. Gonna have to live with it a bit and see.
  8. I should rearrange the meta tags along the bottoms of the posts. Right now they say, “This entry was posted in CATEGORY on DATE by Greg.” I can delete “by Greg.” And maybe lead with the date. Pretty sure I made this kind of tweak in the Codium theme, but I haven’t found where to do it here yet.
  9. Another big ambitious thing would be to figure out how to add breadcrumb navigation to individual pages. Like “Home > Category > Individual Post Title.” Used to have that way back when I was running the site on MoveableType, but I’ve never figured out how to reproduce it in WordPress. Literally no one’s asking for it, but it feels like it could be nice.

All right. It’s way too late. Off to bed, more later!

Website weirdness warning

Just a heads up that I’m fiddling with the website tonight – trying out some different headers. Everything should remain functional. But the top of the site will periodically look funky. No need to worry; please carry on!

Tech support update: fixed the newsletter!

newsletter stats graphic showing 30.8 open rate

I was horrified to confirm yesterday that due to a website configuration error, a huge percentage of the people who subscribed to my newsletter haven’t been getting my emails for over a year. My best guess is that at least two thirds of the emailed newsletters were ending up in spam folders!

But I’m thrilled to report that after a couple of hours of googling things like DNS, DMARC, DKIM, and CNAME, I identified the problem and found the right places to make the right tweaks — and things are working again! My latest newsletter currently has a 30.8 percent open rate, which is about triple the average open rate of all of my newsletters since May 2020, when the configuration error apparently first manifested.

I can’t help but grieve a bit over the hundreds of unopened emails that I sent during the pandemic. But I’m comforted that moving forward, I’ll be able to reach so many more folks through a mailing list that’s completely separate from social media companies. And that’s feeling more and more necessary every day, since I’m making an effort to stay away from Twitter as much as possible.

Twitter is where I’ve built most of my internet presence over the years. I’ve laughed like hell, learned a lot, made dozens of real friends, reached readers, sold books, raised many dollars for great causes, and helped pull thousands of people into various events and volunteer activities for nonprofits and political groups. All that’s tremendous! And yes, I’ll still pop in there to cheer on colleagues and causes and spread the word about my own stuff – heck, a link to this very post will be automatically cross-posted on Twitter when I hit “Publish.”

But Twitter is also a magnifier of the very worst tendencies of our culture. Its business model depends on interaction, good or bad, and like Facebook, it’s been inexcusably slow to enforce its own policies against harassment and bigotry. And even beyond the most obvious negatives, Twitter creates an expectation of unending access and observation that can be exhausting. Yes, I want to be informed and responsible and active in the world. But Twitter’s not the only place for that. Everyone’s got a different, valid position on all of this, and no doubt some day when I’m goofing around on social media, a good friend will point at this post and give me a sardonic look. But at this moment, on a personal level, I’m realizing that I’m healthier when I’m off Twitter, so off Twitter is where I’m trying to spend most of my time.

So I’m thinking about other ways to both take in information and reach out, which explains why I’m so ridiculously excited to have solved this goofy technical issue with my newsletter. And I’m deeply pleased with myself for figuring out how to edit the CSS to tweak the paragraph spacing of posts on my website to make them more readable, because here I am blogging again like it’s 1999.

If you’re reading this, you’re joining me on this retro journey, and I appreciate you so much. Thank you.

(And if you haven’t already, please do feel free to sign up for the newsletter here!)

Writer of over 500 comic books, including PLANET HULK, MECH CADET YU, FIREFLY, and DARTH VADER