Webcomics and Graphic Novels, Fantasy and Sci-Fi by Mark Oakley!



What is, StarDrop?

Stardrop is a light-hearted science fiction webcomic series about a space princess hiding in a small town. “Anne of Green Gables from Space.”

“Ashelle is delightful! I want to adopt her!”

“I just love her! She's such a breath of fresh air!”

“This webcomic is subversive and self-aware.”

Stardrop offers a positive message. That's rare and it's important!”


Note to readers...
Episode 82 begins where
the Graphic Novel ends.

Stardrop Episode
When the strip pops up
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#1 - 614 Main St.
Wolfville, NS  B4P 1E8

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   Stardrop. . .
   Jenny Mysterious. . .

First Day Back

Webcomic Jenny_Mysterious by Mark Oakley www.iboxpublishing.com

   Thieves & Kings. . .

Sample Chapter from, Thieves & Kings, Volume 3, "The Blue Book"

Thieves & Kings, page from the graphic novel series by Mark Oakley www.iboxpublishing.com

Thieves & Kings is not a webcomic. It is an all-ages fantasy/adventure graphic novel series which I've been working on since 1994. It is nearly done; I hope to wrap up the story in the 7th volume, (currently in production). The chapter featured here offers a good example of what it's like to read Thieves & Kings. --It's a peppy sequence, and it contains both regular comic pages, and some text pages. It doesn't show much of the title character, (Rubel) and none of the Shadow Lady, but Heath and Varkias carry the show quite nicely. I hope you enjoy this sample of my work!

   The Walking Mage. . .

The Walking Mage webcomic #2 - Fired

The Walking Mage is a complete story. Originally it was done in black & white, (which you can check out here, if you like). I wanted to experiment with color and so began by using a computer to color the Walking Mage for its print release. After a few panels I decided that it would be a lot more fun to paint it by hand, and so switched to water-color around episode six.

The story itself is quite a good little yarn; funny and pointed in many places, as political satire ought to be. I was actually quite surprised to learn this! I found myself laughing out loud in several places. --I don't know why this story in particular was so hard for me to accept, but it was. I avoided reading it for several years after it first went to press. The ending is rather abrupt, but it was a serial strip, after all.

So anyway, after having let this web-comic languish in the digital attic, I've decided to pull it out and post it again for all the world in its full-color glory. This is the first time the Walking Mage has been available in full color on the web. I hope you enjoy the adventures of Quinton and Varkias. Cheers!

   News From the Studio. . .
Art Software Review ~ OpenCanvas 6

Portal Graphics has recently released version 6 of their "Open Canvas" drawing/painting program.

120 day, unlimited, full-feature trial here:

OpenCanvas 6

OpenCanvas 6 is not Photoshop or MangaStudio5, but it's actually quite a savvy little program as art software goes.

One of the things I really like about Portal Graphics is their economic use of memory. Open Canvas 6 is only 6 Mb! In these days of cheap RAM in the gigabytes, even vast pieces of software like Photoshop don't present any actual technical concerns due to their size, (which I half wonder isn't partly due to marketing, convincing people that their $1000 program must really be worth $1000; just look at it! It's really huge! It MUST be important if it's really huge!). I have a lot of respect for compact and efficient computing.

With regard to efficiency, PGN has finally upgraded their basic 2D engine. You can now draw on large canvases with minimal to zero stylus lag, (it's lickety split even on my test machine running WinXP, which isn't even included on their supported OS list). OpenCanvas' poor response time in the past was the reason I never gave it more than 30 seconds of attention before un-installing the trial. But version 6 is speedy; drawing is silky smooth. This makes OpenCanvas a 'Player'.

-It offers the same wide range of tools, brushes and doodads we have come to expect from today's advanced drawing programs and the UI is clean, modern and very easy to understand. But the thing about Open Canvas is that it offers a function which is practically unique to the digital art world: The ability to record all your inputs from the start to finish of a drawing in a small file, and then like one of those old player pianos, play back the creation of an entire painting line by line, command by command right before your eyes.

It's sort of like the 'history' feature in Photoshop expanded upon far beyond simple undo/redo functionality. And it's not just a gee-whiz curiosity; it's a powerful feature with a number of practical uses. One immediately obvious use is that it allows for creating movies of yourself drawing, (which can be captured with third party software and uploaded to Youtube, for instance). The play-back feature saves otherwise enormous images as small instruction files, (called "Event Files", basically offering a type of dense and lossless compression for raster images. -You can stop the playback of your drawing as it re-creates itself on the page, and jump back into the middle of it to work it in a different direction if you want.

This allows you to share your creation with other users in a format where they can see not just the finished work, but your entire process from start to finish -and to jump in themselves if they wish to add their own hand to your work, (though the "Event" save feature can be locked so that other artists cannot change what they see). But imagine, if you wanted to learn inking, being able to pause the playback of a drawing created by one of your favorite artists and try your own hand at the tool box! -And indeed PGN has a robust forum where hundreds of event files are regularly uploaded and shared in this manner.

Here's a quick drawing of mine which shows how it works, (right click and save the file to a folder. Your browser might try to change the file extension, so just make sure to save it with the .oe6 appendage)...


Install the OC6 trial package, and load that file up to check it out. (Part way through, I ran out of space for the sketch and increased the canvas size, so you'll need to zoom out in order to see the whole thing.)

Anyway, while all of this pretty cool there are some curious limitations to the OpenCanvas 6 playback feature; you can pause and change the playback speed, but you cannot for, some reason, step backwards. Also, the playback starts immediately upon loading, so if you are in mind to record to an image capture, you'd better be quick on your toes. Also, you cannot re-play from the beginning without closing the file and opening it again. It seems curious to have left out these no-brainer features.

Open Canvas 6 comes in both 32 and 64 bit versions, and at only $59, it rings in as one of the least expensive art programs on the market. (Though, with MangaStudio 5 only being $79, I'd be tempted to spend the extra $20. MS5 is a much more robust piece of software with a far wider feature set, and presently (July 2014), they are offering their basic package for $47, possibly, one wonders, in an attempt to capture new users who might be swayed towards PGN's new offering.)

With all this good stuff, there are, however, some limitations to be aware of...

-Open Canvas 6 is unashamedly a raster art program. There is no ability to create vector graphics. They don't even offer the ability to work in black & white. It's color or nothing.

-Like all other art software which isn't Photoshop, OC6 has no ability to toggle between regular lasso selection and polygonal selection on the fly. This is a feature which nobody but me seems to care about, but it is the primary reason Photoshop remains a necessity in my studio regardless of how advanced other software becomes.

-Limited file save/read formats. For instnace, while it does allow you to save layers in .psd format, you cannot load or save .tif documents. MangaStudio 5 is only marginally better in this regard. When it comes to diverse and highly user-configurable file format control, Photoshop remains the undisputed king. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why PS is so honkin' big code-wise.

-Stability. Photoshop and more recently after patches, MangaStudio 5, have proven themselves to be in my experience, very stable programs. I *very* rarely lose work due to software instability in either of those two programs. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of OpenCanvas 6. -I decided to try drawing an entire episode of "Stardrop", (my webcomic) in OC6 in order to really give the software a proper road test. I looked forward with some anticipation to being able to play back the entire creation process to see what that would look like, and perhaps uploading portions of it to Youtube with some voice-over work. But it was not to be. About four hours into what is generally an 8-10 hour job, OC6 suddenly and without warning simply stalled and died, taking my entire 64 bit Windows 7 computer down with it. It was only due to my practicied diligence in backing things up every few minutes that I was saved a large amount of redo work. The playback file, however, was lost, as I'd not thought to back that up.

So, four hours of stability and then a random crash? Not so cool. Maybe that was an isolated event, but I'm not willing to bet on it. I would be very cautious about using OC6 again on a large project, or at the very least, fastidious about making regular back ups. Though, to be fair, we must remember that OC6 is still a new release, having only hit the market a month ago. I would hope to see patches forthcoming.



Despite my one experience with a system failure, [B]Open Canvas 6[/B] proved itself a tidy and inexpensive digital raster art package designed expressly for use with tablet-enabled computers. In terms of function and speed, it can hold its own alongside other more expensive software. One of the downsides of extremely feature-dense programs like MangaStudio 5 or Photoshop is that it becomes easy to confuse a new user and to frustrate with the click-depths necessary to achieve relatively simple tasks. If you're not a power-user but you want to jump right into drawing and painting on an advanced and very capable system without first having to learn a cryptic UI, then OC6 is well worth exploring, and the 120 day, full feature trial makes exploring the software easy. At only 6.1 megabytes, it's a fast and easy install, well worth a try.


-Mark Oakley
August 1st, 2014



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The Walking Mage
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