Sunday Mailbag

January 13th, 2013 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Any good horror stories about dropping your pen on the page when you’re 99% done with inking a drawing? Any other ‘Oh s*#%t’ moments while working on (important) paid work?

A: Most freelancer have one or two of those sort of stories, but I fortunately do not. Only once did I have a piece I was working on ruined so badly I had to start over, and it was when my 2 year old daughter got into my studio and took a marker to a comic book page I was working on back in 1992 or so. My fault for not locking my studio door. Most other disasters were minor enough that white out or a little cutting and pasting fixed the problem. I’ve had more disasters as a result of technology than I ever did from dripping ink or smeared paint.

The worst was the time my hard drive melted in the middle of doing the color for both a poster job and the MAD parody of “Grey’s Anatomy” back in 2006. This happened on a Monday, and I had the poster due that very day and the MAD job due on that Wednesday. I was using a Dell PC workstation at the time, and as was happily coloring along when I got the dreaded blue screen of death. I instantly lost all the work I had been doing as the computer began dumping physical memory to reboot. Unfortunately it went downhill from there.

Apparently my Dell workstation used a hard drive configuration called “RAID”, which as I understood it was for drive mirroring and server/data security. I didn’t need those things, but they came with the system so I had them anyway. As it turns out, RAID drives are specially configured, and when your RAID goes south so does your drives… and all the data on them. So, my computer went from a fire-breathing graphics monster to a useless pile of crap in .5 seconds. This was an emergency. I had deadlines that I could not put off. I could have gone to Best Buy and get a crappy PC anytime, but getting a good PC with the right hardware was not so easy, these were the days when you needed a higher-end graphics workstation to do print resolution artwork. You had to special order that sort of thing from Dell or Gateway, and it took a week or two to arrive. No time for that. So, being down on PC’s anyway at that moment, I went to the one place in town I could walk in, buy a computer that would have the graphics firepower to do what I needed and get home in time to get back to it… yep, I went to the Apple Store.

Came home with a souped up Mac Pro with 4 GB ram, 2 x 3.0 Ghz processors and a 512 MB graphics card. That is a pathetic loser of a computer by today’s standards but then it was the best Apple had. I figured I’d see if those commercials about opening the box and starting to use the computer right away were accurate. Let’s just say that after one automatic firmware upgrade download, one firmware installation crash, one hour on the phone with tech support and a total reinstall of the system software I was still not using by late that afternoon and those commercials were a load of garbage. “It just works” my ass.

Eventually I did get the Mac to work with my Cintiq, and my backup hard drive on the PC was salvageable, so I retrieved most of the saved artwork I had archived and only lost a few files that were just on the main drive. I was able to rescan and color all that MAD art and the poster job in time. . . well the poster was a day late but they had some wiggle room.

Not a very fun or exciting story, but since then I have a redundant backup system and unless my computer is hit with a blot of lightning frying both drives the worst I can lose is one hour’s worth of work, as the main drive’s changed files are copied every hour to the backup drive. I also stuck with Apple, even though I’ve had my share of hassles with that platform as well. These days I may sometimes swear up a storm if PhotoShop crashes and I lose 20 minutes of painting time, but that’s a little thing compared to the Great Hard Drive Meltdown of 2006.

Thanks to John McNiel for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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